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FHIR Pilot at Regenstrief Aims to Take Data Integration to New Levels

November 17, 2016
by Rajiv Leventhal
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Regenstrief leader says, “I haven’t seen another place in the U.S. that used FHIR to integrate information from an HIE to a standard EHR.”

In August, the Indianapolis-based Regenstrief Center for Biomedical Informatics announced that it was piloting the use of the Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (FHIR) standard to merge data from individual electronic health records (EHRs) with those stored in the Indiana Network for Patient Care (INPC), Indiana's common framework for health information exchange (HIE).

In the press release at the time from Regenstrief, a medical and public health informatics research organization that has been at the core of health IT innovation in the Indianapolis region for 40 years, officials brought up the following question: “You are rushed to a hospital in an emergency, is your complete medical record available to those caring for you? Will they know all medications you have been prescribed and whether you are taking them as directed? Does your primary care physician know your complete medical history?” Indeed, according to clinician-informaticians of the Regenstrief Institute, the answer to these questions is almost always "no." Not having complete health information available often results in subpar care and can endanger patients.

To this end, healthcare technology innovators and developers have pointed to SMART (Substitutable Medical Applications & Reusable Technologies) on FHIR implementing an open architecture to support interchangeable developer-friendly APIs (application program interfaces) that can be “plugged in” to any compliant EHR or health data container. Part of the allure is that the effort can get away from document-centric approaches and expose discrete data elements as service.

Enter this FHIR pilot, and with it, Titus Schleyer, M.D., Ph.D., a Regenstrief Institute investigator and Clem McDonald Professor of Biomedical Informatics at Indiana University School of Medicine, who is at the center of this project. "Imagine that you as a patient can use an ‘app’ on your smart phone to reconcile the multiple lists of medications maintained by several care providers into one authoritative, current list. And then, you can bring that list to your colonoscopy screening appointment for review by your physician prior to the procedure. That is huge, which is why the federal government is also focusing attention on helping patients do that,” Schleyer says, speaking to FHIR’s benefits.

Schleyer says it was about three years ago when Graham Grieve, the co-creator of the FHIR standard, approached Regenstrief about its potential. What happened next? What will the pilot look to accomplish? And what’s in store for FHIR’s future as a healthcare standard? Schleyer discusses this and more in the below interview with Healthcare Informatics.

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What are the main details behind this project’s conception?

FHIR is not really an established standard; it’s kind of young. About three years ago, Graham Grieve said that it would have a very different dynamic than most other healthcare standards. He asked if Regenstrief would support it. We signed off on it, and while I have been in healthcare standards for 25 years, there’s a different flavor to FHIR when compared to other stuff. It was a risky decision for me, but in the past three years I have not seen anything in the healthcare standards [space] that has moved as fast and has moved with such great dynamic as FHIR has. It has “legs.” So how can we solve some of the longstanding interoperability and information aggregation problems using this new standard? That’s where the pilot came in.

Why was it a risky decision for you?

You never want to be the person who bets on the next Betamax. I was alive when that went down, and you heard stories about how VHS won against Betamax despite not being a superior technology. So you have to look at these new developments and wonder if you are betting on what will be there in five years. You do have to educate yourself about the technology and the approach, and you build stuff on top of it. During my life I have done a few things where I bet on computer technologies that I thought were great and a few years later the company that made the tool was out of business. But as I talked to Graham and other early developers, it was evident that FHIR had a quality user-centered design, which means you design something with the user in mind, getting in the head of how they operate and think.

What else about FHIR sold you?

With versions of HL7 Reference Information Model (RIM), you needed this huge level of expertise and you had implementation guides that ran thousands of pages, but FHIR didn’t have that look and feel to it. When we did this pilot in April, there was a “Connectathon,” in which 17 teams from the Indianapolis area, many of them having their first exposure to FHIR, were gathered together to [run demos] on it. I was in the room with the developers for two days, and by the end of the weekend these people were doing stuff that was really cool. With HL7 RIM, you’d have to lock these same people in a room for six months before they would have produced something on that model. It was amazing to see these 17 teams all turn out something that worked by the end of the weekend. So I thought, if the uninitiated can work with FHIR so quickly, it will be a winner.

