Paula Lee of eHealth Centre of Excellence on attending FHIR North 2023

Paula Lee of eHealth Centre of Excellence on attending FHIR North 2023

I don’t write code, I’m not a developer. I don’t even have a computer science background (GASP). So why am I attending my 3rd FHIR North Conference this fall? I believe I first heard the term “FHIR” in 2018 or 2019, and thought they were talking about Amazon. ‘No! F-H-I-R.’ Google search results = JSON, XML, RESTful. I thought: Oh– programming. And quickly put it out of my mind. But it kept coming up more and more, and I thought: this is where digital health is heading. So, I set out to do some independent learning. What I quickly discovered was FHIR is not just about codes, standards and protocols. It is a COMMUNITY. With the exception of Star Trek, never have I encountered so many people willing to share their wealth of knowledge and passion on one subject. It can be seen in YouTube videos, online forums, countless articles, and international conferences. And FHIR North is Canada’s opportunity to make new connections, hear about new and exciting work taking place in our own backyard, and learn about what opportunities in interoperability FHIR can present to us. Not only is this my 3rd conference but this year I am also on the Conference Planning Committee. I’m excited for this opportunity to help make this a valuable and rewarding experience, especially for the “’non-techies” like me. All you need is a passion for learning and staying on top of the latest developments in digital health. If you can see the endless potential benefits enabled through the fast, seamless, and secure exchange of health care information, then I encourage you to come to FHIR North.   More about Paula Lee: Paula is the Manager of eServices Integrations with the eHealth Centre of Excellence in Kitchener, Ontario. When not working hard to improve the interoperability of eReferral in Ontario, she can usually be found reading a good book with a cup of tea in hand and a cat curled up on her lap.  

In the News: OntarioMD’s Michael Savage Shares his thoughts on FHIR North

The FHIR North Blog
December 03, 2021
In the News: Michael Savage shares his thoughts on FHIR North

Michael Savage from OntarioMD recently shared a blog post after attending and speaking at FHIR North 2021.

On October 13th and 14th Mohawk hosted the 8th annual FHIR North conference. The event was held virtually for the second time, and received a record number attendees.

Michael Savage from OntarioMD’s Technology and Integration team has shared a blog post on his experience. Savage says that thanks to the focus of the events agenda, “sessions can get to a level of depth and authentic back-and-forth between presenters and attendees rarely experienced in other conferences.”

For those interested in reading about how the conference has become “a rallying point” supporting the partnerships which have led to some amazing FHIR developments, the blog post can be found here.

In conversation with Russell Buchanan

October 12, 2021
In Conversation with: Russell Buchanan

Russell Buchanan is an Industry Leader in Gevity’s FHIR practice and the planning chair for the FHIR North Conference. In September 2021, Gevity joined Accenture, bolstering its health transformation capabilities in Canada and global markets. Gevity delivers innovative technology solutions in areas such as health systems integration, informatics and analytics, and solution implementation and program management.


This year’s conference theme is a nod to the fact that web-based technologies, FHIR in particular, are allowing information to be shared between healthcare providers, patients and insurers in new ways. Many of us receive healthcare-related services from providers in different care settings and organizations. When healthcare providers get a full picture of our medical history and current health condition(s), it helps improve the quality and efficiency of the patient care they provide.


FHIR-based application programming interfaces (APIs) are increasingly being used to securely connect software applications in different systems, allowing for seamless exchange of information from one healthcare setting to another. In some cases, they also allow us, as patients, to access our health records from our phones. The result is that the data residing in different systems at different points of care become increasingly connected by a ‘planet of APIs’. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted how interconnected the healthcare system is. The ability to collect, share and use information has been critical to the pandemic response. This isn’t unique to the pandemic. Currently, healthcare providers, hospitals, insurance companies and governments all use different systems to store health-related information. FHIR is a standard that enables those disparate systems to work together and exchange data, while preserving clinical context and meaning. Importantly, FHIR uses web-based technologies that many software developers are familiar with. It supports both traditional event- and document-based data integration patterns familiar to many healthcare IT vendors, as well as the modern RESTful data exchange patterns. That opens a lot of possibilities in healthcare technology. FHIR will enable developers to build new applications to better exchange medical data, helping improve collaboration between providers and overall enhance patient care.

