How API in Healthcare Increases Applications' Functionality
The availability of accurate information has the potential to save many lives, which is particularly true in the healthcare sector. Access to patient and population health data allows healthcare administrators, physicians, and nurses to make decisions that can have a profound impact on the health of their patients.
Let’s take COVID-19 as an example. The use of timely data to prevent, detect, and personalize treatment is instrumental to help societies remove restrictions and return to the path of normality. It is data resulting from medical trials that helped develop a life-saving vaccine at break-neck speed. Data is also the main driver behind creating reforms of change that are critical to the future of healthcare.
Data sharing and processing is simplified thanks to the use of APIs, as we explore next but first, let’s dissect what’s the role of IT in healthcare before diving into APIs.
The Role of IT in Healthcare
Health information systems, which integrate health care and information technology in a seamless and smart way, are essential for getting health data to the relevant people as rapidly as possible. Using a health information system, hospitals and clinics may keep track of patients' medical records and other vital information, as well as better manage it, analyze it, and use it to provide the best possible care.
In addition, these networks facilitate doctors' access to data on community health patterns and other macro-level environmental factors. Additionally, health information systems include information about certain healthcare professionals or facilities, such as the most often employed treatments or interventions that are associated with the best outcomes.
As medical practices become more and more automated, with record keeping and information sharing between patients, doctors, providers, and insurance companies, the role of Information Technology (IT) in healthcare has become essential to good patient care. Technology helps cut down on mistakes, stop bad drug reactions, protect patients' privacy, and improve care as a whole.
For this article, we focus on the crucial role of API in healthcare, helping it expand, grow, and innovate by leveraging the latest technological advancements that can prove life-changing in the field.
Why Should You Use Application Programming Interfaces in Healthcare?
The demand for greater patient care coordination across a growing number of healthcare providers is at the heart of the interoperability movement that is key to leveraging APIs in healthcare. APIs have a tremendous role in interoperability, especially since data exchange rules demand standardization. Healthcare is known for having clinical data spread out across a variety of data streams and a plethora of disjointed silos.
When building the business case for your organization to leverage APIs, it’s a no-brainer to start off with the plethora of benefits centered around interoperability as more and more healthcare companies are turning to APIs to handle the sharing of data between their internal applications, electronic health records (EHRs), and other data exchange platforms.
Business intelligence platforms are also using APIs to create a centralized, 360-degree view of the patient. Even though they are a work in progress, APIs have the potential to provide a way to solve complex clinical problems. They also provide a place to talk about and design business cases for future interoperability capabilities.
All in all, APIs can ensure electronic health record data is accessible to the right internal and external users while still being protected from malware and outside threats, which is especially important as the ongoing transition to value-based care, population health management, and care coordination creates an imperative for actionable insights at the point of care.
Not to mention the numerous advantages for patients across their user experience from various diverse medical provider systems. Some patients use multiple provider portals with varying degrees of patient care and subsets of data. It’s beneficial for patients to select one preferred provider portal and have all data in a centralized location, all made possible by good design and APIs.
Advantages of Using API for Healthcare
Speed up development
The advent of healthcare application programming interface services contributes to the health industry's rapid growth. Healthcare application programming interfaces allow for a more dynamic user experience, one that is quick, responsive, and accurate. Companies like Google, Apple, IBM, and more, that provide healthcare APIs facilitate the industry's smooth growth while maintaining strict data security and privacy standards. Better financial planning is achieved through the use of API in addition to improved medical billing.
Ready-to-use APIs simplify access to streamlining hospital workflows with real-time, instant access to patient records without compromising confidentiality and without delay.
When you standardize data with the help of APIs, you end up with a connected set of data that is easy to use and process, leading to significantly fewer errors in decision-making. Data should give a new level of insight and opportunity into the needs of patients, providers, and payers, which can help the industry make better decisions with fewer uncertainties or mistakes. The data from APIs in healthcare can then help the industry standardize new data points and affect the policies that lead and regulate the healthcare industry.
Tailor medical care to each individual
Dream up a scenario with a perfect healthcare environment. In this utopia, patient apps, sensors, hospital systems, medical device trackers, lab tools, pharmacy software, and more, seamlessly exchange data, giving every user—from patient to doctor to researchers—immediate access to data.
Unfortunately, this is just a dream. More than 90% of US patients report a lack of data sharing, meaning that communication means are insufficient or inadequate. This interoperability issue is addressed by APIs that ensure seamless data exchange.