The Connectathon was Epic-focused, meaning the event was about Epic with a sandbox and FHIR on top of it. This was one option for innovation; the other came about in the months prior when one of my faculties asked if we could offer FHIR on the INPC network. I turned to him and asked, “We’re that far along?” He said yes, so we now had two options in the event: working on Epic exclusively or taking the Epic sandbox and connecting the information from there to the same patients in the INPC. You can really do interesting things with merging data from two different sources. So in the end, seven of the 17 teams decided to showcase solutions that drew data from both sources. And of course we made sure the patients were the same; we could connect them using a unique patient identifier. I rarely say this, but I haven’t seen another place in the U.S. that used FHIR to integrate information from an HIE to a standard EHR.

Is there too much optimism with FHIR? Should people be tempering expectations some?

I’ve heard those same viewpoints, and I do tend to be skeptical of the cure-alls for everything. They tend not to materialize. But, hype does have its own dynamic. People who don’t know much about say it will solve everything. Even Graham says it won’t solve everything, but he does tell you what it will solve. We have an interoperability solution that takes the grunt work and heavy lifting that we used to do on the back end, and reduces that to a minimum. When you connect various computer systems to one another, you have to route HL7 streams between those systems and make sure that the receiving system can interpret what’s coming across that wire. And if the interface breaks because of an upgrade, you have to fix that again, and that’s the ugly part of interoperability. Yes, you can make it work but it takes time and maintenance to keep it working. With FHIR, you have a much more generic interface, as it uses web technologies that pretty much every web programmer is currently familiar with. It has a simple and powerful model of getting at the data.

With FHIR, you have FHIR resources and profiles, and they give you data in a predictable and understandable way. If you look at what FHIR puts out, someone who knows nothing about programming can read what’s coming across the wire. One of the dangers I do see is that vendors have a large leeway of what profiles and resources they implement, so if your expectation is that you will get the same functional or data access scope from vendor across vendor, you will be disappointed since not every vendor implements every single thing, as it depends on customers’ needs. That slants implementation some. But I talk to vendors a lot, and I see vendors aware of this danger and actively working to not let it happen. Here, the Argonaut Project is a collaboration around FHIR profiles. So you have the major vendors who are normally out to kill each other working together to make it consistent, so it’s predictable and useable for those who want to work with FHIR.

What do you make of the work that has been done with FHIR so far?

If you look around and at the SMART on FHIR collaborative, the energy now is mostly around building innovative apps on top of existing EHRs. These apps typically use the same raw data the EHR uses itself, but they do more interesting stuff. For example, there might be a pediatric growth chart that has made the rounds, and it’s an app to figure out if this child is progressing normally compared to what he or she should be at in terms of growth. So FHIR gives users and health systems the ability to take the data inside the EHR and do new things with it. There is not too much around interoperability yet, but more about adding value-added functionality to the EHR.

When I talk to the EHR vendors, all of them will admit—some more readily than others—that they cannot build all of the innovation that healthcare customers need. And this is the big driver for these open platforms, which we have been seeing in healthcare. Vendors are open to giving others the ability to innovate, and the more innovation that exists on their system, the more their platform becomes sticky. Microsoft Windows has been very focused on making sure everyone can work on its platform and develop applications on the platform, because that ultimately drives operating system sales. EHRs are now thinking of themselves as operating systems, and the more innovation you have on the operating system, the more attractive you’ll be to people.

What’s next for Regenstrief and FHIR?

Similar to the vendors, Regenstrief has unfortunately been a bottleneck. We have 15 faculty and 50 staff, and there’s only so much innovation you can do in an age and context when innovation is highly in demand. For me, FHIR is an enabler of an innovation community rather than an innovation institution like us. So what I’d like to see is FHIR becoming an enabler of innovation for health systems, for institutions like us, and for universities, where we increase the rate of beneficial innovation in healthcare. I talk to local health system CEOs regularly; we are hoping we can convince people in decision-making roles that this is a winner and you won’t have to wait five years to get 10 percent of what you really wanted. But, at the same time, let’s not oversell this and let’s temper expectations.


