Why EHRs Must Embrace APIs

Guest post by Justin Rockman, vice president of sales and business development, Surgimate.

Justin Rockman
Justin Rockman

Since the late ’80s, the inflexible and cumbersome Health Level 7 (HL7) protocol has been the standard form of sending messages between healthcare applications. However, HL7 integration is timely to implement, technically limited and costly. It is not uncommon for a medical practice to face upwards of $10,000 in expenditure for one simple message.

Application programming interfaces (APIs) have recently become a fashionable alternative. The term API sounds complicated, but it’s really just a way in which software applications (like your EHR) can talk to other systems, and exchange large amounts of data rapidly and securely. In short – they support better, faster, cheaper interoperability.

In addition to transmitting data between systems, APIs offer the ability to plug in chunks of functionality to another system, in a clean and predictable manner. Instantaneous and seamless interaction between systems is the leanest and trendiest way to design software in 2018. New applications should not “reinvent the functionality wheel” but provide unique integratable services.

As the EHR market estimated to reach $28 billion in 2016, it is no surprise that tech titans like Amazon, and Apple are looking for ways to get a slice of the pie. With top of the line products sure to come from those companies and others, here are 4 reasons why healthcare IT vendors must offer their clients a way to integrate using APIs.

Platform Stickiness

Physicians need easy access to data supported by EHRs, but hate the time it takes to manually enter patient information. It’s no wonder – doctors typically spend 50 percent of their day working with an EHR. If a physician isn’t happy with the usability or efficiency of their system, they’ll drop it and choose another. While the annual EHR adoption rate among providers is 67 percent, the EHR vendor switch rate is about 15 percent.

APIs offer cheaper and deeper integration options. For EHR vendors to provide better value for their customers they must embrace the API and ditch the expensive, outdated and rigid HL7 protocol.

Using an EHR that is integrated with other programs will make switching systems even more inconvenient. EHR vendors who give customers the additional functionality offered by their partners will be rewarded with brand loyalty, and lower churn.

An Additional Revenue Stream

Innovative EHR vendors are partnering with upstart technology companies to generate additional revenue. Greenway and athenahealth advertise an array of solutions in their marketplace, and provide partners with utilization of their APIs. In exchange, they receive monthly or recurring payment for each license sold. Since most practices already have purchased an EHR, finding new revenue streams is crucial for a company’s growth.

The healthcare API market is predicted to exceed $200 million in the next few years. Former engineers from Epic Systems saw the industry’s need for interoperability and raised $15 million in venture capital to found Redox – a company solely focussed on building bridges between healthcare applications. Creating platforms that deliver easy integrations at reasonable costs will greatly benefit the healthcare industry.

Happy Patients

There is a correlation between easy accessibility and customer satisfaction. An EHR that is compatible with the slew of new products on the market are more likely to satisfy the patient. Digital check-in platforms, such as Phreesia, and patient reported outcome applications, such as Oberd, CODE and Healthloop are popular tools that engage patients and improve their experience. These niche applications use APIs to streamline and integrate their services. At Surgimate, we use APIs to integrate patient data from EHR systems for easier and more efficient surgical scheduling.

The market is packed with new applications that help practices better the overall patient experience whilst also increasing productivity and lowering operational costs. If your practice’s customers benefit from products like this, they’ll be smiling.

Better Outcomes

The healthcare industry, with its newfound patient-centric attitude, is focusing its efforts on better care through data sharing. Many have noted that it took MACRA’s Quality Payment Program to grab physicians’ attention and remind them of their purpose: caring for their patients. Innovation isn’t just about maximizing return on investment, it has an important societal role, too. Delivering faster data transfers and services, APIs can support quicker and smarter clinical decisions. Superior health outcomes are the real ROI that physicians should be investing in.

Health management apps like Medisafe and Pain Diary give patients a better understanding of their health, but rely on engagement. Applications with API integration benefit from real-time data updates and minimize data entry for users. APIs have the ability to boost patient literacy rates, leading to better self-regulation, fewer doctor visits, and less long-term complications.

The Future is API

Information exchange is the current hot focus of healthcare innovation. API is the preferred method of data sharing for developers and the favorable choice for HIPAA compliance. It’s safe to expect that any new product worth having will come with an open API.

Interoperability will become a standard feature of EHRs; vendors without this component will find themselves without customers. Allscripts, athenahealth, Greenway, Compulink and others, understand that APIs are the future of healthcare technology, and are already offering them in their marketplaces.

Tech giants are eager to enter the competition, while plucky newcomers are wasting no time setting about disrupting the EHR industry. Vendors need to suit up and hop on the API bandwagon before it’s too late.

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