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VA Launches New Health API for Mobile, Web-based Apps

The Department of Veterans Affairs announced Dec. 7 the launch of its first health API that will enable veterans to interact with their personal health data using mobile and web-based apps.

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Source: Thinkstock

By Fred Donovan

- The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) announced Dec. 7 the launch of its first health API that will enable veterans to interact with their personal health data using mobile and web-based apps.

The VA said its new health API will power the next-generation of features for Blue Button, the federal government’s system for patients to view their personal health records through apps using a standard API.

Blue Button health APIs will support new clinician-focused apps and can serve as a foundation for data sharing between health systems to support veteran care.

“We are excited to announce this advancement in the way we deliver services,” said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie.

“Healthcare data interoperability plays a key role in all four of VA’s top priorities, from implementing the MISSION Act and modernizing our electronic health record, to transforming our business systems and delivering better customer service. VA is proud to serve as a leader and example in this field,” Wilkie added.

Since the launch of the Blue Button product, more than 2 million veterans have downloaded over 32 million personal health data files from the VA’s patient portal.

In announcing the launch of the Blue Button program in 2010, President Barack Obama said that veterans could “go to the VA website, click a simple blue button, download or print your personal health records, so you have them when you need them and can share them with your doctors.”

This year, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) launched Blue Button 2.0, which gives developers access to four years of Medicare Part A, B, and D data for 53 million Medicare beneficiaries. Blue Button 2.0 uses the Health Level 7 Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (HL7 FHIR) standard for beneficiary data and the OAuth 2.0 stand for beneficiary authorization.

VA said that its new health API conforms to the Argonaut Project specifications of the HL7 FHIR API standards. The Argonaut Project is an initiative of the private sector to advance industry adoption of the FHIR API standards.

“The purpose of the Argonaut Project is to rapidly develop a first-generation FHIR-based API and Core Data Services specification to enable expanded information sharing for electronic health records and other health information technology based on Internet standards and architectural patterns and styles,” the project said in its website.

A group of healthcare organizations have pledged to work with the VA in mapping health data to industry standards, including the Argonaut Project specifications. Organizations that have signed the pledge include Allscripts, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Cleveland Clinic, Fairview, Geisinger, Johns Hopkins Medicine, Intermountain Healthcare, Jefferson, Mayo Clinic, Partners Healthcare, Rush, UPMC, and VCU Health System.

“We will allow access to FHIR as mutually agreed via a standards acceleration collaborative that will be made freely available for anyone to use or share. We will provide API access to developers for Veteran-designated mobile and web-based apps, clinician-designated applications for those who serve them, and choice care act partners responsible for coordinating their care via ‘bulk’ access,” the pledge reads.

The organizations commit to making the “common clinical data set” available as well as additional FHIR resources, such as scheduling, questionnaires, clinical notes, and patient encounter.

VA said it believes that open FHIR-based APIs are an essential component in a modern interoperability strategy, and that government and industry must collaborate to expand available FHIR resources and its use.

The department said it is committed to leveraging APIs to accelerate creation of transformational digital tools to support Veterans as they engage with VA’s core health, benefits and memorial services. Since launching its Lighthouse API Management Platform in March, VA has delivered a developer portal, a Benefits Intake API and a Facilities API.

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