FHIR North – A Canadian “Connectathon” for Health Integration

Last week, I attended FHIR North: a one-day event hosted by Mohawk College for getting to learn about and try out the HL7 FHIR healthcare interoperability standard.  For those new to “connectathons,” they are intended to prove that an open consensus built interoperability specification is complete, and that implementations written to that standard can connect. The 2017 event offered some excellent educational sessions presented by FHIR guru James Agnew. Josh Mandel talked about SMART Health IT (also known as SMART on FHIR) — an exciting innovation that enables clinical app integration with hospital and medical record systems. Canada Health Infoway’s Atilla Farkas presented Infoway’s collaboration platform initiatives that aim to bring together the Canadian FHIR community and promote sharing and reuse of FHIR specifications and implementations.

There were a number of reports on the state of the industry.  Most notable was Chris Pentleton’s presentation on work in the FHIR space by the Digital Health Solutions and Innovations Branch at the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care.  It’s so exciting to see initiatives like the Digital Health Immunization and Drug Repositories taking off in Ontario!  These systems were built in record time (months-long projects rather than multi-year projects) and are growing to be some of the world’s largest FHIR implementations.  One of the most striking messages I heard from Chris’s presentation was that although FHIR isn’t perfect and continues to evolve, it is good enough for getting the job done.  More importantly, using FHIR means that the messaging is no longer in the way of interoperability, leaving room for us to work on the true challenges of integration, such as semantic interoperability and workflow integration.

Mohawk’s Collaboration space was the perfect setting for a FHIR connectathon where developers gained a hands-on coding experience, putting the specs into practice implementing and demonstrating interoperability.  Participants were given access to various FHIR test servers and development environments and by the end of the day, several teams reported substantial application development and integration, including groups from e-Health Ontario’s Innovation Lab and Mohawk’s MEDIC. Within a matter of hours, developers were able to build functioning clinical application prototypes, featuring full end-to-end integration with back-end systems!

The experience at FHIR North demonstrates how Health IT’s approach to integration has truly turned the corner, compared to the days of HL7v3.  The new standards are developer-ready, based on agile technologies, proven by open source reference implementations, and backed by live test environments (even big hospital system vendors like Cerner and Allscripts have FHIR sandboxes). I believe FHIR is a natural fit for Intelliware’s agile and iterative approach to providing value and getting the job done!

Interested in learning more? Check out our FHIR White Paper – The HL7 Games Catching FHIR, written by our Chief Technologist BC Holmes.

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