How Fast Can a New Internet Standard for Sharing Patient Data Catch Fire?

Medical professionals have been storing personal health information in electronic form for more than a decade, but it is cumbersome for patients to gather disparate computer and paper records scattered across doctors’ offices, hospitals and medical labs.

Wouldn’t life be easier if you could view your full medical history with a few taps on your smartphone?

The consolidation of medical records may be on its way, as technology companies prod the health care industry to embrace an internet-based common standard for storing and sharing patient information. It’s known as FHIR and pronounced “fire” — a catchier way of saying Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources.

Industry analysts say the rapidly growing demand for freer exchange of health care information is creating an electronic health record market estimated to reach $38 billion by 2025. With numbers like that bandied about, it should come as no surprise that Silicon Valley tech giants Apple and Google are lining up for a slice of the pie — as are other technology behemoths, including Amazon and Microsoft. Those corporations, and many smaller companies and startups, offer FHIR-based apps and services to consumers and health industry professionals.

The idea behind FHIR is to share specific pieces of information, such as symptoms, procedures or diagnoses, without passing along entire documents. Each discrete chunk of data has a unique identifier, which makes it possible for patients, doctors and researchers to get the information they need on any device or browser, regardless of where the data is stored.

Adoption of the medical record-sharing standard may begin to accelerate with the rollout of a new federal rule this year requiring health care providers that receive payments from the U.S. government — Medicare and Medicaid — to use FHIR-compatible apps for patient data.