Microsoft launches Azure API for FHIR to promote cloud, interoperability

The release builds on an open-source version originally announced in November.
By Jonah Comstock
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Last week in advance of HIMSS19, Microsoft announced the launch of Azure API for FHIR, the first in a series of APIs to help customers work with machine learning on protected health information in the cloud.

The launch follows up on Microsoft’s open-source release on GitHub last November.

“We saw tremendous response to that,” Heather Cartwright, general manager for Healthcare NExT at Microsoft, told MobiHealthNews. “Great feedback, great use of the open-source technology, and what we hear from our partners is they love the convenience and they want us to continue making it easier, which is why we’re building on that and we are now releasing the Azure API for FHIR.”

With the new API, Microsoft manages a lot more of the back-end data operations and compliance requirements its company did with the open-source API.

The API is driven by a desire to help health systems and connected medical device startups implement a move to the cloud that most have already determined to make.

“As we see the ever-emerging power of artificial intelligence and machine learning in healthcare, some of the research that’s starting to utilize the data in different ways and the insights we’re gaining from the healthcare data as it moves into more consistent formats, the reality of what the cloud can do … is becoming very apparent,” Cartwright said.

“And we’ve seen the question shift from our healthcare partners and customers to say not ‘Why do we have to move to the cloud, we already have things on premises, we can do it here’ to ‘How do we move to the cloud?’ Because they see the potential at scale for building some of these new tools, the ever-growing data sets they have which become challenging to manage on premises, and then the increasing bar for security of managing health data. The cloud provides really powerful tools and technology to manage all those things for them.”

And because the API is built on FHIR, it allows different EHRs as well as third-party vendors to share and combine data more easily.

“There’s no single solution to solving all interoperability woes,” Cartwright said. “… We’re investing in FHIR because we think an open-source standard that’s founded on the clinical data of HL7 is the right place to start. But there are several other data standards that we’re talking about internally, DICOM, HL7, genomics, that we’re going to be looking to build APIs for. These are the APIs our customers are asking for, and our goal is to make it easier for customers to manage their health data in the cloud, so we need to be thinking about any and all ways that they’re managing data today.”

Microsoft is demoing the Azure for FHIR API at Booth #2500. The company is also seeking recruits for its early access program.

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Twitter: @JonahComstock
Email the writer: jonah.comstock@himssmedia.com