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DevDays 2023 is the best edition yet 

Rien Wertheim

FHIR DevDays 2023 was one of the best editions ever. We’re still not back to pre-Covid attendance numbers, but the content and community-building was outstanding, and it felt so, so good to be back on our own turf after four years. And while Amsterdam is great all year round, the first week in June shows the city at its very best.

Some facts

Some remarkable facts first. Two-thirds of participants attended in person, compared to just 50% last year in Cleveland. 90% of delegates from the Netherlands were here ‘in the flesh’, and 65% of the German participants. No big surprises there, but a remarkable 45% of US participants also chose the face-to-face option. The stats don’t tell us whether FHIR or Amsterdam was the big draw, but my guess is ‘both’. Spoiler alert: given the exponential complexity of running a hybrid event, we’ll be reviewing the feasibility of the online edition over the coming months. 

The maturity of FHIR

Along with all the learning and collaboration, what happens at DevDays is a great way to measure the maturity of FHIR. Challenges with implementation got a lot of attention, especially in the community presentations. In the words of one visitor I spoke to: “When you come up against a barrier when you’re implementing FHIR, you tend to think ‘it must be me’. By coming here I can see I’m not the only one struggling with mapping and versions. That alone makes the trip worthwhile.” 

Women for FHIR

It goes without saying that DevDays makes a point of trying new things. This year’s innovations included Women for FHIR, and the panel discussion and the spontaneous lunch that followed triggered some lively debate. 25% of this year’s DevDays participants were women, so is the FHIR community equally welcoming to women and men? And what’s it really like to be a woman in tech? I learned a lot from these discussions, so expect a separate blog on this shortly.  

Student track

As always, my favorite track was the Student Track, with seven teams competing for the Student Award. James Agnew, one of the jury members, kicked off proceedings with a personal memoir of his early days in health IT. Fresh from college, working at Toronto General Hospital, he built a portal allowing information sharing between the hospitals on “Hospital Row”. It was a huge success and triggered the open source v2 library, which later evolved into the FHIR HAPI library. 

As a reminder of how hard it was to build this with v2, one of James’s slides read: “FHIR is waaaaaaaaaaay easier to understand and implement”. Fortunately, the students weren’t required to use legacy standards at DevDays: the winning team from the University of Applied Sciences of Upper Austria demoed an app for clinical trial definitions that generated CQL to query a FHIR server. 

Interesting presentations from Microsoft and NCQA

Gino Canessa from Microsoft is one of our many “house speakers”. He’s a most excellent explainer, always balancing technical details and the bigger picture. His tutorial on Subscriptions elaborated on the differences between Subscriptions in R4, R5 and R4B, and his final slides emphasized the importance of Subscriptions for ensuring no information is missed in any step in the clinical process, that it can be shared across organizations, and that it contributes to burden reduction. 

Evan Machusak of NCQA gave a presentation on the open source CQL repository as part of the Firely .NET SDK: a milestone for NCQA, Firely, and the FHIR .NET community as a whole. Ewout Kramer and Evan took the chance to start work on the integration during the week before DevDays, when Evan was at our office, and we’ll be launching the preview release in a few weeks with version 5.3 of the SDK. Version 1.0 will be launched in September at the FHIR Connectathon in Phoenix, or at the online Connectathon in January 2024.  

Work hard, play hard

DevDays is never ‘all work and no play’. The Nerds Track caused a lot of laughter, despite being ‘totally unrelated’ to FHIR (apart from the community’s slight tendency towards nerdiness). Pet tortoises Burrito and Optimus Prime were a crowd-pleaser, but their environmental controls lost points for actually being useful. Brian Kaney’s selfie fork for taking foodie photos mid-bite was remarkably pointless, but the world may not be ready for that kind of mash-up. Vadim Peretokin won the day with high scores in all three categories: uselessness, valuable time wasted, and eyeball-rolling from friends and family. If you’re interested in Vadi’s winning submission, you can check out the details here.  

Check out the aftermovie!

We hope to see you next year in the US

And finally, we announced the next edition of DevDays, back in the US in the week of June 10. Stay tuned for details – and start planning those weird and wonderful nerd projects.