FHIR North 2021 – Thoughts from the Inside

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by Michael Savage, Business Analyst- Validation, OntarioMD

On October 13 and 14, FHIR (Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources) North hosted its 8th annual conference since its inception in 2014. Additionally, 2021 marked the Conference’s second fully virtual iteration, a necessary approach given the still precarious state of a world negotiating the COVID-19 pandemic. For both the 2020 and 2021 conferences, OntarioMD (OMD) has been a formal Event Partner, with representation on the FHIR North Planning Committee. While many understandably lament the absence of an in-person conference experience, wherein networking can fully thrive, FHIR North has proven to be a rallying point for implementers of this health data and exchange standard despite conference attendees not leaving their homes.

One of the best things about the FHIR North Conference, year after year, is that it is fundamentally driven by the common purpose, work experiences, and quests for further knowledge shared by the majority of attendees. As the FHIR Standard is the common denominator across the conference’s agenda, sessions can get to a level of depth and authentic back-and-forth between presenters and attendees rarely experienced in other conferences.

A little bit about FHIR in Canada from this FHIR Community Member’s perspective for the those of you who may not be familiar with it. FHIR is a standard way of defining the health care data and information that is exchanged across systems as part of a patient’s journey. It is well on its way from being an emerging exchange standard in Canada to being the dominant one. Jurisdictions across the country are leveraging FHIR as they work with digital health companies to drive new workflows which allow for discrete, important elements of health care data to be available when and where they are needed most. OMD plays a critical role as a delivery partner for Ontario in many of these FHIR-based integrations between systems across the province, including our work in delivering connectivity and meaningful data exchange between EMRs and Ontario’s various EHR Assets (Digital Health Drug and Immunization Repositories, eConsult, eForms, ClinicalConnect, and more). More detail and information can be found on the OMD website here. Clearly, the FHIR standard already underwrites a foundational amount of our work, as well as the workflows we are delivering to patients and providers across the province. OMD’s investment in the adoption and growth of the FHIR standard (as well as the reuse of common implementation rules and approaches) will only continue to grow. It is for reasons such as these that congregative opportunities such as the FHIR North Conference are indispensable.

FHIR may be the standard most readily available to drive interoperability across Ontario and the country, but it requires broad and deep partnerships between its implementers in order to achieve its full potential. It is considered an ‘open standard’, meaning implementers can make their own tweaks, and declare specific code systems for code-based data elements (such as a Medications code), based on what makes the most sense for their particular project. If everyone using the FHIR standard for their integrations ‘starts from scratch’, rather than leveraging the approaches of existing implementations, they miss out on the opportunities to define and exchange the same kinds of data in the same ways. This is why FHIR North offers such a strategic and meaningful opportunity for both public and private FHIR implementers to come together on an annual basis to share knowledge and experiences, and to help ensure that we are moving toward digital health interoperability in Canada together, even if it takes time and effort to collaborate and align our approaches.

The FHIR North Conference and OMD share a common goal to drive a more common adoption and reuse of established implementations of the FHIR standard. With so much FHIR-based integration experience under our belt, OMD is in a uniquely valuable position to provide standard approaches and guidance to future FHIR implementations both in Ontario and Canada.

Whether the reader works directly with FHIR or not, they should certainly appreciate the role it plays in enabling crucial workflows in a patient’s journey, as well as the potential it holds to take our command of digital health in Canada into the future.

Those interested in learning more about the Conference from this year, or want to know where to look for information on next year’s iteration, can find the information here.

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