Healthcare Analytics, Population Health Management, Healthcare Big Data

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Microsoft Azure Releases Open Source FHIR Server for Health Data

The open source FHIR project is aiming to help Azure users improve interoperability and support advanced machine learning, Microsoft says.

FHIR, machine learning, and interoperability

Source: Thinkstock

By Jennifer Bresnick

- Microsoft is solidifying its commitment to FHIR by announcing the availability of its new open source FHIR Server for Azure.

The tool, available on GitHub, allows developers to take advantage of ready-to-use support infrastructure for working with health data in the cloud.  The project is intended to reduce the time and effort required to develop much-needed services, including applications focused on promoting interoperability or leveraging machine learning and AI.  

Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (FHIR) is rapidly gaining support in the healthcare community as the next generation standards framework for interoperability, and it’s clear why. FHIR provides a simpler, easier-to-learn, and pragmatic framework,” wrote Heather Jordan Cartwright, General Manager of Microsoft Healthcare.

“We believe the best way to support developers working with health data is to offer tools that allow them to come together – for collaboration, creation, sharing, and building on each other’s work. Building on the shared experience of healthcare standards communities, FHIR offers an extensible data model and a REST API to simplify the implementation and interoperability of health data.”

Microsoft is just one of many companies, both native to healthcare and new to the industry, which are turning to FHIR as a way to overcome deeply entrenched data siloes and promote the freer movement of datasets that could support improved population health management, predictive analytics, and patient engagement.

READ MORE: FHIR Testing Tools Can Foster Interoperability, Health Data Exchange

Earlier in 2018, Microsoft joined Amazon, Google, IBM, Salesforce, and Oracle in a pledge to accelerate interoperability, with FHIR playing an “essential” role in the ability to share data across disparate systems in a secure, seamless manner.

“We understand that achieving frictionless health data exchange is an ongoing process, and we commit to actively engaging among open source and open standards communities for the development of healthcare standards, and conformity assessment to foster agility to account for the accelerated pace of innovation,” said the six technology giants in an open letter to the industry published in August.

The combination of cloud and FHIR will be the key for enabling significant advances in interoperability, machine learning, and big data analytics, Jordan Cartwright reiterated in her blog post.

“In almost every facet of healthcare, the ambition to create and deliver AI exceeds the tools available to deliver it. FHIR Server for Azure provides a foundation to address that problem,” she said.

“Working with data in the FHIR format, developers can use the server to quickly ingest and manage FHIR datasets in a cloud environment, track and manage data access, and begin to normalize data for machine learning workloads.”

READ MORE: FHIR Takes Off as ONC Teases Upcoming Data Blocking Definitions

Using FHIR in a cloud-based environment could enhance opportunities for research, create innovative applications to harness the Internet of Things, and foster collaboration between organizations looking to share information and combine their data assets for powerful analytics.

“FHIR Server for Azure empowers developers – saving time when they need to quickly integrate a FHIR server into their own applications or providing them with a foundation on which they can customize their own FHIR service,” explains Microsoft on the GitHub resource page.  

The project currently supports the latest version of FHIR, STU3, and anticipates the upcoming release of version 4, slated for 2019.

“We have been actively engaged with HL7 and the FHIR community to support the standards development process for FHIR R4 and are excited about the forthcoming publication of FHIR R4,” said Microsoft. “We plan to support FHIR R4 in a future version of FHIR Server for Azure, once the R4 specification has been finalized and published by HL7.”

The resources also pay particularly close attention to data security and compliance with both HIPAA and the GDPR while still allowing enough flexibility to innovate, Microsoft says.

READ MORE: Da Vinci Project Brings HL7 FHIR to Payers for Big Data Analytics

“Lighting up AI and innovation with data normalized in FHIR is our passion, but we developed the FHIR Service for Azure with a focus on data security first,” said Jordan Cartwright. “Microsoft Healthcare has been working closely with healthcare organizations, government policymakers and other technology leaders to ensure we deliver trusted FHIR technology.”

“This open source project is fully backed by the Microsoft Healthcare engineering team, but we know that this project will only get better with your feedback and contributions,” she concluded.

“Microsoft is contributing this open source project to make it easier for all organizations working with healthcare data to leverage the power of the cloud for clinical data processing and machine learning workloads.”

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