HIPAA states that health care providers must provide patients with fast and easy access to their medical records. Could the FHIR standard make this a reality?  

In the world of health IT, the fast healthcare interoperability resources (FHIR) standard (which is, incidentally, pronounced “fire”) is dominating the matter of health records transferal.

What is health records transferal, you ask?

Let’s start here:

Have you ever tried to switch health care providers? Perhaps when making a big move to a new state or region, after changing a health care plan, or just because you’re dissatisfied with the current practice you go to?

While the concept of simply switching doctors is simple, the execution is often far from it.

Why? The matter of transferring your health records seems to be an incredibly challenging one for health care providers to execute. In order to have your health records transferred to your new provider, it is often necessary that you make numerous phone calls, face dumbfounded office staff, argue with nurses and secretaries, pay hefty fees to have your records copied, and finally — wonder whether your health records ever actually arrived at your new practice, even when you’ve been told they have.

This isn’t the way it was meant to be, and in fact, the government has provisions that prohibit this struggle for patients.

Don Baham, President of Kraft Technology Group, LLC, which specializes in information technology, explains:

“According to HIPAA privacy standards, covered entities (health care providers) are required to provide individuals with access to their health information and ‘may not impose unreasonable measures on an individual requesting access that serve as barriers to or unreasonably delay the individual from obtaining access’.”

So how can we make this idea a reality?

As it turns out, the Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (FHIR) Standard could be the answer.

What Is the FHIR Standard and What Does It Do?

FHIR was originally introduced by a not-for-profit organization called HL7, which has been organizing standardized organization systems for information stored by hospitals for 32 years. The creation of FHIR was meant to standardize how hospitals and other health care practices interact when it comes to medical records and data.

The undertaking is surely not an easy one when you consider the plethora of sectors and departments in hospitals, small practices, laboratories, billing systems, and other entities that must handle medical records. Before FHIR, transferring medical records and data between these operations was incredibly challenging.

Now, FHIR takes a straightforward approach to organizing medical data, and gaps in document-based exchanges can be virtually eliminated. The design is a simple API one, which works seamlessly with any electronic health record device’s interface.

Up until now, the standards used by most providers have been based on consolidated clinical document architecture, or C-CDA, which transfers whole documents. But FHIR standard technology allows specific aspects of data sets to be transferred easily. Documents can also be easily searched.

Can Health Care Providers Adopt This New Technology?

Yes, and they should, according to Baham:

“Adopting a technology suite based on Fast Health Interop Resources (FHIR) and HL7 standards provides the mechanism for individuals to no longer worry about requesting and transporting faxed hard copy documents between health systems as they try to find the best care for themselves or loved ones.”

He even says that with the use of the FHIR standard, patients could be able to transport and access their health care records on a simple smartphone app. Others in the health care IT industry say that the technology will continue to advance and could provide even more amazing advances for the secure storage, access, and transport of medical data.

There’s little to argue about when it comes to the usefulness of the FHIR standard. Now, it’s simply a matter of waiting for health care providers to wise up and adopt the technology for their own benefit and the benefits of their patients.