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This blog post was co-authored by Greg Moore, Corporate Vice President, Microsoft Healthcare and Peter Lee, Corporate Vice President, Microsoft Healthcare.

DevDays FHIRcatOne of the largest gatherings of healthcare IT developers will come together on the Microsoft campus next week for HL7 FHIR DevDays, with the goal of advancing the open standard for interoperable health data, called HL7® FHIR® (Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources, pronounced “fire”). Microsoft is thrilled to host this important conference on June 10-12, 2019 on our Redmond campus, and engage with the developer community on everything from identifying immediate use cases to finding ways for all of us to hack together in ways that help advance the FHIR specification.

We believe that FHIR will be an incredibly important piece of the healthcare future. Its modern design enables a new generation of AI-powered applications and services, and it provides an extensible, standardized format that makes it possible for all health IT systems to not only share data so that it can get to the right people where and when they need it, but also turn that data into knowledge. While real work has been underway for many years on HL7 FHIR, today it has become one of the most critical technologies in health data management, leading to major shifts in both the technology and policy of healthcare. 

Given the accelerating shift of healthcare to the cloud, FHIR in the cloud presents a potentially historic opportunity to advance health data interoperability. For this reason, last summer in Washington, DC, we stood with leaders from AWS, Google, IBM, Oracle, and Salesforce to make a joint pledge to adopt technologies that promote the interoperability of health data. But we all know that FHIR is not magic. To make the liberation of health data a reality, developers and other stakeholders will need to work together, and so this is why community events like HL7 FHIR DevDays are so important. They allow us to try out new ideas in code and discuss a variety of areas, from the basics of FHIR, to its use with medical devices, imaging, research, security, privacy, and patient empowerment.

The summer of 2019 may indeed be the coming of age for FHIR, with the new version of the standard called “FHIR release 4” (R4) reaching broader adoption, new product updates from Microsoft, and new interop policies from the US government that will encourage the industry to adopt FHIR more broadly.

New FHIR standard progressing quickly

Healthcare developers can start building with greater confidence that FHIR R4 will help connect people, data, and systems. R4 is the first version to be “normative,” which means that it’s an official part of the future specification so that all future versions will be backward compatible.

Microsoft adding more FHIR functionality to Azure

Microsoft is doing its part to realize benefits of health data interop with FHIR, and today we’re announcing that our open source FHIR Server for Azure will support FHIR R4 and is available today.

We have added a new data persistence provider implementation to the open source FHIR Server for Azure. The new SQL persistence provider enables developers to configure their FHIR server instance to use either an Azure Cosmos DB backed persistence layer, or a persistence layer using a SQL database, such as Azure SQL Database. This will make it easier for customers to manage their healthcare applications by adding more capabilities for their preferred SQL provider. It will extend the capability of a FHIR server in Azure to support key business workloads with new features such as chained queries and transactions.

Growing ecosystem of customers and partners

Our Azure API for FHIR already has a broad partner ecosystem in place and customers using the preview service to centralize disparate data.

Northwell Health, the largest employer in New York state with 23 hospitals and 700 practices, is using the Azure API for FHIR to build interoperability into its data flow solution to reduce excess days for patients. This ensures the patient only stays for the period that is required for clinical care and there are no other non-clinical reasons are occurring for delays in discharging the patient.

Our open source implementation of FHIR Server for Azure is already creating a tighter feedback loop with developers and partners for our products who have quickly innovated on top of this open source project.

Darena Solutions used the open source FHIR Server for Azure to develop its Blue Button application with a content management system (CMS) called BlueButtonPRO. This will allow patients to import their data from CMS (through Blue Button). More importantly, it allows patients a simple and secure way to download, view, manage, and share healthcare data from any FHIR portals that they have access to.

US Health IT Policy proposal to adopt FHIR

The DevDays conference also comes on the heels of the US government’s proposed ruling to improve interoperability of health data embodied in the 21st Century Cures Act, which includes the use of FHIR.

Microsoft supports the focus in these proposed rules on reducing barriers to interoperability because we are confident that the result will be good for patients. Interoperability and the seamless flow of health data will enable a more informed and empowered consumer. We expect the health industry will respond with greater efficiency, better care, and cost savings.

We’re at a pivotal moment for health interoperability, where all the bottom-up development in the FHIR community is meeting top-down policy decision at the federal level.

Health data interoperability at Microsoft

Integrating health data into our platforms is a huge commitment for Microsoft, and Azure with FHIR is just the start. Now that FHIR is baked into the core of Azure, the Microsoft cloud will natively speak FHIR as the language for health data as we plan for all our services to inherit that ability.

Healthcare today and into the future will demand a broad perspective and creative, collaborative problem-solving. Looking ahead, Microsoft intends to continue an open, collaborative dialogue with the industry and community, from FHIR DevDays to the hallways of our customers and partners.

FHIR is a part of our healthcare future, and FHIR DevDays is a great place to start designing for that future.

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