It’s difficult to choose, but here are two I am looking forward to:


Patrick Murta, Co-Chief Architect of the US Office of Health Information Technology (ONC)’s FHIR at Scale Task Force (FAST) will discuss the work that the US is is doing to scale up FHIR solutions. The session link is available here.


The Value of Social Determinants of Health (SDOH) Standards panel at the start of day two will bring together compelling speakers to talk about how SDOH data standards that include race, ethnicity and gender information are starting to make their way into our digital health solutions where they provide healthcare providers and researchers the ability to see, understand and respond to the needs of people who may otherwise not be visible. The session link is available here.

FHIR North is a great opportunity to ask questions and make connections with others in the Canadian FHIR community. The virtual conference platform offers a number of online tools and channels that attendees can use to connect with speakers and other attendees. Take the opportunity to ask questions during the sessions using the networking features of the platform to meet other members of the community. The Canadian FHIR community is small and friendly, providing an encouraging space for discussion and networking.

In Conversation with Daniel Bach

October 04, 2021
In Conversation with: Daniel Bach, Smile CDR
Daniel Bach is the Customer Success Account Manager at Smile CDR Inc. He will be attending FHIR North for the first time in 2021.

Far more than being clever wordplay, the ‘Planet of the APIs’ speaks to a greater vision of which FHIR is a part. Indeed, the overarching vision of FHIR has always been the stated goal of health data interoperability and APIs represent a most critical, central component. Enabling faster, interoperable access to patient records by leveraging the use of APIs is gaining greater momentum on a truly global scale. Liberating data from previously locked-in siloes and implementing data exchange both between and within organizations has implications not only for patient health outcomes but for population health, clinical and scientific research as well as unforeseen innovations that are yet to come. Only this time, rather than the post-apocalyptic world encountered by Zaius, the future we are building is one of mutual collaboration, partnership and trust. Perhaps one day in this not too distant future, generations will look back at the early days of FHIR and proclaim: “you finally really did it! You maniacs!”

The momentum FHIR has achieved since its birth in the early 2010s as an incipient standard has since reached a near global scale. While FHIR and the promise of health interoperability has always retained a persistent relevance, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has pushed the topic of health interoperability and by extension FHIR to the forefront of issues facing the public today. The COVID-19 pandemic uncovered long standing issues concerning health infrastructure, data exchange, public health disparities – to name but a few. While FHIR is by no means a panacea, its promise and potential are yet to be discovered in full. In answer to the question ‘why FHIR, why now?’ I respond: ‘If not now, when?’

Omar Hoblos: Optimizing SMART on FHIR Apps.

In the true spirit of FHIR, connect and collaborate with fellow attendees! They’ll turn out in the future to be colleagues, confidantes and friends.

In Conversation with: Doug Ward

September 24, 2021
In Conversation with: Doug Ward

Doug Ward is the General Manager for Mohawk’s mHealth & eHealth Development and Innovation Centre (MEDIC). He’ll be moderating “If FHIR is so easy, then why is it so hard?” on October 13 at FHIR North 2021.

For me it has both good and bad connotations. Being fairly new to the health space I have been quite shocked at how fractured it is, technically speaking. For us to connect everything that should already be connected we will need several planets of API’s! On the other hand, FHIR provides an excellent approach to make these developments less burdensome, if we can just get more people to agree to work on the same page.

FHIR has always been relevant. But it is more so now because both patients and providers are increasingly demanding connectivity. People- patients in the system- are tired of not having their health information on hand, in one place. And people are increasingly tech-savvy, so they know that this is not a technology issue – it is an industry issue. FHIR can help facilitate those of us who are trying to build these connections.

