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The Future of Interoperability: Web APIs & HL7 FHIR

As healthcare continues to integrate internally and adopt mobile devices and cloud-based applications, the need for using web APIs for data exchange is growing. 

The demand for population health, precision medicine, mobile applications, telemedicine, and home health applications has highlighted the need for rapid and standardized digital integration. Modern, web API (application programmer interface) technology—which gives applications simple and fast access into other applications’ data—has the potential to transform patient care.

Web APIs are methods of secure communication between electronic devices over the internet that make it easier to communicate health data between applications, regardless of the operating system or software in use.

Providers have been demanding more of this type of access from their EHR vendors, who, in turn, are eager to prove that they are committed to their customers’ goals of improving patient care through internal and external data interoperability. EHR systems are now required to deliver more to providers in terms of API connectivity and the ability to improve caregiver and patient workflow.

Web APIs have the potential to open myriad possibilities for patient care. This whitepaper details how providers can leverage API integration to reap the benefits of APIs alongside HL7 FHIR, the standard that is being employed as the data standard of choice for APIs by all major EHR vendors.

How did we get here? A brief history of health data exchange

Today’s health IT environment is very fragmented. It’s not unusual for large health systems to have 100s of applications from different vendors installed, including EHR, lab, radiology, and billing systems. Each of these applications tend to favor flexibility for their specific function or department over interoperability with external applications.

Data is exchanged between these separate systems using HL7 v2. (See Figure 1.) Traditional data exchange typically follows the following pattern:

  • A caregiver types data into the EHR
  • The vendor allows that data to leave the EHR in an HL7 v2 or CDA document
  • The data is sent over an interface to the receiving application
  • The receiving application parses the data and imports it into their database.

APIs are based on web service data exchange standards. HL7 International has developed HL7 FHIR, which is ideally suited for API data exchange. With rapid, lightweight, standardized integration, there is no end to the possibilities an API can enable.

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