Building the Excel killer app for FHIR

By Rien Wertheim – The Most Beautiful App of All Times is, without any doubt, Excel. Although I am old enough to know that the ideas behind Excel were ‘borrowed’ from Lotus 1-2-3 (though not old enough to have used the arch-app VisiCalc), Microsoft reshaped the spreadsheet into an extremely powerful tool, that allows any user, novice or nerd, to get the most out of any computer.

I like to think of Excel as the wheel of the digital age.

Why is Excel so popular? Because it’s a calculator, word processor, and database all in one. And its dirt cheap. And everybody has it, so it is the unofficial standard. How many businesses run on Excel? Pull the plug on Excel and the economy collapses.

But. There are limits to what you can do with Excel, especially on the data management side. You can manage your addresses in Excel, but keeping track of contacts, orders and phone calls as well requires a lot of discipline and formulas. (Note: many users go way beyond the limits of Excel.)

The FHIR specification (latest version here) and also some specific Implementation Guides are managed in Excel. A Java tool takes a set of complicated Excel sheets and produces the specification website. And anyone who does FHIR profiling will have to edit XML files and use all sorts of generic editors for this purpose.

We have been working on a FHIR profiling tool for two years now. It’s called Forge. Forge is freeware and downloadable from In the last months we have been trying to make Forge an Excel killer by introducing the grid view: that incredibly easy view where you have all records editable, searchable, “filterable” in rows in front of you. Here is a sneak preview of that grid. Very, very beta:


In Atlanta (HL7 Working Group Meeting, link here) we will be introducing this new version of Forge, which by the way supports the above mentioned 1.0 version of FHIR DSTU2. Our goal: to expel Excel. At least for maintaining the FHIR spec and profiling.

If you are interested in Forge, please contact

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