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Healthcare Providers Enthusiastic About Future API Adoption

Health IT decision-makers are enthusiastic about the future use of APIs in healthcare, but full healthcare API standardization is still in development.

By Elizabeth O'Dowd

Healthcare organizations are looking toward application programming interfaces (APIs) to usher in an era of interoperable health IT infrastructure according to a new report by Chilmark Research.

APIs are needed in  future health IT infrasrtucture

Healthcare organizations are currently challenged with integrating workflow, and healthcare IT decision-makers view APIs as a way to connect infrastructure solutions to support the evolution of care models. APIs support better workflow performance for end-users and a better experience for patients.

"Physicians in particular see APIs as a way to make EHRs more functional and user responsive. But it is not just EHRs where APIs can make a difference. Almost every application in healthcare can benefit from more attention to the needs of healthcare users and the demands placed on their time and attention. Expectations are high that APIs can improve the user experience, enhance app functionality and more fully utilize data across connected healthcare enterprises," says lead author, Brian Murphy.

The report indicates that clinicians and other healthcare end-users are expecting the same interoperability between different internetwork applications and programs present popular consumer facing apps and other enterprise industries.

“Healthcare decision-makers are keenly aware that applications can be more responsive to business and clinical needs and improve current care delivery and administrative processes,” states the report. “Clinicians and other healthcare users can’t understand why the revolution in consumer applications and in other industries is not happening in healthcare.”

APIs are critical for healthcare development because of the challenges healthcare organizations face when sharing data. These challenges have become more of a focal point over the past several years as healthcare organizations digitize their data and complete data migrations to the cloud.

APIs are the points of communication between health IT systems and HL7 is currently developing the Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resource (FHIR) data standard to produce a standard way to aggregate and merge patient health data from separate sources.

“Healthcare records are increasingly becoming digitized,” states official FHIR documentation. “As patients move around the healthcare ecosystem, their electronic health records must be available, discoverable, and understandable. Further, to support automated clinical decision support and other machine-based processing, the data must also be structured and standardized.”

Healthcare organizations often have data coming from many different sources and each of these data sets may use different formats

“There’s no such thing as one set of data that gives you everything you need in one single format,” Nicholas Marko, MD, Chief Data Officer at Geisinger Health told HealthITAnalytics.com.  “There will always be information coming from a number of different places, and there will always be a need to work with systems that handle that.”

Several government organizations are currently working to bring APIs to the mainstream of health IT infrastructure, including the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) and The Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC). Both organizations support the development of HL7’s FHIR and the development of a healthcare API standard.

The Chilmark report recognizes that API-based development may take time to fully become a standard component of health IT infrastructure, but it finds that IT decision-makers are considering the adoption of APIs in healthcare inevitable due to the demand for better applications for clinicians and patients.

“It will be impossible to offer an effective way to build better applications without a developer support program built around APIs,” the report authors conclude. The report suggests that healthcare organizations and health IT vendors work together to begin building API programs.

“Building and operating an API program will be a new undertaking for most healthcare organizations and they will need support and guidance from the major health IT vendors,” report authors advise. Several health IT vendors have begun the process of developing a healthcare-specific API but are not ready to fully implement it in a health IT infrastructure. Healthcare organizations need to evaluate their current API practices to see what works and what is left to be desired for a healthcare API

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