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Intermountain CMIO Stan Huff on the Need for Greater Interoperability: “We’re Killing Too Many People”

December 6, 2018
by Rajiv Leventhal, Managing Editor
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About 250,000 people die per year due to preventable medical errors, and that’s the biggest motivator there is for more advanced interoperability, says one clinical IT leader

Stan Huff, M.D., chief medical informatics officer (CMIO) at the Salt Lake City, Utah-based Intermountain Healthcare for the past 31 years, has long been a top leader in his field. Working on the leadership team for a health system like Intermountain and serving as a co-chair of the HL7 Clinical Information Modeling Initiative (CIMI), while also having been a former member of the ONC Health IT Standards Committee, Huff has a wealth of knowledge coming from both provider- and standards-focused perspectives.

Huff, who represented Intermountain at a White House meeting on interoperability this week, recently chatted with Healthcare Informatics about all things interoperability, including the different types of data exchange that exist today, the greatest barriers, and how potential pending regulations could shake up the landscape. Below are excerpts from that discussion.

When you look at the interoperability landscape today, how bullish are you on where things stand, broadly speaking? Or rather than bullish, are you more concerned?

I don’t know if I am bullish or not, but I think we are making progress—and it’s significant progress. There is an incredible amount of work to be done. I’m not concerned at the progress; I am happy, but mindful of how much work is left to do to really reap the benefits that people are hoping for.

You’re currently a co-chair of the HL7 Clinical Information Modeling Initiative while also having been a member of former the ONC Health IT Standards Committee. How important is it to figure out the issues around standards before things can progress?

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I wish it had a higher priority. Most of the time when people are talking about interoperability now, they are thinking about caring for an individual patient and thinking about sharing information between different systems that have information on that patient. They are usually thinking about EHR [electronic health record]-to-EHR for patient care—they have a very focused idea.

But there are other dimensions. There is interoperability relative to public health, meaning how we share data from an organization to a public health [entity] so that we understand what’s going on with a whole population relative to a particular disease.

There is also research interoperability, so we can share data that’s coming from research activities. And closely related to that is interoperability of clinical trial data and all of the randomized controlled trial data that comes with that.

Then there is interoperability that comes from devices and data coming from devices, which is a whole field onto itself. So you have to be careful when you talk about interoperability. This is one axis of interoperability, in that it has to do with the scope of systems you are communicating with.

The other axis of interoperability has to do with how truly interoperable you are, and there are different levels there as well. One level is the interoperability you get with the HL7 version 2 [standard], where you have a structure and people know how to send messages between systems. And there is a lot of negotiation that happens when you set up an HL7 version 2 interface to say what terminology you are using, and if you send something as two fields or one field. There is a lot that goes on there and that’s helped quite a bit when you talk about HL7 FHIR [Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources]—it has a more defined structure and has more things specified about terminology use.

And then you can get an even better of interoperability if you are using the Argonaut [Project] profiles. But even at that Argonaut profile level, you aren’t plug-and-play interoperable. There still is ambiguity in the Argonaut definitions that lead to different implementations by different companies and organizations.

The highest level is what I would call “plug-and-play” where this no bilateral negotiation around terminology or anything like that. The standard is explicit enough so that it could be tested for conformance and you can say whether a given system is conformant or not, and the data can be used in the way it was intended. We don’t have any plug-and-play interoperability to speak of right now, and that’s what I’m trying to shoot for.

One of three biggest motivators for me is patient safety. There is really good and convincing data that shows we are killing 250,000 people per year due to preventable medical errors. And that won’t be solved by “zero harm” programs, or by “sort of” interoperable systems. In the end, the “sort of” interoperable systems means that a person still has to look at things and make a judgment. And people are not perfect information processors. So you need a situation where the data is explicit enough where I can write rules that prevent the death or improper treatment of patients.

And we are not at that level yet. How urgent is it? I think it’s incredibly urgent and you can make an argument that it’s more important than lots of other things we’re spending money on that would have less of an impact on patient care. I work in this area, so yes, I am biased.

But I’m persuaded that it’s worth an investment, and to get to where I want to get to will not be easy. This won’t be something where you make one $20 million investment and then it’s done; it will take five or 10 years, and you will make incremental progress over that period of time. Think of it like a military campaign or a crusade, because it’s that type of timeframe and scale where you need planning and infrastructure to really accomplish what we want to do in the end—which is save lives, decrease the cost of care, and reduce the burden of clinicians.

Many folks believe that until the business incentives change, stakeholders will not be incentivized to be open with their systems. Do you agree with this and how much incentive exists today?

