Over on the official FHR product blog, I just announced a new release. I wanted to expand on one of the features in the new version here
A new profile to describe vital signs (note: this is proposed as mandatory to enable better data sharing)
One of the emerging themes in many countries is sharing data with patients. And one of the broad set of things called ‘health data’ that is easiest to share is what is loosely called ‘vital signs’. It’s simple data, it’s easy to share with the patients, and we’re starting to see monitoring devices available in mainstream consumer technology. But it’s more than just patients that care – vital signs data is widely shared through the healthcare provision system, and there’s lots of interesting decision support and surveillance that can usefully be done with them.
But if every different part of the healthcare system, or different jurisdictions, represent basic vital signs differently, there’ll be no way to easily share decision support and survelliance systems, nor will patients be able to share their healthcare data with common data management tools – which are cross-jurisdictional (e.g. things like healthkit/carekit). With this in mind, we’ve defined a vital signs profile in the new draft of FHIR, and said that all vital signs must conform to it. It doesn’t say much:
- The common vital signs must be marked with a common generic LOINC code, in addition to whatever other codes you want to give them
- There must be a value or a data absent reason
- There must be a subject for the observations
- Systolic/Diastolic must be represented using components
- The units must be a particular UCUM unit
This is as minimal a floor as we can get: defining a common way to recognize a vital sign measurement, and a common unit for them. None of this restricts what else can be done, so this is really very minimal.
For FHIR, this is a very gentle step towards being proscriptive about how healthcare data is represented. But even this looks likely to generate fierce debate within the implementer community, some of whom don’t see the data sharing need as particularly important or near in the future. I’m writing this post to draw everyone’s attention to this, to ensure we get a good wide debate about this idea.
Note: it’s a proposal, in a candidate standard. It has to get through ballot before it’s actually mandatory.