Medicare tool is on fire, or at least on FHIR

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The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services is fighting to improve its Blue Button service, designed to allow Medicare beneficiaries access to their electronic medical records with a single click. The agency’s next weapon? FHIR — pronounced “fire.”

FHIR is short for Fast Health Interoperability Resource framework, which is nonprofit group HL7’s internationally recognized API and structured data format for secure and trusted information flow. And according to Mark Scrimshire, entrepreneur-in-residence with CMS, it’s all the rage right now in the health IT world.

“The hottest topic in Healthcare interoperability right now is FHIR,” Scrimshire said on the Department of Health and Human Services’ IDEA Lab blog. “FHIR has caught the imagination and attention of developers across the Healthcare world by offering a developer-friendly API and a rich set of simple, but flexible standard data formats.”

CMS Chief Data Scientist Niall Brennan is working with Scrimshire on the “Blue Button on FHIR” project to make the current record-sharing service more API- and developer-friendly. Essentially, they want to make it so that Blue Button, which currently only produces PDF and text file medical records, can connect beneficiaries’ “Medicare claims data to the applications, services and research programs they trust,” the project’s description reads.

[Read more: The growth of CMS data under Niall Brennan]

“We are accomplishing this by building BlueButton On FHIR. Using the FHIR framework to publish information for beneficiaries in a standard structured format,” Scrimshire said.

Blue Button has revolutionized the electronic health record industry since its inception in 2010, but demands for advanced usage of that data has led CMS to rethink its interoperability.

“In the new world of digital healthcare, there is a drive to use data for better health, for the beneficiary to share information with researchers to find new cures,” the project abstract explains. “This is driving the need for a solution that offers easier data interoperability without requiring the beneficiary to perform all the heavy-lifting to move and re-format data.”

The team is building on top of the FHIR API because the data format has become so widely used around the world. That means Medicare beneficiaries will soon be able to link their data to third-party applications and transfer data in a standardized fashion designed to be secure and reliable.

In early 2016, CMS will begin its build out of the service on the API, looking to test it sometime next summer and launch a pilot at some point in fall 2016. CMS also plans to hold a two-day codeathon April 1-2, 2016, in Washington, D.C., to bring together innovators from the private and public sector exploring FHIR.

Reach the reporter on this story at billy.mitchell@fedscoop.com. Follow him on Twitter @BillyMitchell89.

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Applications & Software, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), data analytics, Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Departments, Health apps, Health data, Health IT, Niall Brennan, open data, Tech
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