Health Application Development using HL7 FHIR on the SAP Business Technology Platform
In my recent blog post, I gave some insights into the impact of SAP’s updated strategy for healthcare-related services on the SAP Business Technology Platform (SAP BTP). Today, I want to raise your curiosity and interest and invite you to explore and provide feedback to shape this service further. Hands-on experience and collaboration are the prerequisites to achieving this best. Hence, we provide access to a beta version of our new service SAP Health Data Services for FHIR today.
I write this blog post primarily for our customers, the partner ecosystem, and independent software vendors who plan to build new cloud applications on the SAP Business Technology Platform or have already developed healthcare applications and are looking for integration or extensibility options. Why is that the case? SAP Health Data Services for FHIR (beta) supports designing, implementing, and operating an application or service relying on health-related data. It is a cloud-native implementation of the HL7® FHIR® standard. That said, it supports product owners, architects, and developers to realize services and applications quicker and with the necessary cloud qualities. Still, I will come to this in a second.
In this blog post today, I want to cover three topics:
- Explain the advantages of innovating using the SAP Business Technology Platform.
- Give a short primer about FHIR and describe the benefits.
- Explain how SAP Health Data Services for FHIR can be used as a first-class citizen on the SAP Business Technology Platform for health-related application scenarios.
I want to conclude this blog by describing how you can use SAP Health Data Services for FHIR (Beta) by yourself.
The Need for Innovation for Healthcare-Related Applications
Undoubtedly, SAP Patient Management (IS-H) is a successful and essential industry solution for the healthcare provider market. It is a monolithic application that caters to healthcare-related administrative processes, including billing interwoven with ERP core processes. SAP Patient Management is only available on the SAP Business Suite ECC, and SAP decided at the end of last year to leave the development of patient accounting, administration, and further healthcare applications to our partners. At the same time, two aspects are essential to consider for our future healthcare strategy:
- While SAP Patient Management is not a development platform, SAP partners and customers have built numerous essential and valuable software extensions.
- Similarly, SAP Patient Management is currently used as an integration engine for integrating third-party clinical systems along end-to-end business processes.
Moving from this architecture to the future, SAP BTP is the innovation platform of choice: connecting the hospital information landscape with the broader SAP portfolio of solutions while providing a place for innovation. In essence, SAP is working to build an open healthcare ecosystem, delivering a future modular healthcare system landscape that allows the creation of new, innovative business process capabilities in areas such as patient engagement, supply chain management, and business networks.
SAP BTP, as a robust and multi-cloud-enabled platform foundation, makes it easier for customers to evolve and adapt to the needs of these innovations. Applications are created using a modular approach and are not tied to the underlying technology. Hence, there is no vendor lock-in. This flexibility is true for both SAP BTP and the FHIR industry standard, which also has the notion of portability in mind.
FHIR – Primer & Benefits
In the healthcare IT ecosystem, the not-for-profit, ANSI-accredited standards-developing organization HL7® is well-known for establishing industry standards, such as, e.g., HL7v2, the cornerstone for interoperable data exchange, for multiple decades. Healthcare applications use this standard to facilitate the exchange of health-related information between different systems. At the same time, the standard leverages concepts which influence the design of the own domain model. Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (HL7® FHIR®) is a more modern standard that replaces and improves previous interoperability approaches. It has gained significant traction in recent years thanks to its simplicity, ease of implementation, and flexibility.
There are the following advantages to utilizing FHIR:
- It is easy to understand and implement.
- It uses modern technology and concepts like RESTful APIs, JSON, and XML.
- It is modular and flexible, building on resources representing healthcare information.
- It fosters interoperability demanded by customers and regulations, such as ISIK, ONC 21st Century Cures Act, and the European Health Data Space.
- It has an inbuilt extensibility methodology.
- It is part of an active community with many tools.
It is crucial to enable EHR vendors worldwide to support the FHIR standard and provide the corresponding interfaces and necessary capabilities to work with third-party systems along defined business processes. Many EHR vendors already offer some level of FHIR API.
At the same time, it is, for some use cases, more convenient to utilize a dedicated FHIR server or services – I will use the word “service” from now on. An FHIR service can provide an environment to foster innovation and realize new cases that cannot be as easily fulfilled within a legacy architecture. A cloud-based FHIR service can offer the following benefits:
- Simplified data management: It manages the storage, retrieval, and updating of FHIR resources, simplifying data management and reducing the development effort required.
- Enterprise readiness: It is designed to handle large volumes of data and can be scaled up or down according to the organization’s needs, ensuring efficient performance even as data grows.
- Enhanced security: It implements robust security measures to protect personal health information, including authentication, authorization, and data encryption.
FHIR as a First Class Citizen on the SAP Business Technology Platform
With the introduction of the SAP Health Data Services for FHIR, we can genuinely say, that FHIR will be a first-class citizen on SAP BTP. SAP Health Data Services for FHIR (Beta) supports you in designing, implementing, and operating an application or service relying on health-related data. The service allows the profiling and storing of resources according to your business and localization needs. It lets you manage health data using provided REST APIs and messaging endpoints and offers extensibility with custom resources, FHIR extensions, and business rules.
The following picture depicts what a typical solution architecture for an FHIR-based application can look like:
This figure shows the future hospital information landscape with solutions, such as an EMR system connected via a communication server to the SAP Health Data Services for FHIR. SAP Health Data Services for FHIR (Beta) internally utilizes several other BTP services, such as SAP HANA Cloud, for persistence.
As the web application in this example uses the OpenUI5-FHIR library, the application can utilize FHIR resources all the way from the client (i.e., the browser) to the database.
Join the Beta and Provide Feedback
As mentioned above, we started a beta phase for the SAP Health Data Services for FHIR today. The beta program is open for any SAP BTP customer who wants to evaluate and work with this upcoming service. You can find further information about the road map in the road map explorer. The service will be only available on AWS EU10 region on SAP BTP. After 90 days, the beta program ends, and created instances will no longer work.
You will need an SAP BTP global enterprise account, e.g., a Pay-As-You-Go or CPEA account, to participate in this beta. In addition to that, you will need to create a beta-enabled subaccount. Please note that the general rules for using beta functionality apply during the beta timeframe.
Together with the service, we will provide access to comprehensive documentation, mainly targeted at application developers. We also plan to give more information in the coming days, such as details about an extensive SAP Discovery Center mission, and provide more insights on compelling use cases.
Please tell us what you think. We are interested in any feedback, feature requests, or ideas. Thank you!
HL7, FHIR, and the Flame Design mark are registered trademarks of Health Level Seven International.
To help interested explorers get started, we have created a mission in the SAP Discovery Center to build a healthcare app using the new service, allowing you to comprehensively understand FHIR, our service, and its capabilities. The mission is free of cost, with step-by-step guidance and support from SAP experts. Joining this mission is an excellent opportunity for SAP partners and independent software vendors to get hands-on experience with the new service. Please find more details in the blog post of my colleague Bettina Lieske