Well I’m biased – that would be my own session where I am chairing a panel to discuss “If FHIR is so easy, why is it so hard?”. It goes back to my first point – from what I’ve seen of FHIR it really seems to be easy. So why are we not more connected?

Enjoy, and absorb. We have an excellent line-up of very experienced and knowledgeable people sharing their experiences and knowledge.

In Conversation with Speaker Michael Savage

September 16, 2021
In Conversation with: Michael Savage

Michael Savage is part of the Technology and Integration team at OntarioMD. He’ll be presenting “Building out the Canadian FHIR Baseline and Harmonizing Solutions” at FHIR North 2021. Michael is also a member of the FHIR North organizing committee. 

Beyond being a solid play on words (especially after having exhausted every ‘FHIR’-based pun out there!), I think Planet of the APIs represents the maturity of FHIR adoption around the world; for technical and business actors alike, ‘FHIR-izing’ digital health workflows has become a ‘when’, not an ‘if’. Also, this year’s theme speaks to the heightened breadth and depth of stakeholder engagement in FHIR-based integrations. Where data exchanges used to be discussed and implemented in discrete partnerships between participating systems, we’re now witnessing a ton of large collaboratives being called to action, where lots of different vendors and digital health asset owners are coming together under a common banner of interoperability, and deciding how common FHIR APIs and data exchanges should look, regardless of which specific system is being used.

Honestly, I think the answer will (and should) be the same every year. “Why FHIR, why now?” Because there’s a lot of FHIR-based projects and collaboratives happening, and they’re happening now. Nothing wrong with the same thing being true year after year, just shows that the momentum continues! The FHIR North conference is the perfect Canadian forum for FHIR implementers (be they at the technical or business level) to gain support and participation in their initiatives, and conversely, to have their needs reflected in other in-progress work. So much of the quality of any FHIR-based initiative is the breadth and depth of community input and involvement, particularly where the initiative is grassroots in nature. So, for anyone who’s already involved or looking to get involved (not that the two are mutually-exclusive), it’s in their best interest to show up to as many of these conversations as possible. The only other ‘Why Now’ comment I’d offer is that due to the virtual nature of the conference, we’re even more capable of engaging with other jurisdictions and countries around the world, and not just for sessions, but also for longer-term relationships as well.

There are a few sessions for which I’m particularly stoked. There’s a session planned which will be looking at how multiple jurisdictions can best work together on similar initiatives, such as a Patient Summary implementation across a province, and how they can best keep one another informed and involved so that, even if it’s not meant to be one big cross-jurisdictional project, there aren’t a bunch of unnecessary differences between how different groups work with FHIR toward common goals. Related to this, I’m not at all ashamed to say that I’m really excited to be working with the equally FHIR- and business-savvy Sheridan Cook on a presentation on the Canadian FHIR Baseline Profiles initiative. This initiative is one which Sheridan and I have co-facilitated along with the InfoCentral FHIR Implementers Community for almost 3 years now, and we’re working off of some great momentum to develop a set of Baseline FHIR Profiles which can be used as starting points for future FHIR Implementation Guides in the Canadian realm. The more projects and jurisdictions which commit to using the Canadian FHIR Baseline Profiles as a starting point, the closer we will all be to being able to establish ‘Core’ Profiles and workflows such as what we’ve seen out of other countries like the US.

My main tip for first-time attendees would be, please don’t be shy! I’m sure it can be uncomfortable or intimidating to ask questions, raise points which you see as issues, etc. (especially if you’re a bit newer to the FHIR space in general). However, consider that on the Planning Committee side, it makes our day to see questions and discussions get raised. So, if you’re on the fence about speaking up about something during one of the sessions, or even just shouting out some ideas on the forums which run throughout the platform and the conference, just keep in mind that doing so is directly contributing to this being a more engaging conference. It’s not always easy to make a fully virtual conference feel organic and capable of facilitating new relationships, so every question and comment counts!