Modeling and validating HL7 FHIR profiles using semantic web Shape Expressions (ShEx)

Harold R. Solbrig, Eric Prud'hommeaux, Grahame Grieve, Lloyd McKenzie, Joshua C. Mandel, Deepak K. Sharma, Guoqian Jiang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


Background HL7 Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (FHIR) is an emerging open standard for the exchange of electronic healthcare information. FHIR resources are defined in a specialized modeling language. FHIR instances can currently be represented in either XML or JSON. The FHIR and Semantic Web communities are developing a third FHIR instance representation format in Resource Description Framework (RDF). Shape Expressions (ShEx), a formal RDF data constraint language, is a candidate for describing and validating the FHIR RDF representation. Objective Create a FHIR to ShEx model transformation and assess its ability to describe and validate FHIR RDF data. Methods We created the methods and tools that generate the ShEx schemas modeling the FHIR to RDF specification being developed by HL7 ITS/W3C RDF Task Force, and evaluated the applicability of ShEx in the description and validation of FHIR to RDF transformations. Results The ShEx models contributed significantly to workgroup consensus. Algorithmic transformations from the FHIR model to ShEx schemas and FHIR example data to RDF transformations were incorporated into the FHIR build process. ShEx schemas representing 109 FHIR resources were used to validate 511 FHIR RDF data examples from the Standards for Trial Use (STU 3) Ballot version. We were able to uncover unresolved issues in the FHIR to RDF specification and detect 10 types of errors and root causes in the actual implementation. The FHIR ShEx representations have been included in the official FHIR web pages for the STU 3 Ballot version since September 2016. Discussion ShEx can be used to define and validate the syntax of a FHIR resource, which is complementary to the use of RDF Schema (RDFS) and Web Ontology Language (OWL) for semantic validation. Conclusion ShEx proved useful for describing a standard model of FHIR RDF data. The combination of a formal model and a succinct format enabled comprehensive review and automated validation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)90-100
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Biomedical Informatics
StatePublished - Mar 1 2017


  • HL7 Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (FHIR)
  • Quality assurance
  • Resource Description Framework (RDF)
  • Semantic web technology
  • Shape Expressions (ShEx)

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health Informatics
  • Computer Science Applications


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