Mobile health apps and FHIR

Discover how FHIR is revolutionizing healthcare IT, making it easier than ever for developers to create compliant and innovative mobile health apps. Learn about the benefits of using FHIR for mobile health apps and discover tips for developers considering using FHIR in their apps. We will also provide some examples of how FHIR successfully being used in real-world applications.

Healthcare is one of the most challenging industries to join with new IT solutions. The need for all stakeholders to ensure regulatory compliance in healthcare and use technologies established by healthcare standards prevents the entry of many innovative mobile apps for healthcare. At least, that was until FHIR. 

Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (FHIR) is a healthcare data exchange standard developed and pushed by the Health Level 7 organization to set an implementer-focused standard and lower the threshold for entry for developers. Spoiler: the attempt was a pure success.

FHIR: THE BASICS

The History of Healthcare Standardization

FHIR resulted from an over 100-year evolution of healthcare data standards. FHIR comprises the best features of previous data standards designed to ensure semantic interoperability in healthcare, which refers to the ability of both systems to interpret data transmitted in the same way. 

FHIR is known for its collaborative community, also called the FHIR accelerators. Accelerators work with the HL7 organization to achieve industry goals, putting the expertise of technology vendors and other industry experts toward designing FHIR implementation guides (IGs).

IGs provide instructions on how to implement FHIR for a specific case of use. For example, CARIN for Blue Button Implementation Guide is an FHIR implementation guide that provides guidance on how to use FHIR to support patient access to their healthcare data.


Why is FHIR different?

In contrast to previous healthcare data standards, FHIR is based on web technologies that are widely used in other industries, making it easier for developers to leverage FHIR when building healthcare applications. Precisely, such web technologies as RESTful APIs, HTTP, XML, JSON, and OAuth 2.0 form the foundation of the FHIR standard.

HOW FHIR TECHNOLOGIES SUPPORT APPLICATIONS DEVELOPMENT AND DEPLOYMENT

FHIR API

The RESTful architectural style uses HTTP requests to access and manipulate data via predefined operations (e.g., CRUD operations). FHIR RESTful API provides a scalable and lightweight communication mechanism for healthcare FHIR systems, allowing for smooth and fast connection of health apps with FHIR-first systems. 

FHIR API supports various operations, allowing developers to create applications that can, for example, update or read healthcare data securely and efficiently. In FHIR, the operations allowed to perform on the data depend on roles or attributes. For more detailed information about accessing data, read our article about a service-based RBAC vs. ABAC approach in FHIR projects.

The future of healthcare data management depends on the FHIR APIs since it ensures seamless communication between all FHIR systems. The FHIR RESTful API enables the technical connection between such systems as patient portals, electronic health records, clinical decision support systems, etc.

FHIR Resources

Resources are one of the key aspects of FHIR and its data model. In contrast to other healthcare data standards, FHIR focuses on discrete pieces of information (Resources) rather than an entire document (e.g., HL7 V3 RIM).

Each resource represents a business object in healthcare. In the introduction to the FHIR data model, we discussed the main aspects of an FHIR Resource. Also, we explained how FHIR resources improve the reuse, performance, usability, fidelity, and interoperability of healthcare data. 

One of the primary advantages of resources is the extendibility. FHIR extensions reduce the time and effort needed to create resources from scratch, thus making healthcare application development much more cost-effective and customizable toward specific clinical workflows. In addition, the modular nature of FHIR resources means that IT specialists can create and extend resources independently. 

Working with the FHIR data model may initially be a challenge for developers with no FHIR or healthcare IT experience. However, the detailed and carefully organized specification published on http://hl7.org/fhir/ is free to learn for anyone who wants to create a healthcare application that meets the numerous healthcare data privacy and other regulatory requirements. 

There is no need to design data models from scratch. The FHIR core specification includes resources that cover a variety of common healthcare contexts that anyone can use, extend, or mapping healthcare data to HL7 FHIR resources to enable systems to communicate and exchange information in FHIR format. 

