Finding Conversion Opportunities to API

In my blog post “4 Steps to Evaluating Your Interoperability Readiness” I’ve set up a list of steps that hospitals, vendors and other healthcare organizations can follow to migrate legacy systems using HL7 v. 2 to new standards for data exchange that can reduce costs and lower staffing needs while providing a faster response.

The Need for Identifying Conversion Opportunities

In step 1, I stated that organizations need to prepare for new FHIR standards by looking for existing conversion opportunities. Those that are not intimately involved with information technology inside a hospital may think that hospitals are running on a single system, called an EHR (Electronic Health Record). In reality, hospitals have historically utilized a collection of systems and relied on them to integrate with one another to form a network, collectively referred to as EHR. While not mandated, updating to new FHIR standards proves beneficial to organizations for many reasons.

Many hospitals utilize multiple software systems to achieve various communication tasks at all levels of the organization. It’s not hard to imagine some of the issues with standardization this varied approach can have, and those issues are a key driver of FHIR. To achieve harmonious interoperability between devices and platforms in the age of the platform, it is necessary to effectively prepare for the conversion from message-based systems to updated API standards.

The need for increased interoperability has grown from regulation surrounding Advancing Care Information (formerly known as Meaningful Use) . As laws were passed that pushed for greater EHR operability, most organizations built-out connectivity using one-way HL7 standards that were available at that time. Now, with the availability of FHIR, data can be reliably extracted from any EHR system, allowing for the development of high quality applications.

HL7’s FHIR combines the best features of HL7’s v2, HL7v3 and CDA product lines while leveraging the latest Web standards to create a better standard for communication between systems. As organizations start to upgrade their systems, administrators are asking IT departments to look at conversion opportunities within their system.

Start with Your Systems’ Vendors

A major factor in identifying conversion opportunities is evaluating if your systems’ vendors are FHIR ready. The marketspace has some early adopters, but the major EHRs are still not fully on board with the technology. In the meantime, systems continue to co-exist as the industry updates to FHIR.

It’s in your best interest to learn what your vendors plan on doing to address FHIR standards, how long they will provide support on legacy systems (if in use), and get a feel for where they are moving in general. A proactive approach is best considering that the industry is undoubtedly moving to updated standards.

How Does Your System Measure Up?

After evaluating your systems’ vendors, it would be useful to inventory the current state of your systems to learn if you can benefit from API functionality. For example, if your current system is running with HL7 V3, its XML-based format allows for a much smoother conversion toward API-ready FHIR, than if your system was running on an older legacy framework such as the character-delimited HL7 V2.

Security is the Backbone of API Integration

A final and top consideration is security when streamlining PHI data transmission through the healthcare ecosystem. It is beneficial to consider and evaluate your vendors’ plans of action when determining your course of API integration. Many systems are leveraging HL7’s FHIR framework standards for secure data transmission, while others are shifting to a proprietary API with unique coding standardizations.

The future of API integration is exciting, and its growing implementation opens the way for innovation. Extensive preparation and the navigation of conversion opportunities is crucial for successful interoperability using APIs

Seth Hobgood is CTO at Interoptex.