Katya Samardina

The Role of Open API’s in Healthcare Interoperability

Much has been made of embracing an open Application Program Interfaces (API) strategy to achieve interoperability, but what does this actually entail? APIs are lightweight services exposed externally so systems can consume them on the web, cloud, or mobile. So what is an open API strategy’s role in helping achieve interoperability?

What do open APIs solve?

  • Connectivity: APIs can solve connectivity between systems by clearly defining transmission and security rules.
  • Expansion: APIs can grow the healthcare ecosystem by allowing applications to share data with any other system.
  • Vision: An open API strategy supports future proof healthcare strategies like FHIR.

What don’t open APIs solve?

  • Integration: End systems still require clearly defined message standards dictated by their clinical systems. Just because you’ve sent data to a system doesn’t mean the system is capable of interpreting it.
  • Workflow: Arguably the most complex interoperability challenge, APIs can only connect the dots, not determine which dots to connect.
  • Services: An open API strategy will expose connections but they are meaningless without services behind them that actually do something. These will need to be developed.

Why should I look at an open API Strategy?

  • Cost: Financial savings could be impressive. If the API strategy is implemented soundly there could be major implications for reimbursement, speed and ease of deployment of new interoperable services.
  • Safety: Security of patients’ Protected Health Information (PHI) could be increased due to more effective and secure interoperability standards.

Where is this being employed?

  • Sporadically: Open API strategies are starting to be used in the healthcare ecosystem, especially in the healthcare startup world.
  • Broadly: Open API strategies are widely successful in the social media (Facebook, Twitter) and e-commerce (Amazon, eBay) industries.

Who does it affect?

  • Government: Federal organizations such as the ONC have taken note and included an open API strategy as a path towards meeting thresholds for the 8 measures in “MU3.”
  • Providers and Payers: Healthcare providers and payers are seeking new paradigms to increase adoption and speed of interoperability amongst the players in the healthcare ecosystem.

When could we realize these benefits?

  • Design, Implement, Document: If both parties have already fully implemented an open API strategy, then yesterday. The reality is that most have not and it will require time to design, implement, document, expose and connect the systems together.

How do I embark on an open API strategy?

  • Evaluate: Look at your current strategy. Is your organization struggling with interoperability and integration? If it ain’t broke don’t fix it.
  • Investigate: Explore the ecosystem of products your organization interacts with. Do they have plans to expose APIs? Open API is only effective when everyone works together.

It’s important to realize that though an open API strategy serves a role within the interoperability puzzle, it isn’t the solution. If implemented soundly an open API strategy could enhance the interoperability landscape, all while growing your pool of integrated applications and services. The challenge lies in understanding that APIs aren’t a panacea for all interoperability challenges and will require significant development behind the scenes to create and expose useful web services. The good news is, the healthcare industry has recognized the successes that other sectors have achieved with APIs and the regulatory system is moving to line up incentives to meet the demands of the market.

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