There isn’t a whole lot of incentive yet. If the patient care and safety issues were sufficient enough incentives, then this would have been solved a long time ago because those incentives have been there. People know and understand that we’re not caring for patients in the best way possible. And it’s the financial and proprietary considerations that keep us from doing that, ultimately.

We have to be careful [with incentives] though, because there are unexpected consequences. Going back to when I was on the HIT Standards Committee, we thought that we were doing useful and good for U.S. healthcare when we set up the meaningful use measures. And while meaningful use solved the EHR adoption issue, what it taught people was how to manage measures but not manage quality.

People became incredibly good when it came to managing the measures to get paid and to meet the qualifications, but I don’t think anyone would assert that those things improved the quality of care in any measurable way. So I think we didn’t meet the goal that we were shooting for—providing better quality care at a lower cost.

The ONC annual conference took place last week, and there seemed to be significant conversations around pending regulations such as possibly making interoperability a requirement to stay in Medicare and prohibiting information blocking. How does all of this land for you?

I welcome the change; it’s a good as thing you move from meaningful use to promoting interoperability. What I don’t know is if these specific [rules] being proposed are going to accomplish what [we want]. We thought we were doing the right things back when we were doing meaningful use.

At a high level, I would agree that it would be wonderful to require interoperability as a requirement for Medicare participation. But it’s undefined. When talking about the dimensions and these things, there has to be an understood and a useful level for the interoperability that’s required. But I haven’t seen the details to know whether what’s being asked for is both achievable and valuable if it were to be achieved. But I do agree with the [overall] direction.

Intermountain is often at the forefront of health and health IT initiatives such as its sponsorship of the Opioid Community Collaborative. How can these learnings be shared so they can improve the digital healthcare ecosystem?

The thing I try to emphasize to people is that if you look at what we are doing, and you take it in aggregate across the country—the things people are applying decision support to—it’s a tiny part of what we could do. And the reason for that is we don’t have interoperability. You can create a good program at Intermountain, or at Kaiser Permanente, or at Mayo Clinic, but the only place it works well is where it was developed. You cannot move it. If you move it, you have to recreate it. Until you have interoperability, I can’t write a rule that works on top of a Cerner system and also on an Epic system, or for that matter works on two different Cerner implementations. This cannot happen until you have those platforms supplying APIs so I can hook my decision support up to their system without rewriting all of the logic in a different technology platform.

So we are doing good things, and want to continue to do good things, but wouldn’t it be wonderful if what we did, or what the University of Utah is doing with opioids, can be directly moved and used, in the same way people can buy apps for their iPhones in the app store, or any other platform.

The realization is we might be doing 150 things at Intermountain in terms of decision support applications, but there is an opportunity to do 5,000 things, and we will never get to those 5,000 things unless we get to an interoperable platform so that when knowledge is created it can be shared. That’s my real emphasis behind interoperability.

 


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KLAS: EHR Vendors Making Significant Progress with CommonWell, Carequality Connection

December 4, 2018
by Heather Landi, Associate Editor
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While most EHR vendors have connections to the national network, only athenahealth and Epic customers have connected en masse, KLAS reports
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With the establishment of connectivity between CommonWell and Carequality, announced back in August, as well as other interoperability advancements by electronic health record (EHR) vendors, the ability to exchange patient records is within the reach of most acute care or clinic-based provider organizations, regardless of size or financial situation, according to a new report from Orem, Utah-based KLAS Research.

In the report, “Interoperability: Real Progress with Patient Record Sharing Via CommonWell and Carequality,” KLAS researchers note that since the last KLAS report on interoperability, which was published in March 2018, the acute care/ambulatory EHR market has taken critical steps forward in sharing data via national networks. The most notable advancements include the establishment of the CommonWell-Carequality link, Meditech’s initial connection to CommonWell, and notable Carequality adoption among NextGen Healthcare customers, according to KLAS researchers.

Most of the prevalent acute care/ambulatory EHR vendors are connected to the national framework, marking significant progress for interoperability, according to KLAS researchers. The report findings come a few weeks after CommonWell and Carequality announced that the connection to the Carequality framework was “generally available.” Cerner and Greenway Health successfully completed a focused rollout of the connection with a handful of their provider clients, who have been exchanging data daily with Carequality-enabled providers, CommonWell officials said.

