August 07, 2014

Healthcare APIs: Just What the Doctor Ordered


Although it has received limited media coverage, each day, organizations are leveraging APIs to reimagine healthcare. The healthcare industry’s interest in APIs arose from successful web 2.0 mashups that propelled data exchanges in other verticals, and it has further grown in the wake of early-adopter healthcare companies that sought to integrate cloud services with on-premise systems. Today, healthcare providers are using APIs to extend the point of care beyond the walls of the hospital, while health insurance companies are moving from passive payers of claims to active managers of their policyholders' lifestyles.

As the healthcare industry embraces new technologies that have increased the efficiency of other verticals and made them more responsive, it has also sought ways to digitize data and make it easier to consume. However, the drivers for the API economy are somewhat different from what has traditionally been seen in the healthcare industry, and they represent the convergence of several market trends; namely, the consumerization of IT, the explosive use of mobile devices, and a new generation of incredibly tech-savvy professionals that want access to healthcare resources in the same way they access other offerings—anytime, anywhere and from any internet-enabled device.

The Special Value of APIs in Healthcare Settings

APIs are proving to be a disruptive force in healthcare settings. In software terms, an API is a collection of functions and protocols that a developer can call to access someone else’s services and data. More broadly speaking, APIs are the currency of software development and the connective tissue that has propelled the Internet of Things (IoT) movement. They make it possible for developers and healthcare organizations to work together without having to coordinate every minor change and grapple with each other’s code.

When the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) started sharing data with the public, with the hope of stimulating the creation of public health applications, they knew that plain tables of statistics would be of little help to developers. Whenever they could, HHS offered an API to access the data. This led many electronic health record (EHR) vendors to see where healthcare IT was headed, and they, in turn, have provided APIs to their data with the hope that developers outside their companies will create applications that will enhance their products.

Although seasoned developers are used to APIs with long names that feature a challenging list of requirements, modern APIs tend to use web-friendly approaches, which are best known as RESTful (REpresentational State Transfer) and SOA (Service Orientated Architecture) architectural approaches. In healthcare settings, these APIs allow you to pull-up a web browser and type in a location like this to get some lab results:

The URL works as follows: each slash precedes an element of the data (John Doe is a patient, glucose ist the type of test performed, etc.). The results can get even more specific as you move from left to right.

Modern APIs bring data within the reach of everyone; however, they still tend to be queried by applications, rather than directly by people. The goal of many healthcare APIs is to vastly increase the number of useful applications getting access to data and services on the sites that provide APIs. Such APIs not only provide a path to data, but also a methodology that is developer-friendly.

Another advantage of APIs is that they force websites to break data into bite size, digestable chunks that can be individually consumed. Since the healthcare industry has historically exchanged information in the form of discharge summaries and continuity of care documents, this revolutionary data sharing approach should be welcomed. Although some of these are currently distributed in XML formats that allow a program to extract a particular piece of data (such as a glucose lab result), they’re much more complicated than modern RESTful and SOA APIs. Ultimately, this means that much more information could become available to researchers when data is exposed through a modern API.

Finally, modern APIs also offer the standardization of data. Each field must use consistent units and terminology, which can be challenging, given the information found in most healthcare records. However, this doesn’t negate the importance of medical personnel narratives and subjective observations, which often provide the key to diagnosis. But, clinical decision support, public health, and research depend on quantifiable data, which APIs lead to.

Intel® Services’ Leads the API Charge in Healthcare Settings

Intel® Services created the first purpose-built SOA integration appliance for the healthcare industry, which delivers best-in-class performance, open standards, and simplified security. It provides real-time, accelerated message processing, legacy connectors, and service enablement capabilities to power best-of-breed Health Information Exchange (HIE) solution architectures for systems integrators, governments, health plans, and large providers.

Intel® Mashery™’s API Products and Services Portfolio offers a message gateway, service mediation engine, and integrated security functionality in a single, tightly-integrated software appliance that carries the industry's best price-to-performance ratio.

Our API management solutions give both providers and payers the ability to rapidly expose healthcare data to partners and developer communities via an API portal. Through our solutions, healthcare organizations are able to foster new app development, drive application usage, and ultimately add new sources of mobile derived revenue. Our solutions are also a fundamental part of an emerging class of cloud service brokerage providers that empower healthcare IT to aggregate internal legacy data and external cloud provider information for simplified internal or partner consumption.


As APIs gain more traction in healthcare settings, expect to see them receive even more media coverage. The obvious ones, such as the Kaiser InterchangeAetna’s CarePass, and the National Library of Medicine, have already garnered the spotlight; however, API innovation in this field continues to gain momentum. For example, Health 2.0 has already created a site dedicated to healthcare APIs, which lists hundreds of them, and you can further search under “health” on the ProgrammableWeb site to find more.

Ultimately, APIs are business-led initiatives designed to grow top line results, create new market opportunities, and expand brand reach in new ways. Healthcare industry APIs are forecasted to grow significantly in the coming years, and when coupled with API management services, they will collectively become essential enterprise technology needs.

Like other emerging technologies and related services, careful consideration needs to go into creating and exposing healthcare APIs before just "API-enabling" something. Intel® Services’ API products and services, which serve Athena, Kaiser Permanente, and Aetna—to name just a few companies—are reshaping the face of the healthcare industry. To learn more about these products and services, visit: and