Contemplating compartments in FHIR

This is one of those posts that I am really writing for myself, so I know where go when I (again) get confused by FHIR compartments.

Now, a compartment is really a rather a neat idea.

It’s part of the REST interface, and started out as a form of ‘syntactic sugar’ – instead of a query like:


you can type:


which is rather tidier (The ‘Patient’ in this query refers to the name of the compartment rather then the Patient Resource – which can be a bit confusing). The actual definition is a bit more complex than that – you can read it up in the spec if you want to – the documentation for a compartment is here for DSTU-1 with further notes on searches here.

That’s all very good but there’s an even neater use.

One of the issues of the base REST interface is that it is a relatively simple CRUD style interface – you query one resource at a time. But often, having found your patient, you often want to know lots of details about them – conditions, allergies, alerts, medications, DiagnosticReports etc – and each one is a separate REST call, which can be a bit tedious. And this is where the compartment can help.

Theres’s a specific syntax for compartment that allows you to retrieve ALL the resources about a patient (at least a big subset of them, and dependant on what the server is storing of course). Here it is:


The star (*) at the end of the url indicates all resources for that patient.

So, for a compliant server – all the data for a patient is just a single url away!

Not all resources can be retrieved in this way – each resource needs to have defined a search parameter that the server can use to link the resource to the patient. There’s a list of the DSTU-2 resources that can be returned in this way here.

And this syntax doesn’t change the value of the List resource, which is a way for a user to specifically describe lists like current medications, problem list or known allergies.

But it’s certainly a very useful addition to the FHIR toolbox (though I suspect that there will be more discussion about how it should work!)

Oh, and just as a comment, these urls will certainly change as FHIR moves into preparing for DSTU-2 so the links may not work once that happens – I’ll try to change the URLs when that happens.

And sorry about the title – I just couldn’t help myself…

About David Hay
I'm an independent contractor working with organizations like Lyniate, CSIRO in Australia and the New Zealand Ministry Of Health. I'm an HL7 Fellow, Chair Emeritus of HL7 New Zealand and a co-chair of the FHIR Management Group. I have a keen interest in health IT, especially health interoperability with HL7 and the new FHIR standard.

One Response to Contemplating compartments in FHIR

  1. Pingback: The Circle of Care in FHIR | Hay on FHIR

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