In August, CommonWell Health Alliance and Carequality announced initial connectivity, which is the beginning of a broader effort to increase health data exchange nationwide, and builds on an announcement made almost two years ago. In December 2016, CommonWell and Carequality announced connectivity and collaboration efforts with the aim of providing additional health data sharing options for stakeholders. Officials said that the immediate focus of the work between Carequality and CommonWell would be on extending providers’ ability to request and retrieve medical records electronically from other providers. In the past year and a half, teams at both organizations have been working to establish that connectivity.

Now, since the connection went live in July, officials noted that CommonWell-enabled providers have bilaterally exchanged more than 200,000 documents with Carequality-enabled providers locally and nationwide, as reported by Healthcare Informatics in November.

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CommonWell, an alliance formed five years ago, operates a health data sharing network that enables interoperability using a suite of services aiming to simplify cross-vendor nationwide data exchange. Major vendors connecting to CommonWell include athenahealth, Cerner, CPSI, eClinicalWorks, Greenway Health and Meditech.

Meanwhile, Carequality, an initiative of The Sequoia Project that launched about a year later, is a national-level, consensus-built, common interoperability framework to enable exchange between and among health data sharing networks. Vendors using Carequality include athenahealth, Epic, eClinicalWorks and NextGen Healthcare. Nearly all major EHR vendors have aligned with one or both of these options, according to KLAS.

Together, CommonWell members and Carequality participants represent more than 90 percent of the acute EHR market and nearly 60 percent of the ambulatory EHR market. Today, more than 15,000 hospitals, clinics, and other healthcare organizations have been actively deployed under the Carequality framework or CommonWell network, officials attest.

This latest KLAS interoperability follows a report back in March in which KLAS researchers positioned that the CommonWell Health Alliance’s interoperability efforts were hindered by a lack of provider adoption and its interoperability services currently lacked value. However, when CommonWell and Carequality eventually connect, “instant value” will be created for users, KLAS researchers attested in that report.

Currently, Epic is not a member of CommonWell, despite other major EHR vendors pushing them in that direction. Back in 2015, athenahealth CEO Jonathan Bush famously tweeted to Epic’s CEO Judy Faulkner that his company would pay for Epic to join.

Indeed, KLAS reported in March that CommonWell will likely see a significant adoption increase with a solid Carequality connection. “Since its launch five years ago, the tendency to over-market the level of adoption of CommonWell has created apprehension and a lack of trust among potential participants and prompted this report, showing a snapshot of providers’ success,” the researchers said in the March report. KLAS researchers also claimed that when CommonWell connects to Carequality, “the entire Epic base will become available, creating instant value for most areas of the country.”

Following the publication of that report, CommonWell’s Executive Director Jitin Asnaani, in an exclusive interview with Healthcare Informatics, defended his organization’s mission and attested that the network is continuing to grow and prove its worth.

Asnaani also critiqued the KLAS report’s claim that vendors such as athenahealth and Epic give their customers a head start by enabling plug-and-play data sharing via Carequality. Asnaani called this specific critique “totally bogus,” asserting that the quality of data sharing is dependent on the vendors rather than dependent on CommonWell or Carequality.

KLAS Assessment on the Progress of CommonWell-Carequality Connection

In this latest report, KLAS researchers focused specifically on the progress EHR vendors have made in sharing patient records via the standardized (plug-and-play) networks of CommonWell and Carequality.

KLAS researchers assert that this focus is important because the “plug-and-play” option is the “only option” that allows provider organizations “avoid significant costs, delays, and organizational workload.”

KLAS also acknowledged that “virtually all major EMR vendors can successfully share patient records through the traditional point-to-point connections (a costlier approach in terms of time, resources, ongoing maintenance, and money), local HIEs (health information exchanges) and direct exchange (where records are manually sent to other providers).”

Referring to the CommonWell-Carequality connectivity as the “connection heard round the U.S.,” KLAS researchers contend that this connection should be “key in driving value and opening the floodgates so that any provider organization that desires to can exchange patient records with relative ease and little cost.” KLAS plans to measure the impact of this sharing in a 2020 interoperability report.

