One of the biggest obstacles to data interoperability is the slow and piecemeal progress of healthcare organizations (HCOs) towards digitalization. While the benefits of digitalization are clear; improved efficiency, reliability of data, and enhanced communication, just to name a few; the critical (and most challenging) piece of the puzzle, is being able to share critical patient data between systems in a way that makes it easily accessible – while still retaining the security of sensitive PHI.
According to a recent survey, only 7% of healthcare and pharmaceutical companies agreed that they had made a full digital transformation, in contrast to much higher adoption in other sectors. What’s more, many HCOs have adopted different solutions at different times, often leaving them with software and systems running different programs, different operating systems, different computing languages, and different network configurations.
All this results in a lack of unified data formatting.
HCOs, including surgical practices, have EHR platforms that can’t always read data received from other platforms. In addition, they share their data in a way that is cumbersome for external platforms to read or parse. This often increases the need for duplicate manual data entry, which is time-consuming and error-prone.
The Shift from HL7 to API
Until now, the majority of EHRs have used HL7 v2.0 technology to format information for data sharing. But HL7 v2.0 is limited in the sense that it relies on data “messages”, and these need to be configured for each new interface. Considering it was created in 1989, it’s not surprising that HL7 2.0 can be extremely clunky and time-consuming, and does not always yield the desired results. What’s more, today EHRs need to be able to share data with non-clinical applications, including mobile health portals, cloud patient portals, and apps. Not all of these applications support HL7.
APIs (Application Programming Interfaces) present a new solution. APIs allow for easy sharing or leveraging of existing data within the system’s database. This is because APIs provide a standardized, public interface so any authorized application can receive and/or send data with the proper security authentication. APIs enable any properly-configured third-party app, to exchange information with the EHR. For these reasons, APIs are far more agile and facilitate expeditious data sharing.
APIs Are More Efficient & Secure
APIs define security rules and transmissions more clearly and easily, enabling better connectivity between EHRs and other platforms. This helps EHR platforms avoid siloing their data in closed infrastructures and encourages seamless data integration with third parties.
APIs are also far more efficient as they allow data consumers to request information “on-demand”, as opposed to the HL7 model of subscribing to a feed that shares all data, regardless of whether it is immediately needed or not. By pulling data only when needed, the amount of information sent back and forth is reduced and focused on the task at hand. This, in turn, helps systems implement a “principle of minimum access”, not taking on more PHI than is absolutely required. The API approach also lets the requester authenticate as a specific user, providing accountability and transparency as to which specific user-requested or accessed a given piece of PHI. All this means there will be improved patient confidentiality without impeding the free flow of important PHI.
What’s more, APIs support FHIR, SMART, and other rising medical health portals. This connects EHRs with emergent health-tech platforms and helps to future-proof existing EHR platforms so that they can integrate with all types of health portals moving forward.
The Adoption of APIs in The World of EHRs
APIs are seeing increased adoption across the healthcare industry, particularly among newer entrants like Amazon and Apple. And the adoption will continue to become more widespread with the new FHIR (Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources) standards and CMS (The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services) including APIs in its path towards overhauling Meaningful Use.
In the last couple of years, there’s been an increasing push of larger EHR vendors such as athenahealth, Greenway, and Allscripts stepping back from attempting to offer every single service themselves. They’re emulating retail commerce models like Target, who don’t attempt to re-invent the coffee shop within their stores, but rather partner with Starbucks, who are the experts in coffee.
Similarly, these EHR vendors recognize that they reign supreme on the clinical side of data management, but invite smaller specialty partners like Surgimate to provide high-quality add-ons in their own sphere of excellence. By building their own proprietary API into their platforms, these EHR companies are creating healthcare app marketplaces that present the best of breed surgical and medical apps across the board. And best of all, this API data sharing ensures seamless interoperability.
APIs Will Also Benefit the Patient
Smooth, free data sharing won’t only help the healthcare organizations operate more efficiently, they will also directly benefit the patient. Value-based patient care is all the rage these days, but so far lack of data interoperability has served as a huge obstacle. The rise of APIs presents a way around this problem, as it helps HCOs share data seamlessly and securely with each other and external partners – including the patient.
As EHR vendors increasingly build APIs into their platforms, and more healthcare app marketplaces are formed, surgical practices and other HCOs will be empowered to utilize expert third-party applications, without compromising interoperability. This, in turn, will lead the healthcare industry towards improved data-driven care throughout the patient journey.
About Justin Rockman
Justin Rockman is VP of Business Development at Surgimate. Justin has been active in the healthcare industry for over 10 years, working intimately with hundreds of surgical practices and surgery centers across the United States to improve their surgical scheduling workflow. He has been an Industry Relations Advisory Board member of The American Alliance of Orthopaedic Executives (AAOE) for the past three years and understands the needs of both surgical practices and healthcare technology companies.