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Healthcare APIs Put Patients in Control of Their Data

Recent healthcare API development is working toward putting patients in control of their own health information.

healthcare API

Source: Thinkstock

By Elizabeth O'Dowd

- The introduction of blockchain into health IT infrastructure has sparked the concept of giving patients more control of their own data. Organizations need to consider healthcare application programming interfaces (APIs) to begin thinking about deploying this method of data sharing. Healthcare APIs are the key to successful interoperability.

An API is an interface that allows unrelated software programs to communicate with one another. They act as bridges between two applications, allowing data to flow, regardless of how each application was originally designed.  

The ONC’s recent interoperability efforts are focusing on using APIs so patients can be in control of their health information and effectively coordinate their own care. Most Americans have smartphones, which is the tool they need to be in control of their information.

“While many patients can access their medical information through multiple provider portals, the current ecosystem is frustrating and cumbersome,” Don Rucker explained on the official ONC blog. “The more providers they have, the more portals they need to visit, the more usernames and passwords they need to remember.”

“In the end, these steps make it hard for patients to aggregate their information across care settings and prevent them from being empowered consumers.”

Rucker compared using healthcare APIs to current transportation apps. Users can see options on how to reach their destination and how much it will cost. These apps use APIs and compare two real-time data points to give the users options.

In the same way, Rucker stated that patients should be able to see quality indicators and costs for their healthcare.

“Putting the healthcare consumer in charge, letting them determine value, is a radical reorientation from the way that American healthcare has worked for the past century,” HHS Secretary Alex Azar stated earlier this month.

Consumers now possess the tools they need to compare pricing and services, and ONC is planning on making new policies to encourage transparency. ONC is currently working with developers to build APIs that will allow consumers to use mobile apps to manage their own health or the health of someone they care for. This can extend to disease or condition-specific apps and lead to patients sharing their information with researchers to assist with clinical research

The continued government support of APIs has encouraged better interoperability among organizations and patients. As API development continues, the importance of creating a standard for healthcare application communication is a priority for vendors and organizations, according to Cerner President Zane Burke.

“As an industry, we have to come together to solve the problem of access to our own healthcare information,” said Burke. “Patients deserve access to their data no matter where they are in the country, and no matter where their record primarily resides.  They should have the ability to provide consent to have a clinician be able to pull those records whether they’re on a Cerner system or a competitor’s solution.  Ultimately, that’s what we need to deliver.”

As interoperability efforts such as The Argonaut Project and The Regenstrief Institute continue to develop a data standard that can be implemented universally across healthcare organizations, APIs will be able to easily request and retrieve data from multiple EHR solutions across multiple healthcare organizations and arrange them in a clear usable format.

API technology will continue to develop and organizations need to prepare their IT infrastructure by making sure that patient devices accessing the network from the outside are accessing it securely. Entities must also make sure that their cloud environment is scalable and able to support the increase in data exchange.

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