What We Learned at FHIR Connect-a-thon 8

Coding away at the FHIR Connect-a-thon

Dynamic Health IT was on the scene at FHIR Connectathon 8 in San Antonio. Over two days of furious coding and interfacing, we gained new insight into FHIR’s potential to transform the management and exchange of health information. The event’s overflow crowd was proof of the health IT world’s growing enthusiasm about the standard.

The Connectathon explored three themes/tracks:

  • basic patient management
  • patient access to data
  • “experimental” implementations

On the first day, attendees developed and tested code, while the second day was reserved for more formal testing and a show-and-tell session from developers. In contrast to “hackathons” and other coding meet-ups, participants were not in direct competition, but rather there to support each other in the experimentation process and share development tricks.

The event hosted a diverse set of participants – hospital systems, insurers, researchers, developers large and small.  There was also diversity in FHIR implementations. Most users are currently approaching FHIR as an interface, but some are looking to FHIR as the “source of truth” for the data they handle.

The latter – a more ambitious implementation – involves using FHIR as a hub for retrieving patient information. For example, FHIR was being used by one Connectathon participant to broker information between OpenEMR and providers. A FHIR server becomes the switching station for exchanging information between facilities.  A primary care office submits data to the FHIR server on OpenEMR. The  patient arrives at another facility, which then connects to same FHIR server for continuity.

EHR vendors such as Epic have opened up new pathways to integration through  support for FHIR. Epic has outlined its plan for open exchange of data through open.epic (http://open.epic.com). McKesson also shared with the group their work in building complex medication regimens through FHIR.

Applications are not confined to conventional patient care. One of the virtues of FHIR is that it is extensible and can be applied to a potentially limitless range of possible data. For instance, Vanderbilt University is using it in genome research, adding genetic sequence resources to FHIR and querying a large number of patients.

While healthy competition fuels our industry, when it comes to something as ambitious as the push for true interoperability, we’re in this together.