Cloud-Based FHIR Services - Are they right for you?

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Cloudticity, L.L.C.

In the past, varying healthcare data standards, such as HL7 and CCDA, made it difficult for systems to exchange information. The Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (FHIR) standard aims to solve this problem by providing a robust, consistent and flexible system for exchanging healthcare data in a secure and seamless manner. 

Unfortunately, adopting the FHIR standard can be challenging. Understanding the specification and then building a FHIR service that exchanges data in compliance with the standard requires substantial time and resources. IT teams then need to manage that service going forward.

For organizations looking to develop FHIR-compatible solutions, a cloud-based FHIR implementation will provide the fastest and most economical approach to adopting the standard. In this article, we will examine the basics of cloud-based FHIR services and discuss how they are benefiting healthcare organizations today.

What is FHIR?

FHIR is a healthcare data standard that defines the structure, content, and transport of healthcare data. It is based on modern web technologies and is designed to be easily accessible, scalable, and secure. The FHIR standard provides a set of APIs that can be used to build applications that exchange healthcare data in real-time.

FHIR is designed to support the exchange of a wide range of healthcare data, including patient information, clinical documents, laboratory results, and images. The standard is flexible and can be used for a variety of purposes, including patient engagement, care coordination, population health management, and clinical research.

Why Cloud-Based FHIR Services?

Using a FHIR cloud implementation can help you address some of the challenges of adopting FHIR and building a FHIR-based service. The right cloud implementation will enable you to accelerate provisioning of your environment, customize the environment, and scale up as necessary — all while controlling costs. 

Faster infrastructure provisioning: Developing a FHIR-based service that enables easier access to health information requires infrastructure — including servers, storage systems, and databases. Acquiring, deploying, and configuring that infrastructure in your own data center can take months. In the cloud, provisioning infrastructure resources can take just minutes. You can significantly accelerate FHIR adoption using the cloud’s virtual infrastructure. 

Cost-effectiveness: Cloud-based FHIR services are more cost-effective than traditional on-premises solutions. They eliminate the need for expensive hardware and IT infrastructure, and they offer a pay-as-you-go model that makes it easier for organizations to budget for their healthcare data exchange needs.

Flexible resources and scalability: To provision a physical server in your own data center, you have to buy the server. If the server is undersized, performance will suffer. On the other hand, if you have too much compute power or capacity to spare, you’re wasting money. With the cloud, you can easily expand — or shrink — your environment as your data and processing volumes change. 

Innovative cloud-based services: When you choose a cloud FHIR implementation, you can tap into a wide variety of innovative services offered by the cloud provider. For example, you might decide to integrate a cloud-based data visualization service to create health dashboards for patients or to enable public health agencies to identify the location of virus outbreaks. You could integrate cloud-based machine learning (ML) models to help generate new insights for clinical or public health decision-making. 

Data integration: The right cloud can help you simplify data integration with other, non-FHIR data sets. For example, healthcare providers might want to incorporate genomics data with clinical information to better identify genetic risks for patients, improve diagnostics, fine-tune prognoses, and select the most effective treatments. Those genomics data likely already reside in the cloud, so using a cloud-based FHIR implementation would enable you to integrate those data without excessive complexity

Accessibility: Cloud-based FHIR services can be accessed from anywhere, at any time, as long as you have an internet connection. This makes it easier for healthcare providers to access and exchange data, regardless of their location.


How Do Cloud-Based FHIR Services Work?

The FHIR standard builds on—and improves on—previous standards, including HL7v2 and CCDA (Consolidated Clinical Document Architecture). Unlike previous standards, FHIR uses RESTful web services and open internet standards, which should be familiar to most developers. FHIR offers the potential for greater interoperability with a broader range of devices and systems, such as many existing electronic health record (EHR) systems. 

Benefits of Cloud-Based FHIR Services

By developing new FHIR-compliant apps and building FHIR interfaces for EHR systems, organizations can produce important benefits for industry participants, such as: 

Improved Patient Care: By making it easier for healthcare providers to access and exchange patient data, cloud-based FHIR services can help improve the quality of care that patients receive. The services provide healthcare providers with a complete view of a patient's health status, which can help them make more informed treatment decisions. Additionally, patients can use the services to access their healthcare data and share it with their care team, which can help improve communication and coordination.

