APIs in Healthcare

Digital disruption comes in waves. Other industries have profited from modern API integration, driven by the boost of internet technologies such as cloud applications and mobile phones. Consumer technology runs on modern APIs, considering apps like facebook, Waze, and Mint. Healthcare has some catching up to do.

More providers are realizing the potential impact modern APIs have on bottom lines, both in patient care and in profit. In a 2014 HIMSS Analytics Survey, 83% of healthcare providers reported using cloud services. HL7’s decision to develop FHIR, along with Meaningful Use Stage 3 API requirements, have solidified the hype and marked API and cloud integration almost essential to understand as a provider.

What is an API?

An API, or application programming interface, is a set of standards that enable communication between multiple sources, most typically software applications. APIs actually pre-date personal computing.

Almost every internet user has used an open API— whether they’ve seen Google Maps on a website, or utilized apps like Waze or Mint. Closed and private APIs alike are useful for integrating data within a company, to business partners, or consumers.

Open APIs differ from closed APIs in exactly the way the name suggests—they are open and available for anyone to leverage. Open APIs provide a specified software with a standardized, public interface so anyone can receive and send data with the proper security authentication. When EHRs have an open API, countless third-party applications and downstream systems can input and/or leverage existing data within the system’s database. Both open and private APIs are valuable in healthcare and widely used in other industries.

Although the healthcare data standards needed to implement APIs are still maturing, APIs are based on web service data exchange standards. The HL7 organization, which is responsible for developing data standards in healthcare, is close to releasing the industry’s specialized standard in HL7 FHIR, which is ideally suited for API data exchange. To learn more about the technical details of HL7 FHIR, download “FHIR: shaping the future of health data exchange.

API benefits for providers

With the promise of rapid, lightweight, standardized integration, there is no end to the possibilities an API can enable—think population health databases with real-time data and analytics; granting patients’ access to their medical records; and medical research opportunities that arise from new access to key data.

As discussed in greater detail in the Harvard Business Review paper, “The Untapped Potential of Health Care APIs,” provider usage can be broken down into two categories:

  1. Open API for patient data sharing
  2. APIs for traditional provider integration strategy 

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