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How APIs, FHIR are helping Cleveland Clinic innovate

Chris Nerney
Chris Nerney, Contributing Writer |
How APIs, FHIR are helping Cleveland Clinic innovate

When new Cleveland Clinic CEO Tom Mihaljevic gave his first State of the Clinic address earlier this year, he touted the institution’s track record as an “early adopter” of cutting-edge technology. He also laid down a challenge to the assembled healthcare providers and support staff.

“Now, we have to take technology even more seriously,” Mihaljevic said. “We have to go for even more transformational technologic adoption.”

John Sharp, senior manager at the Personal Connected Health Alliance of HIMSS, explores in Healthcare IT News how Cleveland Clinic is using application programming interfaces (APIs) to build FHIR-based apps that can extend the capabilities of its electronic medical records (EMR) system.

APIs are code designed to act as an interpreter working between applications and proprietary software or web services. Companies such as Facebook and Twitter develop APIs with which third-party developers can build apps that can communicate and interact with their services and apps.

FHIR (Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources) is a draft standard created by Health Level Seven International (HL7) that uses data formats and APIs to facilitate medical data sharing.

Sharp attended the recent HIMSS and Health 2.0 Dev4Health conference in Cleveland, where William Morris, MD, senior director of Cleveland Clinic Innovations, and Brent Hicks, senior director of clinical solutions for the clinic’s app development unit, outlined the success development teams have had in extending the EMR using the FHIR platform.

Sharp writes: “The platform enabled them, for example, to develop an app for ICU staff to evaluate the mental health status of patients on a regular basis throughout the day and they accomplished it in just 3 weeks. And that’s just one app of many.”

As valuable as APIs are to extending interoperability and functionality across Cleveland Clinic’s network, “they’re only one piece of the puzzle,” Morris told conference attendees.

“Having that alone is not enough,” he said. “You need AI or machine learning or whatever your analytics du jour, because this whole concept of data is useless, but turning data into knowledge or insight, that’s actually powerful.”

Sharp writes that the Dev4Health conference made clear that “like many other industries, hospital IT shops are increasingly practicing agile development tactics rather than long development cycles,” and that “apps that simplify tasks for both consumers and providers, and do so in a secure fashion, are the way forward.”

This makes sense on both the consumer and provider sides. Consumers increasingly demand a seamless digital experience, while providers are desperate to eliminate inefficiencies and unnecessary work. APIs thus are an important enabling technology for healthcare providers.