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Application programming interfaces (APIs) are becoming widely used in the financial, retail, and technology sectors as a tool to allow software programs to connect with services across operating platforms. APIs, for example, make it possible for mobile users to access third-party apps through their Google or Facebook accounts.
However, as is often the case with emerging technologies, the healthcare industry lags in the adoption of APIs. Which is a shame, because APIs can help providers and patients overcome technological barriers to secure data- and resource-sharing, making the healthcare system more effective and efficient.
“In a health care market where APIs are commonplace, patients could have easy, efficient access to their own data, which would help them understand their own health and make more informed choices,” writes Harvard Business Review. “Providers would be empowered by innovative user interfaces and analytics platforms that could support their clinical decision making.”
APIs also could help healthcare researchers by giving them easier access to clinical and claims data. Further, HBR says, by making health data more easily available, APIs “would lead to the development of an entirely new group of health care innovators: developers who do not have particular expertise in health care but, when given secure access to clinical data from the industry, could create tools of significant value.”
In an effort to spread the word about APIs to providers and other healthcare stakeholders, the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) has launched an interactive API education module on the agency’s website.
The module walks viewers through the basics of how APIs work, including how they can help 1) patients by gathering data from fitness trackers and adding that data to a patient’s personal health record, and 2) providers by allowing them to share information in real-time with colleagues, including active medication lists from other EHRs or a patient’s most recent lab test results.
ONC’s module also reviews health IT security considerations as well as federal rules for data transfer.