Guest post by Justin Rockman, vice president of sales and business development, Surgimate.
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.
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 For EHR vendors to provide better value for their customers they must embrace the API and ditch the expensive, outdated and rigid HL7 protocol.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.
Joanna Gorovoy, senior director product and solutions marketing, Axway.
To accelerate the shift toward value-based care – organizations across the healthcare ecosystem must find new ways to unlock value from an ever-expanding array of data sources to create data-rich digital services and experiences that improve patient engagement, enable delivery of more personalized healthcare services, and increase clinical collaboration and care coordination across the patient journey. Developers play a key role in accelerating innovation that will shape the future of healthcare and positively impact patient outcomes. But innovating at the speed of digital is challenging in an industry that has long been plagued by interoperability challenges, a prevalence of legacy, siloed systems and applications, and heightened data privacy and security requirements which hinder digital projects. As a result, there are a few key things developers should keep in mind when designing for today’s healthcare market.
You can’t spell interoperability without A-P-I
The frustrations associated with sharing information have burdened the healthcare industry’s digitization efforts for many years. With application programming interfaces (APIs) taking hold, however, data exchange is now easier to accomplish. APIs are revolutionizing data sharing by making it possible to bridge legacy IT systems of record, such as electronic heath records (EHRs), with modern systems of digital engagement, such as mobile apps. Healthcare developers must take an API-first approach and will need to gain knowledge of the latest healthcare interoperability standards – such as FHIR. FHIR (Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources) is an HL7 standard that simplifies the exchange of healthcare information and promotes the use of APIs to support light-weight integration, facilitating secure data access and interoperability. As healthcare developers increasingly leverage APIs to move beyond some of the challenges associated with secure data sharing and opening up proprietary EHR systems, this will result in faster time to market for innovative digital services and experiences.
Create a sound security strategy
Security must always be top of mind for healthcare developers. Before writing a single line of code, healthcare developers should familiarize themselves with HIPAA regulations that protect all personal health data transactions and impose hefty penalties for violations. As developers design apps that leverage patient health data from a variety of sources, they need to take the time to understand how this law works and must be mindful of how to mitigate security concerns. Adopting a full lifecycle API management solution enables developers to secure and manage FHIR and other healthcare APIs in a unified way across projects and communities, ensure data security and streamline compliance and help reduce the data security burden by using built in, configurable audit trails and reporting.
Inviting external innovation
Healthcare organizations are increasingly looking to invite open innovation into their organizations as they struggle to keep pace with digital transformation. Organizations such as Kaiser Permanente, Johnson and Johnson and Stanford, for example, have hosted developer challenges and hackathons to stimulate innovation and bring in fresh perspectives from developers outside of their organization/industry to help tackle big problems such as healthcare access and affordability. As the industry struggles with IT modernization challenges, developers who have experience working across multiple industries can provide a fresh point of view and can contribute skills and approaches they have gained developing applications for other industries/use cases to provide value to healthcare.
Have you ever thought how giant enterprises like Facebook, Google and Microsoft have harnessed big data technology so spectacularly well? These consumer-centric industries are continuing to succeed at a global level. Do you know what they all have in common? APIs.
Short for “application programming interfaces,” APIs are like connectors that allow you to access information on your application or software. It’s basically how two softwares talk. APIs are the not-so new big thing in the tech sphere and to make a headway into delivering top-notch quality care, it’s high time we embraced them for a better tomorrow.
Constraints in healthcare today
Given the complex nature of modern day healthcare data exchange, providers are themselves held back from tapping the full potential of the available data and utilizing it to drive the best possible outcomes.
Problems arise in the very initial steps of care delivery. Accessing or exchanging the medical information of any patient who reaches a facility is a most basic requirement that should be fulfilled at the very outset of care. But, the slow and long-drawn fragmented process of data exchange, siloed nature of data sets and lack of interoperability hinders a smooth transfer of information from one provider to another.
How then is it possible to carry out comprehensive care for a patient with only partial information about the patient? How about if, the traditional and complex process of data exchange were to be replaced with a simpler, easier and faster technology.
In a world where API is a reality, sluggish data integration and exchange ought to be passé.
Simple, modular and interactive
These efficient little elves (techie companies prefer to call them APIs) make things way simpler on the surface — quite literally! While using a low-maintenance infrastructure and only a few lines of code, these elves will open that door for you to be able to engage and interact with your patients at large.
Why should healthcare take to APIs?
Sweeping changes and new data sources are continually making their way into healthcare and with that there is an ever-growing need among healthcare organizations to share information. Patients, as they become aware of their health status, too are demanding greater access to their health information. Below are some pointers laying out why APIs are a better alternative than existing means like static databases for exchanging health data:
It saves time and resources.
Data is exchanged in real-time at faster pace.
Its processing is autonomous and easy to manage.
It makes information readily available on all devices, mobile or immobile.
It allows for very little delay in receiving or extracting information.
It facilitates seamless and secure data sharing.
Keeping technicalities aside, let me tell you that standardization is simpler with APIs and that is a huge plus point because it’s easier to process information when everyone speaks the same language. True, EMRs also work through APIs, however, open APIs can enable you to use whatever type of data on whichever device. Wouldn’t it be great if you could have your lab results and prescriptions appear on your phone, your vitals clear on the screen and your appointments listed on your calendar? APIs enable this and a lot more.
All that’s great. But what’s in it for the providers?
By bringing APIs into the fold, providers can make use of interfaces that are uniquely designed for their systems, helping them attain better clinical decision making.
They can use APIs to build their own custom apps and can have vital information about health conditions, medications, surgeries, and other details for use in their own applications or platforms.