In a world of growing apps and cloud based computing, expectations as to how information is accessed and how programs function have changed quite a bit over the last few years, prompting a market demand that is synchronously being driven by government forces, encouraging EHR vendors to develop platforms that promote the free exchange of information through open API’s.
Many industries have fully embraced the open API — or application program interface. Open API’s provide developers with programmatic access to software applications, which in turn allows third parties to build in additional functionality, custom tailored to the end-user’s specifications, hence promoting the free exchange and access of information.
Yet healthcare, has lagged behind other industries in this area. For example, “The most valued patient data resides in the EHR, yet EHRs are architected to perpetuate data silos. Because of the lack of interoperability, healthcare providers can’t achieve true care coordination (Healthcare IT News). There has, however, been much evidence in 2015 that several healthcare verticals, including both EHR and Payers, may be on their way to catching up with the pack.
Over the last year we have seen quite a bit of progress and collaboration among industry leaders in an effort to “bring down the walls” and develop platforms that will better serve the needs of providers and in turn their patients. We expect to see the implementation of many of those solutions in the coming year. “APIs are going to be the driver for the digital economy, and unless they [companies] are talking about APIs already, they will be left behind,” says James Parton of Twilio, a cloud communications company (Forbes).
APIs can be used to track important data or electronic health records (EHRs), such as patient insurance coverage, personal information, and payment procedures (Forbes). There is significant potential for business growth driven by open APIs. The platforms can be used for clinical data visualization, decision support and data integration with outside sources like HIEs. All parties using EHRs could see increasing opportunity to find the ideal customers and open new revenue streams. “For the smaller, specialized EHR vendors, the business case is obvious – whole new markets will be opened to them.” according to mHealthNews editor, Eric Wicklund (Healthcare IT News).
Yet interoperability is not without challenges. A large concern is that easy access to health records could lead to information exposure. A single sign-on feature may be the answer to this interoperability problem, but this feature must be both time-effective and location-aware. Adventura, a company that uses such a feature throughout hospitals, has worked with EHR systems in a way that allows a physician to sign on using his or her badge. The system, which is location savvy, can be used to call up patient-related information before the physician even enters the room, according to Cover My Meds’ article, Proactive, Analytical, and Interoperable Trends Affecting Today’s EHR Systems.
Whatever challenges remain to be addressed and overcome, open API’s will be the driving force in shaping how healthcare data is shared and used. When organizations are able to share data in real time and third parties can create value-added applications, whole new healthcare data ecosystems could be created. As Brian Murphy of Chillmark Research stated, “Open APIs will ultimately form the basis for the interoperable health records that patients and providers are demanding,”