The future is on FHIR for SAS and Microsoft Azure Leave a comment

This blog has been co-authored by Steve Kearney, PharmD, Global Medical Director, SAS.

This blog is part of a series in collaboration with our partners and customers leveraging the newly announced Azure Health Data Services. Azure Health Data Services, a platform as a service (PaaS) offering designed to support Protected Health Information (PHI) in the cloud, is a new way of working with unified data—providing care teams with a platform to support both transactional and analytical workloads from the same data store and enabling cloud computing to transform how we develop and deliver AI across the healthcare ecosystem.

There is a dichotomy in health care technology. Despite new developments in imaging, diagnostics, treatment, and surgical techniques, the lack of data standardization in the industry has trapped health insights in functional silos. Providers and payers alike struggle to manually reconcile incompatible file formats, which slows the transfer of information and negatively impacts quality care and patient experience.

Microsoft, along with partners such as global analytics software company SAS, are driving towards increased interoperability through enabling the use of standards such as Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (FHIR®). Together, SAS and Microsoft Azure are building deep technology integrations that unlock value by making disparate data and advanced analytics more accessible to health and life science organizations. With new capabilities such as the integration from Azure Health Data Services to SAS on Azure, the embedded AI capabilities of SAS Health are more efficient and secure, expanding the possibilities of patient-centric innovation and trusted collaboration across the health landscape.

FHIR puts the patient at the center of the health care ecosystem. When querying information in the previous HL7 format, the query is answered with the entire patient dataset that must be parsed to find the information desired for predictive modeling. Additionally, data would require harmonization within and across the organization, creating limitations on available data. In contrast, harmonized FHIR datasets persisting on Azure Health Data Services enable FHIR-based requests directed to the specific data points required, speeding up queries to near-real-time and protecting patient data.

While FHIR’s footprint in the industry is small compared to HL7’s, the global adoption of the FHIR standard is growing. Major electronic health records (EHR) companies like Cerner and Epic are moving quickly to support FHIR.1 Notably in the United States, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) has mandated its use for health insurance payers and providers.

Transform your analytical experience in the health cloud

The integration between Azure Health Data Services and SAS Health can be transformational for organizations who have struggled to operationalize analytics. Not only does this integration offer a technology that is secure, fast, and scalable, it democratizes analytics by allowing the business or clinical user to query a patient data set using a pre-set parameter or algorithm and return results within a clinical workflow.

The traditional view of health analytics is that it occurs outside the process of care and is in some way removed from the patient. That’s changing, thanks to secure health cloud environments like Azure Health Data Services and presents the opportunity for more real-time integration of patient and claims data. With the evolution of the citizen data scientist and respective interoperability, we now see a clearer path from analytics to improved health care outcomes.

The graphic below illustrates the role of health data analytic interoperability in health and life sciences. Ultimately, the use of diverse health data throughout the process of care in a shared cloud environment will enable better outcomes for us all.

The role of health data analytic interoperability in health and life sciences.

SAS Health and Azure Health Data Services

The embedded-AI capabilities of SAS Health running on FHIR data ingested through Azure Health Data Services provide game-changing advantages across health care delivery and research.


SAS Health on FHIR gives speedy access to analytic insights within EHRs, parsing out only the information needed, allowing near-real-time results from, for example, pharmacy claims, laboratory results, or imaging. Predictive insights such as medication adherence or emerging health risks are more available through a secure FHIR-based exchange. Quality care and patient satisfaction increase when providers can integrate data across multiple systems and record types including patient records and claims data into a single view.


Payers governed by CMS are already mandated to transition to FHIR-based communication standards and are experiencing early wins. For example, adjudication of claims is one of the most time-consuming parts of the payer process. With FHIR, payers can securely query patient records to determine medical necessity of a service or procedure and whether appropriate authorization was obtained, cutting time dramatically in the process. With FHIR’s extensibility beyond the payer-provider core, pharmacy data can be queried to inform proactive disease management programs with specialty drugs and more real-time formulary approvals to meet patient needs.

Academic researchers

For clinical research, data sharing can be a common, time-consuming obstacle. FHIR-ready datasets can accelerate the generation of new health insights and expand the universe of data types for research, including social determinants of health, real-world data, genetics, device data from the internet of medical things, and more.

Ultimately, these innovations in health data analytic interoperability can make insights faster across the vast ecosystem of professionals who are committed to a healthier world. While technology is only one part of the solution, improving health begins with predicting future health risks and taking proactive steps to mitigate disease and promote physical and mental wellness.

Do more with your data with Microsoft Cloud for Healthcare

With Azure Health Data Services, health organizations can transform their patient experience, discover new insights with the power of machine learning and AI, and manage PHI data with confidence. Enable your data for the future of healthcare innovation with Microsoft Cloud for Healthcare.

We look forward to being your partner as you build the future of health.

®FHIR is a registered trademark of Health Level Seven International, registered in the U.S. Trademark Office and are used with their permission.

1Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association, Volume 28, Issue 11, November 2021, pages 2379–2384.


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