November 20, 2023 By Mark Bunday
Joel Gomez
3 min read

Today’s healthcare providers use a wide variety of applications and data across a broad ecosystem of partners to manage their daily workflows. Integrating these applications and data is critical to their success, allowing them to deliver patient care efficiently and effectively.

Despite modern data transformation and integration capabilities that made for faster and easier data exchange between applications, the healthcare industry has lagged behind because of the sensitivity and complexity of the data involved. In fact, some healthcare data are still transmitted in physical format, impeding providers’ ability to benefit from integration and automation.

What is HL7?

Health Level Seven (HL7) is a range of international standards designed to address this challenge. First introduced in 1989, the standards were created by Health Level Seven International, a group of technology and healthcare leaders with the goal of providing better hospital workflow support. HL7 has provided a standard set of patient attributes and clinical events to improve interoperability in healthcare.

What is the FHIR Standard?

Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resource (FHIR) is the most recent version of HL7.

The FHIR specification defines standards for healthcare data exchange, including how healthcare information can be shared between different computer systems regardless of the way it is stored. The FHIR standard describes data elements, messaging and document formats, as well as an application programming interface (API) for exchanging electronic health records (EHRs) and electronic medical records (EMRs). FHIR is open source, providing open APIs that enable continuous real-time data exchange.

What are the benefits of FHIR?

FHIR makes it simple for patients to manage their care, even if they see multiple providers in different healthcare organizations and use multiple plans (multiple payers using multiple EHRs). By creating a unified, single personal patient health record that integrates data from different formats, FHIR standards deliver a complete view of patient information to improve overall care coordination and clinical decision support. Everyone benefits from more effective, personalized, integrated and cost-efficient healthcare solutions.

What are the differences between FHIR and HL7?

FHIR draws on previous standards such as HL7 Version 2 (V2) and HL7 Version 3 (V3) and uses common web standards such as RESTful APIs, XML, JSON and HTTP. Using REST APIs makes FHIR more efficient as it allows data consumers to request information on demand, rather than subscribing to a feed that shares all data whether or not it is needed immediately (as was the case in earlier versions of HL7).

The HL7 FHIR REST API can be used with mobile apps, cloud-based communications, EHR-based data sharing, real-time server communication and more. Using FHIR, software developers can develop standardized browser-based healthcare applications that allow users to access clinical data from any health care system regardless of the operating systems and devices used.

FHIR is easier to learn and implement than earlier versions and provides out-of-the-box interoperability. The FHIR standard also allows for different architectural approaches that can be used to gather information from a modern or legacy system.

Is FHIR compatible with HL7?

While FHIR is compatible with HL7 V2 and CDA standards, organizations should migrate to FHIR to take advantage of the new direction for health information data exchange.  However, many providers still rely on prior versions of the HL7 standard, leaving some IT teams unsure if they should rewrite existing applications for HL7 V2 or replace them.

IBM® Integration and FHIR

Our application integration solution, IBM App Connect, has the power to transform HL7 to FHIR bi-directionally without the need to rewrite existing applications. It can move healthcare data from system to system, including to an EHR acting as an FHIR server.

IBM App Connect for Healthcare is a specialized version of IBM App Connect for the healthcare industry. It offers pre-built patterns that provide smart FHIR transformation and routing. The patterns can convert FHIR into any other format, which creates opportunities for healthcare organizations to realize the benefits of FHIR and explore the latest integration methods, including event-driven architectures. Health IT providers can use IBM API Connect to extend the reach of these FHIR resources for multiple use cases with the ability to create, manage, secure and socialize FHIR APIs.

Learn more about IBM’s FHIR and HL7 implementation Visit the IBM App Connect product page
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