Championing New Integrations for Increased Interoperability and Impact

Health information systems often need to be able to communicate with one another and share data back and forth in a secure, reliable way.  Having an Electronic Health Record (EHR) system can be critical for effective healthcare delivery. And streamlining such systems to efficiently communicate and compile information across multiple platforms can take the efficacy and quality of that healthcare delivery to a new level.

Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (FHIR) is a popular way to standardize the format in which data is shared by outlining consistent data elements and providing an API for sharing electronic health records.

Because workflows in CommCare frequently involve the collection of healthcare data and often require integration with other governmental or private sector systems, Dimagi has committed to making a turnkey integration using the FHIR standard. 

To that end, Dimagi has recently collaborated with PATH and Digital Square to ensure that CommCare is FHIR interoperable and can integrate either directly with FHIR or through an OpenHIE mediator.

What is FHIR?

Let’s get technical:

FHIR is a standard created by the HL7 healthcare standards organization to describe data formats and elements and offer an Application Programming Interface (API) for exchanging EHR. 

It builds on previous data format standards from HL7 but is easier to implement because it uses a modern web-based suite of API technology, including an HTTP-based RESTful protocol, and a choice of JSON, XML, or RDF for data representation.

One of the goals of FHIR is to facilitate interoperability between legacy healthcare systems, making it easy to provide healthcare information to healthcare providers and individuals on a wide variety of devices. It also allows third-party applications—like CommCare—to easily integrate into existing systems.

CommCare + FHIR

CommCare’s turnkey integration with FHIR, including an OpenHIE mediator, will significantly reduce the level of effort required to support data interoperability with other systems. This means more programs will benefit from access to job aid and data collection programs based on CommCare, and administrators will be able to spend more time actually reviewing the data they collect, rather than cleaning and merging manually.

CommCare will simply display a UI in which variables outlined in CommCare HQ are mapped to FHIR resource properties, allowing the FHIR API to accurately forward and pull data. Once those variables are properly mapped, any update to data in CommCare will trigger an update to be sent to the FHIR server, already configured to map directly to those standardized variables.

CommCare allows you to map which variables in CommCare HQ correspond to the FHIR resource properties.

The Potential of FHIR

FHIR continues to see growing adoption by healthcare providers, developers, and vendors. CommCare’s addition to this group has the potential to significantly reduce the cost and difficulty of integration with other health systems and could even see existing programs merge data with existing health systems—government-run or otherwise.

In fact, this integration can help simplify CommCare’s integrations with DHIS2, OpenMRS, and any other widely-used systems that may choose to adopt FHIR standards, as well. The larger the network, the greater the returns for any organization looking to broaden the scope and scale of its digitally-enabled interventions.

With a turnkey integration with FHIR, CommCare could support a number of common use cases.

Example: Analyzing data across multiple systems

Let’s say a national department of health wants to collect and analyze information about its country’s citizens, with a focus on malaria and tuberculosis. They have a national-scale malaria program that uses CommCare as its principal data collection tool for last-mile service delivery, but the country’s TB initiative is hosted on a separate health information system. The department of health wants to export this data and compare data points from each system using a third external data analysis system.

Previously, the work of integrating data from two systems would have been substantial, and unless both programs had designed their systems with this cross-programmatic analysis in mind, organizing the data into a mutually intelligible format would have been very difficult. 

Now, since CommCare is FHIR interoperable, we can share the data with the third-party database using well-established and standardized FHIR protocols. Because FHIR protocols are widely adopted, if the system used to collect TB data is also FHIR interoperable, data mapping between the two systems and integration of data will be significantly easier. 

Track which third-party databases have accessed your CommCare data via API logs.

The Path Ahead

Moving forward, Dimagi will take steps to further simplify and improve the user experience of this integration, ensuring anyone would be able to set it up.

To start, access to this integration will be available only to projects engaged with our Solutions team who are on the Pro software subscription or higher, though as we continue to improve the user experience of this feature, it may also become available to SaaS users.

To learn more about Dimagi’s integration of CommCare with FHIR, click here.

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