Chuck Freedman | Director, Vertical Insights
December 19, 2013

APIs Will Connect Medical Devices, Care Providers and You


Healthcare is an industry whose future will be driven by innovation and data sharing. Among the industry’s several annual events is the mHealth Summit, a conference dedicated to mobile health technology. Widely attended by IT teams representing every segment of the industry, presentations encompass key challenges and opportunities facing those extending the healthcare experience and patient care to and from mobile devices.

Topics discussing applications, devices and data seemed to connect virtually every presentation and demo at the event. From everything I saw at this year’s mHeatlh, data interoperability was a key theme connecting much of the conference.

HIMSS, the organization hosting the mHealth Summit, defines interoperability as "The extent to which systems and devices can exchange data and interpret that shared data. For two systems to be interoperable, they must be able to exchange data and subsequently present that data such that it can be understood by the user."

The case for well-managed APIs and secure data layer are evident through the innovation and vision of mHealth’s speakers and vendors. The following popular and emerging use cases I observed at mHealth signal the healthcare industry’s benefit of well-managed APIs will continue to accelerate.

Applications, curated and offered by prescription

While regulations remain focused mostly on apps used by clinicians to diagnose patients, several companies are setting up services and standards for care providers to guide and even prescribe apps to patients. In order for any sequence of applications to work or facilitate patient and provider collaboration, a secure API data layer must be in place.

Major insurance companies, like Kaiser and Aetna were sharing visions of an integrated ecosystem where a succession of mobile apps and devices work together for the consumer. For Aetna’s CarePass, a connected experience means a user can sync their data towards achieving a health goal. Kaiser’s impressive vision, seemingly a few years away, aims to offer a sequence of technology to help patients through major health events. Their mHealth demo of guiding a young family through childbirth signaled dependency on a robust network of curated applications, devices and collaboration with care providers.

Kaiser demonstrating vison

Kasier demonstrating vision at mHealth Summit for a connected contraction monitor in a sequence of apps helping a couple with childbirth. Photo by Chuck Freedman.

Ecosystems procured by these organizations must have ability to share data between patient and provider. They must also be open enough to welcome submission from outside innovators and partners working to create new experiences for both patients and providers. Challenges for managing and supporting this kind of development are being met with API data sharing and best practices. While strategic partner approach and review processes have replaced some more open programs, fundamentals in documentation, key management and reporting remain vital.

imshealth was demoing AppScript, an “app prescribing solution” that evaluates over 40,000 mobile healthcare apps across iOS and Android. Along with categorization, they assess an IMS Health App Score to rank each app based on various factors. This gives healthcare professionals key detail on choosing which apps to prescribe to their patients. Apps joined through a common platform can also be hooked together so data flows securely from one interface to another.

To application companies and developers, partnerships with ecosystems and discovery by curating offer great opportunities to drive app usage and adoption. It could add an essential “trust” factor for applications in a space where having too much to choose from may not be a good thing.

Sensors and devices without screens

mHealth had one of the most interactive exhibit floors I have ever seen at a tech conference. Virtually ever other vendor was demoing a device or related technology at their booth. With consumer demand for wearable health devices growing (as discussed in my Health:refactored earlier this year, for every device, there must be one or more available applications.

The event’s “Innovation Zone”, in particular, was a great showcase for getting hands on with a wide range of devices. A company called ThreePound had an impressive headband-oriented device that gauges your stress. Their accompanying mobile app gently brings you through a series of breathing and other techniques to relive the stress. Another company was demoing “SensiMAT”, a seemingly essential group of sensors that can prompt someone in a wheelchair to shift their body and avoid sitting issues.

ThreePound demos their stress monitor

ThreePound demos their stress monitor device and companion application at mHealth Summit. Photo by Chuck Freedman.

These devices, along with other sensor-driven health products like the posture monitoring “LumoBack”, rely on a data layer to provide visual feedback to the user via an application. Each device has that companion app and these companies will rely on APIs to extend their device’s data across mobile platforms. What’s more, inviting partners and approved developers to work with patient-approved or de-identified data can expand the reach of device-generated data to more users and even are providers.

During his keynote, Intel’s GM of Health and Life Sciences, Eric Dishman, actually wore a device by Sotera Mobile called ViSi, which can consolidate several hospital vital monitoring systems all onto a patient’s wrist. While this device has a screen, APIs can provide a layer enabling data to be shared back into the hospital or patient home care environment, ultimately back to a care provider for evaluation. Devices like these will ensure a more comfortable and even cost effective treatment approach for patients. Integration into a care ecosystem will truly unlock their potential.

Whether through a curated sequence, collection of apps, and/or integrated devices, health IT organizations must modernize and adopt tools and strategies to enable growing demand for this connected network. Challenges to make this technology interoperable across platforms and within ecosystems are being met with well-managed APIs. Ultimately, APIs are the data-sharing layer that makes this much needed innovation possible – between device, apps, care provider and you.