Collaborations Can Change the World

Sep 14, 2018 11:27:08 AM / by Debi Willis
FHIR Applications Roundtable

Reflections from an HL7 FHIR Applications Roundtable Presenter

When I was a little girl, I wanted to grow up and do something to make the world a better place for everyone. I thought about becoming a missionary, a doctor or a teacher. Eventually I became a computer programmer because I love solving problems with technology.
To solve big problems, collaboration with many people with varied backgrounds and skill sets is vital for success. This is why I love working with the HL7 FHIR community. HL7 brings together people from all over the planet with a single focus to improve the exchange of electronic health information. Each person brings their experiences and insights into solving real world problems in healthcare. Together we’re learning how to use and expand the HL7 FHIR standards to solve those problems.

The HL7 FHIR Applications Roundtable

I really enjoy the HL7 FHIR Application Roundtable events. These events give developers an opportunity to show us their creations. Seeing what others have built to solve specific problems encourages me about the future of healthcare.
I had an opportunity to showcase our new MyLinks application at a recent HL7 FHIR Applications Roundtable event. For almost two decades, my software company (PatientLink) built products to enable patients to send their information directly into an electronic health record as structured data. This helped doctors understand the patient’s history to provide better care for them. Then cancer changed everything. After experiencing many frustrations in trying to gather my personal records for my care, I decided it was time to build something for patients.
I felt there were three important things I needed.

  • I needed all of my medical records to better understand my illness. I wanted to learn everything about my cancer and understand if I was going to die from this.
  • I also wanted to connect with another woman in Oklahoma City who had kidney cancer. I wanted to talk with her, ask her how her life has changed, and have someone who understood my questions and fears.
  • After losing my sister to brain cancer and my mother to Alzheimer’s, I wanted to connect with researchers to understand what they are doing to solve these devastating illnesses and what I could do to help.
This was the genesis for MyLinks: Linking patients to their doctors and their data, to each other and to researchers.

The ONC Challenge

The plan for MyLinks began in 2012, before HL7 FHIR became a reality. MyLinksWhen I first heard of FHIR, I watched it from a distance. The thought that there could be a single API used by all EHR vendors was too good to believe. We spent hundreds of thousands of dollars building interfaces with the various EHRs’ proprietary APIs. I watched FHIR grow in development and popularity and in backing by the ONC. When the ONC announced a contest for a Consumer Health Data Aggregator FHIR Application, we dove headfirst into the challenge. Patients needed this application. We needed a way to connect to all EHRs. This was the perfect challenge to drive innovation using FHIR. And it was the perfect challenge for me to prove that one API really could connect to multiple EHRs. It was a tremendous amount of work, but we threw ourselves into it. When we received word that we won first place, there was screaming, hugging, and dancing in the tech area. So often we see winners from Boston and San Francisco where there’s lots of financial backing from large companies. But this time, a small woman-owned company in the middle of Oklahoma won first place! I was so proud of our team. That challenge not only proved to us what we could do, it also proved that FHIR would have a tremendous impact on healthcare.