FHIR Technology is Driving Healthcare's Digital Revolution

Jeff Needham

Technology supporting healthcare’s digital transformation is so pervasive that the question isn’t what technology to choose, but rather, what problems need to be solved.

Advancing technology and access to secure and real-time data analytics will vastly improve patients’ health and happiness, and growing interoperability standards are pushing organizations forward in their digital transformations.

Together with the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) and leading healthcare insurance provider Humana, MongoDB recently released a three-part podcast series chronicling the ways Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (FHIR), AI, and the cloud are reshaping healthcare for the better. Here’s a quick roundup of our discussions.

  1. Data is the future of healthcare. Whether providers are driving patient engagement through wearable devices, wellness programs or connected care, data will take healthcare to the next digital frontier. We’ll see these advancements through AI, FHIR, and the cloud.

  2. FHIR is revolutionizing healthcare technology. Not only is FHIR implementation a requirement, it’s also a crossroads for data architects. Choosing the right approach has deep implications for healthcare IT.

  3. The operational data layer (ODL) approach to interoperability makes the impossible possible. Through Humana’s digital transformation journey, it became clear that meaningful progress isn’t possible using core legacy database systems.

AI, FHIR, and the cloud: Why data is the future of healthcare

In this episode, we dive into what a digital transformation would look like for the healthcare industry, and what are some of the biggest technology challenges facing healthcare today.

A digitally transformed healthcare industry will weave real-time data analytics with more personalized care. Patients today want a more modern healthcare experience that includes telemedicine, digital forms and touchless mobile check ins. The end goal is simple: maximize the human experience while advancing away from legacy technology systems that slow down both healthcare practitioners and patients.

When it comes to today’s biggest healthcare challenges, the cloud stands out as a key driver of promise and peril. The promise is that we can build applications, go to market and reach patients through wellness programs more quickly. The peril lies in the infrastructure, which is unknown to many healthcare organizations. This presents a unique challenge for the architects and certainly the developers at organizations with older legacy systems. The challenge here is avoiding a simple left hand shift or cloud for the sake of cloud, and moving from simple modernization to actual transformation.

Listen below to hear the entire conversation

Bring the FHIR inside for digital transformation

In episode 2, HIMSS and MongoDB take a closer look at why FHIR is a change agent in healthcare technology, and how healthcare organizations globally are using the new data standard to jump start legacy modernization and digital transformation.

What is FHIR?

The FHIR standard is a common set of schema definitions and APIs that helps providers and patients manage and exchange healthcare data. Using FHIR, records provided by healthcare organizations are standardized into a common data model over rest-based APIs. It makes the data that healthcare providers and payers use easier to exchange.

Growing regulatory pressure has accelerated U.S. FHIR adoption among healthcare organizations and technology vendors.The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) started a rolling deadline for FHIR compliance in 2020, with fines for institutions that fall behind. As a result, for most U.S.-based healthcare providers, payers, and their technology vendors, the past few years were a headlong race to adopt FHIR.

Here are three reasons why FHIR is hugely significant for healthcare technology leaders:

  1. It’s a federal mandate from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.

  2. It’s a complex data integration challenge.

  3. Legacy systems built before the mid 2010s are not interoperable with the FHIR mandate.

FHIR implementation approaches

For large organizations with huge data requirements, data architects can experience paralysis from the sheer volume of legacy systems to unwind. These groups have all of their patients’ electronic healthcare record information, payer information and more bound up in legacy systems, none of which is interoperable with FHIR. The second challenge is cloud migration, which can be skirted by organizations using a checkbox compliance approach. In those cases, API layers are used to ingest and serve data to legacy systems, but are not really integrated with the legacy system in real time. The most successful approach to tackling this challenge is not to rewrite, unwind or replace legacy systems completely, but keep them contained. We recommend bringing in an operational data layer that exposes the information in the legacy system and keeps it in sync with the legacy system, but then lands it in an ODL in the FHIR standard. With the FHIR API, patients and providers can interact with data in real time and access records in milliseconds after a diagnosis. Real-time records synced with legacy systems and patients’ private data is protected.

Delve into the full conversation below

FHIR and the future of healthcare at Humana

You don't have to take the rip and replace approach when modernizing your legacy systems with an ODL method. This was a key to successful modernization for Humana, as discussed in the third and final episode in our series.

For large enterprises that may have decades’ worth of acquired legacy systems, often pulling similar datasets from disparate databases, the pursuit of modernized interoperability begins to look like an impossible task.

Listen to the final episode of our podcast series to here how Humana’s ODL approach met the company’s data velocity requirements, and next steps for personalized healthcare and interoperability at Humana.

Listen to the entire conversation below

More related FHIR and healthcare resources

  • [White paper] Bring the FHIR Inside: Digital Transformation Without the Rip and Replace

  • [On-demand webinar] Building FHIR Applications with MongoDB