APIs have become an integral part of healthcare. Patients, healthcare providers, healthtech businesses, insurance providers, pharmaceutical companies, and more can all benefit from using them. Why and how? Let us explain…
Electronic healthcare records
It wasn’t long ago that most healthcare providers still used paper records, faxing them between surgeries, hospitals, insurance providers and other establishments. While establishments such as The Mayo Clinic used electronic records as far back as the 1960s, their high cost meant that adoption moved slower than an ageing snail.
It wasn’t until 2004, when President George W Bush created the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology in the US, that the large-scale use of electronic healthcare records (EHR) began to pick up speed. President Obama significantly accelerated things with his 2009 Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act. The Act provided additional funding to healthcare providers who, by 2014, were using EHR (along with other technological requirements).
With money on the table, healthcare providers saw the light. 10 percent of US hospitals used electronic healthcare records in 2008. By 2015, 80 percent of them did. And by 2018, that figure had risen to 98 percent.
This accelerating pace of adoption is mirrored in countries around the world. So, where do APIs fit in?
FHIR and the need for healthcare APIs
Healthcare APIs are now essential to the digital strategy of any healthcare business. They have been since President Obama introduced the 21st Century Cures Act in 2016. It required all new HER systems developed in the US to use a common language (HL7 FHIR) and to have an API. This laid the foundation for a new era of interoperability in the healthcare sector.
The HL7 Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (FHIR – pronounced “fire”) standard defines how electronic systems can exchange healthcare information. It allows data to be stored internally in any format. This gives healthcare firms essential flexibility while standardising interoperability through REST-based APIs (to allow for the widest possible adoption).
FHIR has quickly become one of the most popular protocols for joining disparate healthcare-related data systems.
It has provided a great opportunity globally for developing an application-based approach to interoperability and health information exchange. We can also see FHIR adoption by the NHS in the UK and The European Medicines Agency as an EU common standard.
What are healthcare APIs?
APIs themselves don’t magically solve digital interoperability. However, they do offer a variety of digital capabilities that enable it. Examples include:
- Provider Directory – offers a provider directory for patients seeking to find a provider in their area
- Register Patient – creates a patient record
- Register Provider – creates a healthcare provider record
- Manage Patient Claims – tracks insurance claim status
Business intelligence (BI) platforms can also use healthcare APIs to create comprehensive views of their patients, with work underway to integrate devices directly. Internet of Things API and data exchange, transfer, and analysis capabilities can (for example) connect a mentally ill patient’s social media profile with their doctor, flagging unusual behaviour patterns and using them to trigger an alert.
We’ll look a bit more at the benefits and uses of healthcare APIs in a moment, but first, a quick word on healthtech.
What is healthtech?
Pitchbook reports that healthtech, as of June 2022, is the fastest-growing vertical within the healthcare industry. Any tech-enabled service or product delivered outside a doctor’s surgery or hospital (aside from hospital and practice management software) can be classed as healthtech.
Healthtech can blend internet services with cloud computing and social mobility solutions to create a range of patient-focused services. They can support at-home, virtual care, the potential of which has been expanded hugely due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Of course, healthtech services need to adhere to interoperability standards, reinforcing the importance of APIs.
Why are APIs so crucial to healthcare’s future?
APIs help to share critical information – including HER – efficiently and securely between departments, providers, insurers and more. They underpin important decision-making by enabling efficient user interfaces and analytics platforms, providing a full, end-to-end 360° clinical view of the patient without a data silo in sight. Use cases range from networks for medical practitioners to genomics infrastructures and everything in between.
Healthcare APIs can also drive significant growth for individual businesses, enabling them to grow revenue and users while enhancing the user experience. They can deliver interoperability across internal systems, web apps and mobile devices, removing the (financially unviable) need for every healthcare operator to develop individual integration solutions for every other healthcare system.
The healthcare industry comes with some complex requirements. Healthtech and connectivity continue to evolve, creating some interesting challenges and innovative solutions. However, clear interoperability through REST-based APIs is doing much to modernise the sector, putting patients at the centre and enabling businesses and services to thrive around them.