FHIR 101: Pharma's guide to the emerging standard in healthcare information

Mar 22, 2024

With FHIR comes the spark to ignite healthcare worldwide. Here's our go-to guide for Pharma on what this new standard is and why it's so important. 

Datapharm is excited to announce that emc data is now migrated to FHIR, laying down the pathway for the future of medicines information.

emc’s move to FHIR is a huge leap forward and Datapharm is excited about the opportunities this brings for its customers.

But what exactly is FHIR and why is it so important for the Pharma industry?

What is HL7 FHIR?

FHIR (pronounced as “fire”) stands for Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources. It’s an open standard developed by HL7 (Health Level Seven International) to facilitate seamless data exchange in healthcare.

To use an analogy, imagine that a patient's medication details are like a person travelling from one country to another.

In the traditional healthcare system, each hospital or pharmacy is like a different country with its own language and rules for documenting information about a traveller.

FHIR acts as a standardised medication passport that allows a patient's medication information to move smoothly between these different healthcare providers. And just as a passport contains essential details about a traveller, FHIR defines a common way to represent and share important medication data, such as dosages, form, strength, interactions and instructions for use.

By using this standardised "medication passport," healthcare providers can efficiently share and access medication information regardless of the specific systems or applications they use. This seamless exchange of information helps ensure that patients receive appropriate and safe medication management.

Why is FHIR important?

Up until recently, even simple tasks like exchanging patient data between a hospital and a healthcare practitioner setting has been a technical challenge and, in many cases, not even achieved. This is because many systems from each healthcare setting simply are not designed to use common message standards, making interoperability a significant challenge.

FHIR has emerged as the response to breaking down these communication barriers and replacing the outdated technologies we are at the detriment of today.

The benefits of FHIR-structured medicines information are wide reaching. FHIR is being accepted by the global healthcare community, including the NHS, as the standard of choice for structuring healthcare data, so the potential benefits can impact pharma and healthcare worldwide.

There is a long list of reasons which support the adoption of FHIR for pharma and healthcare, but here is a non-exhaustive list of four key areas:


As mentioned above, FHIR bridges the gap between disparate healthcare systems – in effect, it becomes like a universal translator which enables smooth communication between things such as:

  • Electronic health records (EHRs)
  • Mobile apps
  • Wearable devices
  • Regulatory systems
  • Supply chains

Imagine a world where your doctor, pharmacist, and fitness app can all understand your health data effortlessly.

Structured data:

FHIR promotes structured data exchange. Instead of unstructured or proprietary information which is awkward to manage, FHIR ensures that data is consistently structured. This is crucial for medicines information, where accuracy is paramount and conformity matters for maintaining compliance.

Improved pharmacovigilance:

By having information structured and understood through the different healthcare systems and apps, it is made easier for pharmacovigilance teams to monitor, analyse and correlate data, e.g. for faster responses to adverse events.

A patient-centric approach:

The National Library of Medicine emphasised the importance of patient engagement, saying “most adults spend little time in healthcare facilities and frequently are on their own to make appropriate, daily health decisions. This means patients need to be in control and the drivers of their health.”

One of the key motivations for the global community adopting FHIR is to empower patients to make informed healthcare decisions. This seems particularly timely as, with the rise in popularity of healthcare apps and devices such as fitness and health trackers, we are now becoming more habitually engaged in our own health.

FHIR allows patients to have greater access to their own health data, and make more informed decisions. With medicines in mind, this can also include personalised information tailored to each patient’s needs.

How is Datapharm using FHIR to advance its platforms?

Medicines information published on emc is now fully structured with this new common standard for healthcare information.

Our commitment to structuring medicines information in FHIR is a huge investment in our infrastructure. This not only covers the submission of information on emc but it will also impact medicines information which is managed, updated and distributed through any of our solutions for customers.

The structuring of this data also supports our customers with advances in submission processes. By doing this, we are improving the ability to use or convert from other sources and formats, including FHIR and ePI.

Datapharm’s FHIR project is no mean feat

Mapping an entire data model, which includes thousands of medicine products, on FHIR is a hugely challenging project. Our experience in healthcare data was crucial to getting it right, including the correct use of terminologies which are guided by regulation.

But how does FHIR relate to ePI?

Electronic Product Information (ePI) and Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (FHIR) are closely related in the context of healthcare data exchange. But there is a difference.

Whilst FHIR provides a framework for healthcare systems to talk to each other, ePI defines the level of detail in the data for medicine product information. Depending on how advanced the level of ePI is, it can include details such as dosage instructions, side effects, contraindications and storage recommendations.

It’s fair to say that without using FHIR, ePI would not be able to be exchanged seamlessly across different platforms, including clinical decision support systems, electronic health records and mobile apps.

To learn more about the benefits of ePI, read our recent piece on Fierce Biotech.

Reducing the burden of manual processes and enhancing patient outcomes

In short, FHIR isn’t just about data—it’s an enabler for transforming healthcare. Medicines information becomes richer, safer, more multipurpose and more patient-centric. As FHIR gains traction, we can foresee more informed treatment decisions and an increase in benefits for Pharma organisations utilising ePI.

If you’d like to discuss more about how Datapharm is improving the use of medicines information and data quality through FHIR, get in touch with our team today.

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