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Microsoft's FHIR Server for Azure aids interoperability efforts

Microsoft is just one of several tech giants targeting healthcare organizations with the recent release of its new open source FHIR Server for its Azure cloud.

Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources has become a popular standards framework whose aim is to encourage developers in the medical records arena to deliver support for modern data exchange and interoperability. Several EHR vendors like Cerner, Epic and Allscripts have committed to integrating with the platform to facilitate data exchange with their systems through FHIR. One nontraditional healthcare company that has joined those ranks in recent months is Microsoft with its new FHIR Server for Azure.  

The growing concerns around the lack of interoperability due to complex proprietary software and unstandardized health data formats has reached a tipping point and is one of the main drivers encouraging the adoption of FHIR to facilitate health data exchange. The platform is designed to support information modeling standards under one common set of specifications. It also takes into consideration the delivery of a modern way of interacting with health data using rest APIs and other modern web technologies and data transfer protocols.

In 2018, just four years after its introduction, FHIR has taken center stage among EHR vendors, app developers and other tech companies. Apple, for example, has integrated FHIR into its Health app to extract patient data from some participating hospitals that use Epic. Microsoft has also recently taken an interest in FHIR. Since many hospitals and other health groups are looking for ways to satisfy their data exchange needs, when companies like Microsoft enter this arena of health data exchange, it offers an opportunity for more innovation.

Microsoft first introduced the FHIR Server for Azure in November, offering healthcare organizations a ready-to-go FHIR server environment that can live within Azure cloud. But it has not stopped at just delivering the FHIR services as a server template; it has also customized the open source service and included some valuable capabilities that hospitals may find relevant.

Easy to deploy virtual machine templates for immediate use

By packaging the FHIR solution into an easy to deploy Azure template with scripts, health IT departments are able to quickly roll out FHIR to support internal interoperability initiatives. This also means IT can manage and monitor the FHIR workload and take advantage of some of the security services available in Azure to properly secure the platform and protect the data in it.

Centralized authentication and integration with existing Azure AD

One of the main priorities leadership has when it comes to hospital IT is security. Given that focus and the fact that most hospitals are using Microsoft's Active Directory services for identity management, the customization done by Microsoft of FHIR to include support and integration with Azure AD makes the solution ready to plug and play. This will enable health IT to roll out Microsoft's version of FHIR and easily integrate it into their existing environment and use enhanced security features like single sign-on and multifactor authentication.

Additional documentation to support developers

Microsoft has also introduced a significant amount of documentation for its FHIR Server for Azure template into its code repertoire to assist developers. The company has defined in great detail the .NET Core implementation and has also included a user guide on how to roll out the FHIR Server demo in the Azure ecosystem for those in IT looking for some additional guidance.

Microsoft's move to support healthcare interoperability standards and data exchange in its cloud through customization and support for FHIR is seen by many as a strategic move in the right direction. Microsoft can now assist many of its healthcare clients who are either already using its cloud or are interested in it to adopt FHIR and begin to use it for their data exchange needs. By addressing security and interoperability with its FHIR Server for Azure, Microsoft is setting its eyes on gaining more healthcare clients by easing their transition into its cloud platform.

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