Towards achieving semantic interoperability of clinical study data with FHIR

J Biomed Semantics. 2017 Sep 19;8(1):41. doi: 10.1186/s13326-017-0148-7.


Background: Observational clinical studies play a pivotal role in advancing medical knowledge and patient healthcare. To lessen the prohibitive costs of conducting these studies and support evidence-based medicine, results emanating from these studies need to be shared and compared to one another. Current approaches for clinical study management have limitations that prohibit the effective sharing of clinical research data.

Methods: The objective of this paper is to present a proposal for a clinical study architecture to not only facilitate the communication of clinical study data but also its context so that the data that is being communicated can be unambiguously understood at the receiving end. Our approach is two-fold. First we outline our methodology to map clinical data from Clinical Data Interchange Standards Consortium Operational Data Model (ODM) to the Fast Healthcare Interoperable Resource (FHIR) and outline the strengths and weaknesses of this approach. Next, we propose two FHIR-based models, to capture the metadata and data from the clinical study, that not only facilitate the syntactic but also semantic interoperability of clinical study data.

Conclusions: This work shows that our proposed FHIR resources provide a good fit to semantically enrich the ODM data. By exploiting the rich information model in FHIR, we can organise clinical data in a manner that preserves its organisation but captures its context. Our implementations demonstrate that FHIR can natively manage clinical data. Furthermore, by providing links at several levels, it improves the traversal and querying of the data. The intended benefits of this approach is more efficient and effective data exchange that ultimately will allow clinicians to switch their focus back to decision-making and evidence-based medicines.

Keywords: CDISC ODM; Clinical research data; FHIR; Interoperability; Longitudinal clinical study.

MeSH terms

  • Delivery of Health Care*
  • Humans
  • Medical Informatics / methods*
  • Semantics*
  • Systems Integration