Profiling

FHIR profiling refers to creating a subset of FHIR resources specific to a particular use case. It involves selecting relevant resources, defining their constraints, and building extensions. Profiling enhances the interoperability of health applications. 

Profiles define constraints and customizations of FHIR resources. Therefore, profiling is the essential FHIR aspect that allows for correctly representing any healthcare context, even if it goes beyond the core FHIR specification. However, the profiling process may seem difficult to those new to the FHIR standard. The Kodjin FHIR Profiler is a free profiling tool to automate and speed up the profiling process.

Mapping Healthcare Data

Due to the vast amount and diversity of healthcare data models, developers of new healthcare applications may face challenges trying to leverage this data. Thankfully, the FHIR standard provides standardized ways of unlocking the power of health data and facilitating interoperability

Mapping is one of the ways the FHIR standard simplifies the lives of health IT app creators. Mapping is the process of converting data from one format to another, for example convertion to UCUM format. FHIR allows developers to map healthcare data to FHIR data models, making it easy to integrate and exchange data with other FHIR-based systems.

Moreover, it helps to improve data quality in healthcare since mapping ensures the data meets the requirements of the FHIR standard. In addition, when the data is exchanged in a unified format, it reduces the possibility of errors to a minimum.


By collaborating with Edenlab, you ensure your data is mapped according to the HL7 FHIR data standard by certified FHIR experts. Our specialists apply proven methodologies to standardize, structure, and prepare the data for exchange between systems and applications.

Earlier, we described mapping healthcare data to HL7 FHIR resources for improved interoperability. There, you can find out how we created the Kodjin FHIR Data Mapper. The main function of the Kodjin FHIR Data Mapper is to map from proprietary data standards or HL7 v2/v3 into FHIR. The Kodjin mapper utilizes the Liquid template language written in Rust, which makes the implementation easy and straightforward.

FHIR-FIRST MOBILE APPLICATION FOR ADVANCED ACCESSIBILITY AND CONTROL OF HEALTHCARE DATA

Thanks to popular web technologies in the FHIR toolkit, more developers can enter the healthcare domain with innovative, user-friendly IT solutions and enrich the range of healthcare data management applications. 

The personal healthcare app “Turbota” perfectly illustrates how to use FHIR when developing a patient-centered healthcare mobile application. For the Tubrota use case, the team of professionals at Edenlab used FHIR to integrate various sources of medical data, including the Ukrainian eHealth system, into a single Health Wallet accessible to patients.

The main goal of the Turbota project was overcoming the following challenges:

  • Patients can only register for medical services through a doctor in person, not online;
  • The declaration signing can be performed only in a hospital;
  • Patients cannot change their data or/and manage access to their medical data without a doctor;
  • e-Prescription and e-Referral are available only as codes in SMS. Patients must read the code from the SMS to obtain medicines or services at the medical facility. Additionally, doctors must print paper versions of the documents to ensure patients can see the precise prescription.

The app employs third-party services like Google and Apple for authentication and encrypts the user’s data on the backend. Turbota’s patient-centered approach empowers users to manage their medical history, locate primary healthcare doctors, sign declarations with healthcare professionals, and receive prescribed medicine or medical services.

The app offers personalized health trackers, a health diary, and a bot that gives advice based on the user’s symptoms or requests. In addition, the Turbota app enables users to upload medical documents, search for or order medications, find specialized care professionals or services, and manage their medical records and events.

Another important task was to add and maintain the interoperability of the data and ensure the possibility of technically connecting to as many medical data sources as needed. The team used the turnkey, event-driven Kodjin FHIR Server for storing data from different sources. 

Thanks to the server, the team created a user-friendly application that can easily connect with the Ukrainian e-Health system. Hence, FHIR is a universal solution that can work for national-level projects (e.g., national e-Health system) and mobile application development. 

If the complexity of the FHIR standard is the only thing stopping you from putting a new healthcare app on the market, then do not hesitate to contact us. Edenlab’s FHIR experts will create a scalable solution tailored to your unique requirements while focusing on the quality and defined budget limit.

More article about FHIR

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