According to the report, this fall, two CommonWell-connected Cerner organizations tested and validated the ability to connect with Epic sites via Carequality. “Their initial reports are that the connection enables data sharing with critical partners otherwise out of their reach and adds tremendous value to their existing CommonWell exchange. The Epic sites involved indicate that they also are able to see and consume data via the new connection,” KLAS researchers wrote.

In a blog post, KLAS researcher Corey Tate, the author of the latest KLAS report, reiterated the value of the CommonWell-Carequality connection with regard to the availability of Epic data to provider organizations who connect. “Access to the Epic data is exactly what was talked about by the initial sites that tested the CommonWell connection to Carequality. Ironically enough, Epic’s intra-operability, which was initially dismissed, will likely be the catalyst that pulls widespread patient-record sharing forward. “

Currently, all but two of the other major EHR vendors—athenahealth, Cerner, CPSI, eClinicalWorks, Epic, Greenway Health, MEDITECH, NextGen Healthcare, and Virence Health (formerly GE Healthcare)—have customers connecting, according to KLAS. At this point, Allscripts and MedHost have yet to connect to CommonWell or Carequality. However, Allscripts recently announced more solidified plans to have their Carequality connection ready in Q1 2019 and to then roll it out in product updates throughout the year, according to KLAS. MedHost has been aligned with CommonWell since 2014 but has yet to have any live connections, KLAS researchers state.

While all of these vendors have connections to this national network, only athenahealth and Epic customers have connected en masse, according to Tate, in his blog post. “Each vendor has more than 90 percent of their customers connected. Cerner is next at around 35 percent. Many other vendors’ customer bases are just getting started,” Tate wrote.

“Epic and athenahealth have near complete uptake among their customers, allowing them to work on the next steps for interoperability, such as fine-tuning usability and increasing value for clinicians,” KLAs researchers wrote in the latest report. The researchers noted that plug-and-play sharing is “virtually invisible and automatic” for athenahealth and Epic customers, and “both vendors remove the big obstacles” to providers’ success.

KLAS researchers also highlight Epic’s and athenahealth’s approach to facilitating participation, via an opt-out approach, and removing governance barriers, via predetermined handling of outside data. The researchers contend that this indicates that “regardless of customer size, vendors can facilitate widespread adoption if they choose.”

NextGen Healthcare and eClinicalWorks show the most notable progress in connecting to the national framework, according to KLAS. Since NextGen Healthcare made their bidirectional connection available in Q1 2018, customers have rapidly taken up connections to Carequality. “With 80 customers connected, there is still much room for additional uptake—though NextGen has removed both financial and technical barriers to make this a reality. eClinicalWorks customers have also rapidly taken up connections, with nearly triple the number participating today (~2,500) compared to March 2018,” according to the report.

Meditech also made their first connection to CommonWell, and CPSI has made notable progress this year as well, KLAS reports. Cerner continues to actively push for customer participation and has added 35 hospital customers.

“Virence Health (GE Healthcare) has been slower to get out of the gate despite good feedback from early adopters,” the KLAS researchers wrote. “Greenway Health also doesn’t have much momentum, and overall, interviewed Greenway organizations are the least excited about their CommonWell connection.”

KLAS researchers also note that with CommonWell and Carequality linked, the biggest technical obstacle to widespread patient-record sharing has been removed, and the biggest remaining obstacle is local community adoption. “The healthcare industry is rapidly approaching the point where an organization using any of the major acute care/ambulatory EMRs should be able to easily connect to other provider organizations with minimal cost and effort,” KLAS researchers state. “Many vendors have eliminated obstacles on the path to data exchange—all but Virence offer connections to customers at no cost, and all but Cerner have made this plug and play by removing technical barriers.”

“Today, the biggest barriers preventing widespread participation are governance and the need for organizations to decide to participate. Even Epic and athenahealth customers report diminished value from their connection when local exchange partners opt not to connect to the national networks,” KLAS researchers wrote in the report. KLAs also believes that until other vendors take an opt-out approach, provider organization leaders will need to be proactive in promoting local connections to the networks to ensure high value from the connection.


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5 Lessons Learned Implementing SMART on FHIR at Intermountain

November 26, 2018
by David Raths, Contributing Editor
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Challenges include differences in vendor implementations of FHIR and their data models

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.”

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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.”

 

 

 


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