Kyle Riordan | Research Analyst
June 09, 2015

A Final Push for Healthcare Interoperability


The healthcare space is changing – moving to a more comprehensive and uniform exchange of data and information.  That sort of evolution is an ideal use case for APIs.  Those who have kept up with the space know there has been an increased interest in moving towards a more API centric model for some time now.  That being said, the subsequent shift so far has not been what most would describe as fast paced.  Much like the pace usually attached to the phrase, “The doctor will be right in,” it has been a slow, languid jaunt rather than an all out sprint.  But that may soon change as we now are seeing a cohesive push towards APIs from both the private and public sector.

On the private side, that push has been around informally for quite some time. Just about anyone you talk to says they would like to see their medical history and information move more seamlessly across their healthcare experience.  Just think about when you go to an urgent care facility - particularly one that you have not visited before. You have to spend a good portion of the admittance time going over your medical history, any medications you are taking, if you are a smoker etc.  Wouldn’t it be so much easier to simply give your name/insurance ID number and have all that information populated for the doctor and staff you are about to see – and more importantly shouldn’t that be happening already? 

In an age where the moment you swipe a credit card that transaction almost instantaneously populates in the relevant app on your phone shouldn’t we expect our healthcare system be able to keep up with data that is often just sitting in a database for months and sometimes years at a time?  For an industry valued in the trillions…yes trillions with a “T” I don’t think it should be that difficult to do what so many other industries have done already.  Are there privacy concerns with health information?  Of course there are, but there is privacy concerns with all kinds of data exchanged over APIs. These concerns though can be mitigated with the API security that comes with a quality API management layer.  Privacy and security isn’t to be taken lightly but a good management layer can help prevent those concerns from being complete roadblocks.

And to that point, just because there are challenges doesn’t mean we should not pursue more interoperable healthcare altogether.  Consumers want to see this happen and the private sector is responding in turn with major trendsetters like Apple taking a more active role in the healthcare space through its Healthkit initiative and consumer devices like the Apple Watch.  Healthkit is what allows various apps and services to connect and share user’s data across iOS devices and with physicians.  A number of top tier hospitals have already begun integrating with Healthkit and are using it as a means to track and better predict complications for patients suffering from chronic illnesses.  The long-term effectiveness of such programs still needs to play itself out, however this integration and willingness to work with Apple harkens back to that initial point of the private sector through consumers and physicians alike calling for tighter integrations across the healthcare ecosystem.  The release of the Apple Watch with its tracking capabilities and health related apps (those already on the market and those soon to come) will inevitably catalyze this movement from the consumer perspective.

The momentum though is not coming from the private sector alone; the public sector is looking to get involved as well.  The most notable example of which can be found in some of the expanded requirements for Meaningful Use Stage 3 (MU3).  In addition for calling not just for expanded use of e-prescribing and clinical quality reporting, Stage 3 of Meaningful Use is calling for an increased emphasis on APIs.  No doubt this is in response to consumer demand and the budding fruition of governmental aspirations of interoperability that really began back in 2009.  This push could be just what the industry needs to finally see some meaningful gains in the exchange of EHR (electronic health records) data.  The comment period for this latest installment of Meaningful Use ended May 29th with final rules rolling out later in the summer.  I for one hope to see meaningful API requirements as part of this initiative and hope that that will be the final push needed to spark more widespread adoption throughout the entire healthcare ecosystem.

Interoperability has been an industry aspiration for quite some time but we are finally seeing the convergence of consumer demand and (fingers crossed) real public sector requirements.  Generally speaking that sort of amalgamation often serves as the tipping point in real industry change.  We’ve been saying it for quite some time but it looks like our collective wish for a more interoperable healthcare experience is just around the bend.  APIs are integral to this new order and can be the difference between legacy healthcare companies that merely maintain their position in the market and ones that make real gains.  We at Mashery have already seen a number of our customers make some real headway in these efforts.  Companies like athenahealth and Greenway Medical that have been using their respective API programs to help push the healthcare industry forward - enabling an improved healthcare experience. 

You can learn more about these and other successes in an upcoming joint webinar featuring Forrester’s Peter Mueller and Mashery’s Strategy Services team’s own Tameez Sunderji (@tsunderji) here.

The healthcare industry is changing; inching closer and closer to operating as I think we all believe it should with true interoperability.  This change has been a long time coming and is still remains at a plodding pace but nonetheless there has been progress and for the first time in recent memory there is now a real push from both the private and public sector to finally make things happen.  Disparate systems is the healthcare industry’s ailment, APIs are its treatment program.