Healthtech API challenges and solutions

Healthtech APIs have revolutionised the interoperability of healthcare systems around the world over the past few years. The global adoption of the HL7 Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (FHIR) API framework has essentially standardised interoperability through REST-based APIs. This has enabled enhanced patient-focused decision-making through the facilitation of the widespread use of electronic health records. Healthcare APIs also enable healthtech firms to push the boundaries of innovation with the patient at the heart of their work.

But healthcare APIs are not without their challenges. While IDC’s study on The Role of Customer Experience Networks in Delivering Value-Based Digital Transformation reports that at least 63% of healthcare services use APIs, it also reports that 59% are concerned about security and regulatory requirements surrounding their API. 

It’s easy to see why providers are nervous. Opening up access to data to business partners, the customer supply chain and patients through mobile and web apps can deliver some outstanding efficiencies. It also delivers a range of technical challenges.

Healthcare API challenges 

Implementing an API programme means addressing security and regulatory requirements while allowing multiple stakeholders to access the API. It also means integrating the API with third-party applications, which generates several headaches.

1. Preventing unauthorised data access

Preventing unauthorised access to data will – understandably – top many healthcare providers’ lists of concerns. It requires a comprehensive security strategy to be in place, including authentication and authorisation processes that enable users to access all the data they should and none that they shouldn’t.

2. Creating audit trails

The healthcare sector is heavily regulated. Some regulators require the logging of all API-based activity, which must be done in such a way that the data flow can be understood and the system properly audited.

3. Using data entitlements to protect data

Data entitlements are the restrictions on data access that healthcare services must enforce, and they define the systems to which users may have access and the level of access. With a healthcare API, data entitlements must be in place for every party with access.

4. Preventing system overload

Implementing an API programme that grows and adds more integrations over time carries the risk that an excessive number of API calls could overload internal systems. To avoid systems being swamped, policies are needed to limit the number of calls that API consumers can make.

Healthcare API solutions 

A solution exists that addresses all these healthcare API challenges in one fell swoop: effective, full lifecycle API management. It provides a single path into healthcare APIs that tackles security, auditing, access, rate-limiting and more, enforcing policies across all those who consume the API. An API management platform such as Tyk also provides analytics into how the API is used. This means the healthcare provider can better understand the demand for the API and support its effective delivery across their supply chain.

Let’s dive into some of the specifics.

1. Security and auditing

You can use an API management platform to enforce security restrictions and prevent unauthorised access. When you use the OAuth 2.0 framework as part of your comprehensive API security strategy, your patients can securely access their data and even provide limited access to third-party vendors (a concept known as three-legged authorisation).

2. Comprehensive logging

With an API management platform, you can enjoy comprehensive logging across all requests and between all devices and integrations. This means you can rest easy when meeting logging requirements for regulatory auditing.

3. Role-based access control

Role-based access control (RBAC) allows you to restrict access based on the roles of individual users within an organisation. It means that your users can access all the data they should have, and it also prevents them from accessing data to which they shouldn’t have access. 

RBAC is powerful on its own. When coupled with custom plugins, it becomes even more so. You can use plugins to extend and enhance data entitlement checks before they reach the API server. By doing so, your API management platform can help deliver data from APIs quickly and securely.

4. Reverse gateway capabilities

You can limit data exposure when integrating with third parties by using reverse gateway capabilities. This allows you to protect all outbound traffic to third-party APIs, declining outbound traffic if sensitive data is released.

5. Limiting API calls

With an API management solution in place, it’s easy to limit the number of requests that can be made to an API during a set time period. You can do this through rate-limiting. You can also set quotas, which achieves much the same thing, but over a larger time interval. 

Rate-limiting and quotas work to effectively manage the load on the API server. You can adjust the policies that govern them to meet your needs. For example, you might allow some integrations to make more frequent API calls while others have lower limits or lower priority. 

The degree of flexibility that rate-limiting facilitates means that you can avoid your internal systems being overloaded. You can also use them to control your cloud infrastructure costs, as you can set limits that prevent cloud resources from exceeding fixed monthly budgets.

Additional healthtech API benefits 

By putting effective full lifecycle API management in place, you can deliver healthcare APIs securely and in a performant manner. This lays a strong foundation for growing your revenue and users, as well as for delivering an improved user experience. It’s a way to boost your digital product growth without spending months devising a solution from scratch. 

With Tyk’s cloud-native API and service management platform, you can enjoy all of the capabilities above, along with an intuitive dashboard and a simple developer portal. Tyks’ open-source API gateway powers both of these. Tyk also supports Open Policy Agent (OPA), which you can use to create custom permissions for different user roles. 

Tyk also provides the ability to create multiple local API gateways in accordance with data sovereignty and Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) requirements. You can do this with the Tyk multi-data centre bridge (MDCB), managing the instances through a central control plane. The healthcare industry is diverse and complex, but that shouldn’t stop your business from growing and innovating. Chat with Tyk about what you want from your dynamic API programme, or sign up to get started straight away.