June 22, 2017
George McLaughlin Director of Solutions Marketing

Wait, aren’t they the same thing? Simply put, no.

While some EHR vendor’s API strategy consists of hanging a “FHIR is coming soon!” sign on their door, others have gone ahead and made significant investments in building their own APIs and making them available to technology providers. Groups like athenahealth, Allscripts, and drchrono are leading the charge while heavyweights like Epic and Cerner have also made certain functionality available.

The point to clear up is that EHR APIs are not equal to nor synonymous with FHIR.

FHIR is a standard developed by the standards body Health Level Seven International. It outlines how health information should be structured and shared over web architecture, but it’s not 100% utilized by EHRs.

FHIR is not an end-all-be-all for health information exchange nor a complete replacement of their existing APIs. EHR vendors have gone on record stating that they will not implement all of FHIR. Instead, they will determine what functionality applies to them and their customers and utilize accordingly. Furthermore, the switch to FHIR will not be immediate nor at once, as they will begin to implement and leverage the new standard incrementally. There is also a clear philosophical difference between existing EHR vendor APIs and FHIR itself.

Today, proprietary web services (APIs) made available by EHR vendors generally follow a service-oriented architecture. EHR APIs are primarily designed to answer specific questions that cover common workflows or data exchange requests in the clinical setting, while FHIR is clearly developed around resources. For example, EHR vendor APIs today will say, “for this provider, give me his booked appointments for this day” while FHIR would say, “show me a list of appointments”.

EHR APIs are a natural evolution of the tools EHR vendors have developed to answer these questions internally; now, they are pushing that functionality out to the public. Most of these internal web services were authored before FHIR, and that is reflected today in functionality and design.

The thing to remember? FHIR and EHR Vendor APIs are not the same thing. FHIR promises to augment what vendors already have available, and a combination of both will probably be the best thing for end users.

Interested in healthcare APIs? Redox offers the only vendor agnostic API on the market that abstracts away any variance from EHR vendor APIs or FHIR and presents a consistent, reusable API for health information exchange. Want to learn more about it? Get in touch today to learn how our solution can power your workflows via a single API.