HL7 Adds SDOH Project into the FHIR Accelerator Program

Seth Augenstein
AUGUST 23, 2019


The push for adding social determinants of health (SDOH) to international electronic health record (EHR) standards accelerated this week.

The Gravity Project was added to the Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (FHIR) Accelerator Program, according to an announcement by Health Level Seven International (HL7), the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP), and the Social Interventions Research and Evaluation Network (SIREN).

Adding social and environmental conditions like food, housing, and transportation to the list of standardized medical codes in EHRs will make a critical addition to the standards effort, said stakeholders.

“By incorporating the social determinants of healthcare into our decision process, the Gravity Project will help to transform care delivery and health analytics,” said Charles Jaffe, M.D., Ph.D., the HL7 International CEO.

The Gravity Project is the product of more than 500 experts from across the country since its inception in 2017, according to the announcement.

The rest of this year will be devoted to developing standards and terminologies—next year will be about developing the FHIR implementation guide allowing the exchange of the data, said Walter G. Suarez, M.D., MPH, Executive Director of Health IT Strategy and Policy of Kaiser Permanente, who is also the chair-elect of HL7. 

"This is sort of the ultimate step in terms of achieving interoperability when it comes to social determinants of health," Suarez told Inside Digital Health™ by phone.

An early catalyst for Gravity was SIREN, at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF).

SIREN’s director, Laura Gottlieb, M.D., MPH, of UCSF, said the organization was funded in part by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and was in partnership with EMI Advisors, LLC.

But the HL7 connection would usher in important new links, said Gottlieb.

“Building on work originally supported by Kaiser Permanente and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the Gravity Project’s new partnership with HL7 will strengthen the capacity for SDOH information exchange between stakeholders, including clinical providers, patients, community organizations, and payers,” said Gottlieb.

“The Gravity Project will help enable the data interoperability that allows the entire healthcare community to address barriers that limit the ability to achieve optimal health,” added Trent Haywood, M.D., J.D., the chief medical officer for the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association and the president of the Blue Cross Blue Shield Institute.

The FHIR Accelerator program was launched in February. Other projects within Accelerator include Argonaut (focused on provider-provider and provider-patient), Da Vinci (payer-provider), and the CARIN Alliance (payer-patient).

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