APIs, or application programming interfaces, are a critical element in the digital transformation of healthcare. APIs allow unrelated software programs to communicate with each other. Serving as a HIPAA-compliant bridge over which information flows, a healthcare API allows manufacturers and healthcare providers to shortcut traditional workflows.
For example, a provider determines that a patient needs diagnostic testing. The provider can input patient data into an electronic health record (EHR) system that integrates with health insurance companies via an API. Through the API, the provider can quickly make a coverage determination for a specific procedure. Without an API, that information would exist in separate systems. Making a coverage determination would not only be subject to human error, but it would also require additional steps and time. With an API the provider’s workflow is seamless and fast, ultimately ensuring an error-free patient experience.
Often, multiple EHRs are in play for the same patient and lead to a fractured clinical view of the patient’s health. For example, a patient undergoing surgery could feasibly have separate EHRs at their physician practice, their surgical practice, and the hospital. After the patient’s surgery, other EHRs could be created at a skilled nursing facility, a physical therapy practice, or a remote monitoring program. Using APIs in healthcare can connect these EHRs, enabling an end-to-end clinical picture of the patient’s status. The patient’s healthcare providers can easily and accurately collaborate, and the patient has a hassle-free experience.
Current Challenges in Healthcare API Development
API technology in healthcare is undoubtedly a clever solution to a complex digital problem, but in its current state has some limitations. Across the healthcare industry, there is a lack of standards within the data and between APIs. Given this, APIs generally need to be custom configured to accomplish a specific task within a specific system.
That’s not as easy as it sounds. Developing API technology in healthcare can be as time-consuming and costly as developing an app. In fact, it’s not unusual for the cost of an API to reach $20,000. API testing also presents challenges. Since multiple players are integrated into this technology, coordinating testing among the different entities can be difficult. Moreover, the data flows in many healthcare systems can’t be replicated in test environments.
Today, APIs are written for specific solutions. When a manufacturer or provider wants to upgrade their API functionality it necessitates a rewrite. Because developing or rewriting a healthcare API is so costly and cumbersome, it can impact an organization’s ability to scale. For manufacturers and providers to nimbly respond to industry changes and create superior patient experiences, greater versatility with healthcare APIs must be achieved.
Healthcare APIs in the Future
It’s undisputed that there’s a foundational need for a connected, end-to-end patient experience, and that experience isn’t far off. From a manufacturer or provider’s standpoint, APIs that enable a 360-degree view into a patient’s health would enable better collaboration and a frictionless workflow. As patients move between services during their course of treatment, data could be easily transferred with them. With the right tools, providers could also easily access research data that may help them make smarter diagnoses. Advanced API technology would mean that providers will be able to perfect patient care based on the data that’s exchanged.
Patients also expect a fluid experience. Accustomed to the end-to-end Amazon shopping experience, they want the same thing in their healthcare. They also need to fully understand their diagnosis and their instructions so they can adhere to their treatment plan. With advanced API technology, patients could enjoy an Internet of Things experience. For example, they could receive an API-enabled reminder to take their glucose reading on their smartwatch, then effortlessly upload the results to their provider through another API. Yet another API might register that the patient is out of refills for their insulin and schedule a telehealth visit on the patient’s behalf. An API could also generate automated reminders for the appointment. Following the visit, API technology could enable home delivery of the patient’s insulin. Ultimately, the patient would be able to manage their diabetes with little effort.
APIs of the future will function as modules, much like Lego blocks, with standardized connections. Instead of a one-size-fits-all solution, modules can be rearranged, added, or modified to meet the need at hand. This will make it possible to create unmatched patient experiences and make it unnecessary to conduct costly rewrites to meet each need. Provider and manufacturer workflows will be automated and malleable, allowing for responsiveness to changing needs. These developments will be backed by a solid engine and a well-structured process layer that defines the order of the modules, the workflow, and the data required to make decisions on the front and back ends.
Ultimately manufacturers and providers will be able to rely on these frictionless automated solutions, saving them uncounted hours, reducing errors, and allowing them to focus on what’s most important: the patient. Patients will benefit when they enjoy a seamless, connected healthcare experience that minimizes hassle and increases adherence.
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