During a recent eHealth Initiative webinar, Laura Heerman Langford, Ph.D., R.N., a nurse informaticist, detailed some lessons learned implementing Smart on FHIR apps at Intermountain Healthcare. Because FHIR is still under development, “we are driving the car and changing the tires at the same time,” she said.
She began by noting that the Salt Lake City-based health system believes its investment in FHIR-based Innovations will help it tackle important problems for which native EHR functionality has proven inadequate.
Today we have a lot of direct interfacing between applications and EHRs, she said, “but we have a vision of tomorrow that is much more plug and play. Imagine if it didn’t matter what vendor you were using in your hospital. Imagine if you had a healthcare app store where you could reliably find an application to help you accomplish what you want to be doing.”
As an example of where it hopes to make progress, Heerman Langford spoke about Intermountain’s work on clinical decision support. Intermountain has decision support modules on topics such as ventilator weaning, MRSA monitoring and control, and infectious disease reporting to public health.
“At Intermountain we have upwards of 150 decision support rules or modules,” she said. “But we have only picked the easy stuff – things that are low cost to implement or easy to do. There is a lot more we would like to do. We have estimated that there are 5,000 more decision support rules or modules we could be doing to help our clinicians provide better care. However, we have not found a good way to get from the 150 we have to that 5,000. We are looking at how to fundamentally change the ecosystem for healthcare IT.”
Intermountain, which has 23 hospitals and more than 185 clinics, has a strong history of innovation in informatics. A few years ago, it began work on an implementation of Cerner, labelled iCentra.
In its contract with Cerner, Intermountain made clear it wanted to create an ecosystem that could allow it to have open-standards-based application programming interfaces (APIs). Around the time Intermountain was partnering with Cerner, SMART on FHIR was launched.
“We have integrated SMART apps into iCentra, some of them based on the demand of clinicians,” Heerman Langford said. “We included three SMART on FHIR apps and we have a fourth one in development. We have been able to share enhancements with other organizations with different EHRs.” Intermountain also has a SMART on FHIR sandbox development environment.
One example she described is a Pediatric Growth Chart App first developed by Boston Children’s Hospital. “This was desired by our clinicians because they felt it was better than what Cerner had to offer,” she said. It provides a visual display of a patient’s growth data against an appropriate cohort. “We integrated it into iCentra, using data from our EHR, such as height, weight, head circumference and BMI. We currently have it in all our NICUs and pediatric clinics and replaced the Cerner module with it. It offers a very concise, interactive view. It was more palatable to our clinicians. It offers printouts to give to families and parents.”
Heerman Langford gave a few more examples of SMART on FHIR apps from the University of Utah. One is a Neonatal Bilirubin App that pulls in a baby and mother’s EHR data. It has near-universal use in the inpatient setting. “They are estimating that it saves up to 300 physician hours per year,” she said. Another is a Procedure Capacity Management App that provides calendar visualization of capacity vs. scheduled procedures. It facilitates efficient capacity management and supports post-surgical care transitions. It is one of ONC’s High-Impact Pilot Projects.
Then Heerman Langford laid out some of the lessons learned implementing these apps.
1. The first is that although EHR vendors do provide a fairly extensive set of FHIR resources they are still somewhat cautious and conservative at this point. “They are not exactly sure how much this is going to catch on and how much they should be putting toward this,” she said. “They are paying attention. They are doing it, but not as much as we would like to see.”
2. Health systems need support for additional use cases, specifically around “write capability,” she said. “That means if I create something in a SMART on FHIR app, I could write back to the EHR. That is one of the hardest things to do right now.”
3. Health systems still need some more expertise related to the EHR vendor data. “When we are working with Cerner data, and this is true with different vendors as well, app developers are not always sure where the data is, what they call it, and whether you are going to get back what you asked for,” Heerman Langford said.
4. There is a lack of specificity in FHIR Resources, she said. “We know that FHIR Resources need to be profiled, but the US Core FHIR Profiles have not been enough. We need to do more work on the terminologies.” Another issue is single patient/subject queries vs. working on population-based queries. “We need single patient data, but population-based data is just as important,” she said.
5. Differences in vendor implementations of FHIR and their data models creates challenges, she said. For example, with the term suspected lung cancer, each of those elements can be stored on its own: cancer, lung, and suspected; or they could be coordinated in different ways such as suspected cancer, body site, lung. “We are running into this as we are implementing Smart on FHIR apps within the EHR. The apps may prefer it one way, but you get into the EHR and they have their way of presenting it.”
Other issues are more cultural than technical, she said. “Healthcare organizations are very much looking at their own organization. In order to make a lot of this work, we need to promote collaboration among different organizations,” Heerman Langford said.
She stressed that open source apps are not free. “It does take time, energy and investment to get them to work in your local institution. But we do believe that the more we do this, the less expensive it will get over time.”
She called this movement the real beginning of the learning healthcare system. “The prospect of this new ecosystem to support our vision is real and is worthy of investment.”