Reduced Costs: Cloud-based FHIR services can help reduce costs for healthcare providers by eliminating the need for expensive hardware and IT infrastructure. The services are also more cost-effective than traditional on-premises solutions, as they offer a pay-as-you-go model that makes it easier for organizations to budget for their healthcare data exchange needs.

Improved Data Quality: Cloud-based FHIR services can help improve the quality of healthcare data by ensuring that data is accurate, up-to-date, and easily accessible. The services use advanced data validation and error-checking tools to ensure that data is accurate and complete, which can help reduce errors and improve patient outcomes.

Greater Data Security: Cloud-based FHIR services are designed to protect sensitive healthcare data, which is critical in the healthcare industry. The services use advanced encryption and authentication technologies to ensure that data is protected from unauthorized access. Additionally, cloud-based FHIR services are regularly audited and tested to ensure that they meet the highest security standards.

Improved Clinical Research: Cloud-based FHIR services can help improve clinical research by making it easier for researchers to access and analyze large amounts of healthcare data. The services provide researchers with access to a large and diverse data set, which can help them identify new patterns, trends, and insights. Additionally, the services can help streamline the clinical trial process by providing real-time data access and improving communication between researchers and patients.

Challenges with Cloud-Based FHIR Services

While cloud-based FHIR services offer many benefits, there are also some challenges that need to be addressed.

Data Privacy and Security: One of the biggest challenges with cloud-based FHIR services is ensuring that sensitive healthcare data is protected from unauthorized access. Healthcare data is highly sensitive, and a data breach could have serious consequences for patients and healthcare providers. To address this challenge, organizations must implement strong security controls and use secure communication protocols to protect healthcare data.

Integration with Existing Systems: Another challenge with cloud-based FHIR services is integrating them with existing healthcare systems. Healthcare providers use a wide range of systems, and ensuring that cloud-based FHIR services can integrate with these systems can be a challenge. Organizations must work with their IT teams and vendors to ensure that cloud-based FHIR services can integrate with their existing systems and that data can be exchanged in real-time.

Cost: While cloud-based FHIR services are more cost-effective than traditional on-premises solutions, they can still be expensive, especially if not properly cost-optimized. 

Complexity: While cloud-based FHIR solutions offer more simplicity and ease than traditional solutions, FHIR is still a nascent standard. Finding talent with the experience and skills necessary to implement and maintain a FHIR service can be a challenge.

Cloud-Based FHIR Solution Options

There are several commercially available cloud-based FHIR solutions for organizations to choose from, each with its own benefits and strengths.

Azure FHIR Services 

Part of Microsoft Azure’s broad portfolio of cloud services for healthcare, Azure FHIR services can help you build new solutions that benefit from the standardized exchange of healthcare data in the cloud.

Google Cloud Healthcare API

The Google Cloud Healthcare API enables developers to build new clinical and analytics solutions by facilitating simple, standardized exchange of healthcare data with cloud-based apps. 

Amazon Healthlake

Amazon HealthLake is a cloud-based data lake designed for healthcare data. It features capabilities that enable you to ingest, store, transform, and analyze data and conduct predictive modeling. The ability to work with large-scale data volumes supports use cases in public health, clinical practice, insurance, and institutional operations.

Smilie Digital Health

Smile Digital Health is an integrated platform designed to help maximize the value of healthcare data, in part by using the FHIR standard. The company (which is also named Smile Digital Health) offers a portfolio of solutions that includes a clinical data repository (CDR), payer-to-payer solution, app management solution, professional services and support, and more. In addition, the Smile Digital Health team developed and continues to maintain an open-source FHIR implementation in Java called HAPI FHIR.


The Innovaccer Health Cloud is a cloud-native platform designed to accelerate digital transformations for providers, payers, life sciences companies, and digital health innovators.

Choosing the Right Service for You

Cloud-based FHIR services are transforming the healthcare landscape by making it easier for healthcare providers to access and exchange patient data. Knowing which cloud-based FHIR solution is best for your needs is an important first step in your FHIR implementation.

To learn more about the cloud-based FHIR services that are available on the market, download the white paper FHIR Solutions Comparison – find out which FHIR service is right for you.

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