APIs: A remedy for integration, innovation barriers

With application programming interfaces (APIs) taking hold, data exchange is now easier to accomplish.
12:44 PM

The frustrations associated with sharing information have burdened the healthcare industry’s digitization efforts for many years. With application programming interfaces (APIs) taking hold, however, data exchange is now easier to accomplish.

“Operating systems, like UNIX, that drive leading enterprise systems, have long had the ability to share information through remote procedure calls. Although possible, it certainly has not been easy,” said Dan Tortorici, director of API product and solutions marketing at Axway. “The rigidity and structure of the effort has many limitations and was not easily accomplished by someone who did not have a lot of expertise.”

APIs, however, now are making it easier to share information among various systems and devices. “APIs provide a way to query any system for information that is needed to enhance care,” he explained. “By democratizing access to the information, you are providing access to a lot more functionality and more benefit that can arise from the information than ever before.”

Indeed, APIs are revolutionizing data sharing by making it possible to bridge legacy IT systems of record, such as electronic heath records (EHRs), with modern systems of digital engagement, such as mobile apps. Consider the following: The typical diabetes patient has information stored in the EHRs of various providers including their primary care physician, endocrinologist, ophthalmologist, podiatrist and others. In addition, many diabetic patients are now collecting personal health data – fitness, diet and blood sugar levels – via smartphones and remote monitoring devices.

“This data doesn’t mean all that much when it resides in silos,” said Joanna Gorovoy, senior director of industry solutions marketing at Axway. “However, when an API can collect and integrate the data in an app, then it is transformed into the actionable intelligence that can truly help improve overall health of these patients.”

Inciting innovation

The ability to share information is not only helping to improve current processes, it is also empowering innovation throughout the healthcare industry. “As healthcare leverages APIs to move beyond some of the challenges associated with secure data sharing and opening up proprietary EHR systems, the ability to innovate is becoming a lot easier. And, that will lead to better outcomes,” she noted.

For example, three emergency physicians developed the HEART Pathway app. Now marketed by Decision Point Informatics, the clinically validated app is used by clinicians at the bedside to accurately risk-stratify patients with acute chest pain. Using an algorithm derived from the latest peer-reviewed research and connecting to the patient’s EHR, the app helps to identify which patients need hospitalization and which patients can be safely discharged home – a decision that has typically stymied clinicians in the emergency room as they are typically required to work without the latest research or the patient’s updated health information. This allows hospitals to focus advanced care and diagnostic tests on the patients most likely to benefit. Use of the app has resulted in an approximately $7 million cost reduction in two years, a 21 percent increase in early discharge and reduced admissions for observation.

With APIs becoming more common, such innovation is becoming less onerous and is apt to become more the rule than the exception in healthcare. “The changes that APIs have unleashed have created tremendous disruption and that disruption is certainly going to lead to greater healthcare benefits,” Tortorici said.