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HL7 FHIR Connectathon: First Time Impressions and Other Tidbits

This post originally appeared on HL7 blog – reposting here with permission:

Excitement Filled the Room

It was already 9:23 am. One could argue that on a normal Saturday morning, that’s an early start time.

But I was late. The conference room at the Hyatt Regency San Antonio on the Riverwalk was packed … and buzzing with excitement over FHIR resources, interoperability and the like:

I later learned the total number of participants at the HL7 FHIR Connectathon 14 was 200+ (a sharp increase from the 6 who attended the first Connectathon just a few years ago).

It seemed like 20+ round tables, packed close to each other, each with 6 to 10 participants, elbow to elbow. Some attendees engaged in lively discussion, some furiously wrote code, and some just stared at their screens (most displaying a FHIR resource page) brows creased in concentration.

Where Do I Start?

Why couldn’t I drag my behind out of bed a little earlier for the opening remarks so I could orient myself better?

Which table should I start from?

In this mild confusion, I walked past each table to see if I could find anyone I knew or a track I was familiar with.

What were these guys doing at a Connectathon? I had heard this wasn’t like a certification, but rather more about people testing their FHIR client or server applications against a series of test scripts.

Were there prizes?

How I Landed in the Medication Track

I saw Grahame Grieve (the “God of FHIR”) from the corner of my eye. I’d met him for the first time the week before. He gave me brief nod and carried on imparting wisdom to a seemingly appreciative colleague.

There were many tracks – from the left corner of the room to the right – Provider Directory and Scheduling, Terminology, Medication, US Core, Attachments, Care Plan, Patients (not just for Beginners), CDS Hooks (must be popular as there were 3 tables), Finance and Payers (2 tables), and so on.

Thankfully Eric Haas, who I’d met a couple of times (he lives in Napa, I’m in San Francisco), waved me over to the Medication Track. I dived right into a discussion about how to derive current medication list from the FHIR Medication resources and then …

Eight Hours Later

Fast forward 8 hours and my head was spinning from drinking from the “FHIR” hose (pardon the pun). It was amazing to get all the first-hand feedback from so many smart people, on a host of issues we were dealing with at work in designing a federated FHIR service that pulls and consolidates patient data from multiple sources.

Key Take Aways

I plan to write more about each of the tracks that I participated in, but here are a few of the quick takeaways:

  • With 200+ participants that included providers, EHR vendors, payers, developers, academics and government employees, plus the “Gods of FHIR” – the event was big enough to represent all key aspects of healthcare, but still small enough so that you could walk up to anyone and start a conversation
  • The Connectathon is not a certification. Rather, you run your client or server through a series of test scripts, work with track leaders and fellow participants to better understand the nuances of each failure case, and then make the code changes to become compliant.
  • While FHIR is a standard for data exchange, that doesn’t mean your internal healthcare data model has to be 100% based on FHIR. This seemed like a common trap people fall into as they tried to design their data repositories to be FHIR compliant. I was glad that veterans like Lloyd McKenzie, Brian Postlethwaite, and Grahame Grieve straightened me out. You should design your schema based on what suits your use case (and data sources) the best and then focus on following FHIR when you are sharing /serving that data to others.

Overall, it was very inspiring to see so many smart people working on many interesting applications, with advanced standards knowledge and all skill levels participating. As a first timer, you can’t ask for a better learning opportunity.