How is FHIR changing the face of the healthcare information ecosystem?

Aug 25, 2023

Healthcare is beginning to embrace the future of medicines information. In this article, Adam Smith outlines how the healthcare ecosystem is on the brink of being revolutionised through the benefits of interoperability.

Adam Smith
Director (Data), Datapharm

Thanks to impactful technologies, we are about to see how patient outcomes can be improved by making safety information more consumable and engaging.

The most groundbreaking of these technologies is a new digital standard for structuring and exchanging medicines information, which the industry is now beginning to embrace – FHIR (Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources).

But why is FHIR so important and how will it revolutionise the way medicines information is consumed by HCPs and Patients in the UK?

Setting the scene – how innovation changes lives

Technology and the innovation it delivers has changed the way we live, mostly for the better. We are now able to be more productive, manage our time more efficiently and can benefit from a wealth of information at our fingertips.

These benefits were made possible by common languages which were developed for computers to talk to each other and the subsequent birth of the internet. The same principle applies to medicines information – and FHIR is the common language that the global medicines community has agreed to use.

What FHIR means for medicines information

FHIR (Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources) is the global industry standard for passing healthcare data between otherwise unconnected systems. It means that huge amounts of healthcare information (more than any other previous standard) can be digitised and interpreted by computers and shared with other healthcare systems.

When Pharma publish their SmPCs and PILs on emc, they are now put into the FHIR structure which makes them easily readable by computers. This may seem like a small and seemingly innocuous step, but it requires a great deal of work to achieve and has a huge impact on accessibility and the effectiveness of how medicines information is consumed, such as in the following cases.



How does FHIR benefit healthcare systems?


Improved interoperability for Healthcare IT & Clinical Decision Support (CDS) Systems

‘Healthcare IT Systems & CDS’ is essentially the computer software that sits in the major Healthcare settings, namely GPs, Community Pharmacies and Hospitals. This software is where 99% of medicines in the UK are prescribed, dispensed and ordered. It is therefore vitally important for patient safety and commercial outcomes to make sure that these systems have the right medicine information in them at the right moment.

Previously these software providers all had to develop their own UK drug databases through sheer hard work and people power. The SmPCs and PILs were manually read and interpreted, which was a costly and time-consuming process, and is also prone to errors. Now with SmPCs and PILs being in FHIR structure, much of the manual work editorialising the content can be automated, freeing up resources to be channelled into innovative solutions which benefit HCPs and patients.

This means that different organisations with their own IT systems, like an NHS Trust and Community Pharmacy, can speak to each other about medicines using the same language. The word for this ability to communicate with each other in the same language is called interoperability, and without FHIR it cannot be achieved.

Updating information on Medicine and Medical Websites

There is a variety of NHS and private sector publishers who rely on SmPCs and PILs to provide medicines and medical content to HCPs and the public. They have to employ large editorial teams to keep the content on their websites up-to-date and accurate. However, often this is not achieved, meaning patient safety is compromised.

emc processes on average over 650 changes to SmPCs a month which means anyone publishing medicines and medical content has a significant job on their hands if they want to stay up-to-date. Now that medicines information is being made available in FHIR format, the job of updating medicines information can be automated, again requiring less time and resource. Additionally, new functionality and understanding of medicines like interactions checkers and Adverse Drug Reaction checkers can be enhanced and enriched, delivering more value and insight directly to HCPs and patients.

The role of technology for the NHS and clinical content

Within the NHS lies a number of interconnected organisations with many important information flows. With such a large, complex and evolving structure, it continues to look at ways it can be more efficient in order to focus on healthcare’s highest priority, the patient.

Technology, when used effectively, has a crucial role to play for the NHS. The NHS dm+d, for example, was developed to standardise the way medicines are described and coded to empower the Electronic Prescription Services (EPS), this being one instance of how interoperability has benefitted UK healthcare on a large scale.

Interoperability is a key priority for IT decision-makers within the NHS, supporting the move towards integrated care and providing patients with access to their health records. To support this, the NHS has been quick to adopt FHIR as part of its significant digital transformation journey. There is also plenty of development being carried out at national level, including the King’s Health Partners’ project which implemented FHIR for viewing patient information in real-time.

This innovation is supported by the industry

FHIR has become widely accepted by the industry as the new standard which will be used for structuring medicine information in the future, with 17 OECD countries adopting, or considering its adoption.

In 2023, Datapharm and its global partners are on the precipice of changing how Pharma, HCPs and patients talk to each other about medicines, offering more transparency and innovation which feeds directly into real world benefits akin to the impact of the internet for the average person.

It is an extremely exciting time to be working in this field. With the support of key stakeholders from Pharma, Healthcare and Patient Groups, including Gravitate Health and HL7, we have lofty goals to revolutionise the way medicines information is engaged with.

The industry is now underway in the adoption phase of this exciting technology.

How Datapharm helps Pharma with distributing its product information

Making sure medicine information is accessible at the right time and place for HCPs and patients to engage with is a challenge that is close to our hearts at Datapharm. Our work in this area has led to a point where there isn’t a single clinical IT system which does not source medicine information directly from the emc database.

Pharma have continued to work with Datapharm to guarantee their medicines information is accessible on emc, the UK’s trusted source of regulated medicine information, with over 85 million visitors annually looking up compliant and up-to-date non-promotional materials on medicines.

Learn more about our work with structured medicines information

If you would like to learn more about how emc supports Pharma with its medicine product information, get in touch with our team.

Related Reading