APIs help achieve healthier habits. How? Health records, including lab results and doctor's notes, can be uploaded using the Health API to further individualize care. In addition, the medical billing API aids in cost-effective financial administration. Healthcare providers have access to a number of free healthcare APIs that aid in the delivery of individualized healthcare for end users. In short, APIs simplify the management of health insurance, and, in contrast to popular belief, most healthcare APIs, including those that provide health advice, are typically free of charge.
Grow revenue streams
Creating a medical application programming interface boosts earnings for the healthcare sector. APIs in the healthcare industry facilitate communication between medical professionals and patients in multiple locations. As a result, healthcare APIs and medical billing API services contribute to increased usability, which in turn increases revenue.
Top Medical APIs
Apple Health Records API
Apple Health Record API is a health API that makes it easy for the user to keep track of and store their health records. It uses FHIR (Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources) and Electronic Health Records to get information from iPhone and Apple Watch users. It uses iOS platforms to look at user health records to help them take better care of their health.
API focus area/information it manages: It connects to more than 500 health systems to get EHR data and organizes information so that iOS devices can see it all in one place. The API collects the following types of data: allergies, clinical vitals, conditions, immunizations, lab results, medications, and procedures.
Examples/use cases: Primarily used for medication tracking tools to import lists of prescriptions, set reminders, and get notified about dangerous drug interactions. Apps for managing diseases can pull lab data, fine-tune treatment, and help plan meals better.
- Accuracy. Apple discretely and accurately monitors health activity fit for researchers free of human error.
- Accelerated research. Traditional studies can span years while apps deliver data ready to be processed and analyzed instantly.
- Better patient outreach. Apps can track chronic conditions, helping patients who would otherwise have a hard time contributing ongoing data.
Cons: Privacy. There are concerns about whether apps can maintain user data completely private.
Amazon Comprehend Medical API
Amazon Comprehend Medical is a HIPAA-compliant service that pulls clinical information from EHRs, trial reports, and doctor's notes, among other places. It uses natural language processing (NLP) and machine learning algorithms to automatically pull terms from the ICD-10-CM and RxNorm datasets that describe body parts, medical conditions, medications, and treatment procedures.
Pricing: See pricing details here.
API focus area/information it manages: Patient case management and outcome, clinical research, medical billing and healthcare revenue cycle management, and ontology linking.
Protocols to interchange information: Text Analysis APIs and Ontology Linking APIs, which connect medical entities with standard names, can be used to access the functionality. To work with medical documents, you need to store them on Amazon S3.
Examples/well-known use cases: Cambia, CDPHP, Houston Methodist, and more. Mainly used for medical billing software, patient management tools, analytics, decision support systems, indexing, and searching modules for clinical trials.
- Data extraction. Easy extraction of medical data records, simplifying the health sector’s app automation efforts.
- Centralized location. All medical data is in one place, giving users a simple and easy way to access everything they need.
Cons: Room for improvement in the UI. Amazon products are known for their user-friendly interfaces but Amazon Comprehend can be challenging to use, especially the search feature.
Google’s Cloud Healthcare API
Google’s Cloud Healthcare API makes it easy for healthcare apps and solutions built on Google Cloud to share data in a standard way. With support for popular healthcare data standards like HL7® FHIR®, HL7® v2, and DICOM®, the Cloud Healthcare API provides a fully managed, highly scalable, enterprise-grade development environment for building clinical and analytics solutions securely on Google Cloud.
Pricing: See pricing details here.
API focus area/information it manages: With pre-built connectors for streaming data processing in Dataflow, scalable analytics in BigQuery, and machine learning in Vertex AI, the Cloud Healthcare API makes it easy to use intelligent analytics and machine learning in Google Cloud.
Protocols to interchange information: You can use Google’s Cloud Healthcare API to store data in a way that is both fast and scalable, and to get to your FHIR data through fully managed REST APIs.
Examples/well-known use cases: UT Austin, Steadman Philippon Research Institute, Stratus Medicine, Onix, and more. You can see customer webinars here.
- Virtual connectivity. Unlike other healthcare APIs, the Google Cloud Healthcare API allows patients to remain connected virtually. It connects data to advanced embedded capabilities such as scalable analytics, data processing, machine learning, and more.
- Heightened security. Since the program handles privacy-sensitive data, Google has found numerous ways to strengthen the prevention of data loss.
- Learning curve. For new users, this API can be hard to understand at first.
- Cluttered UI. The UI has room for improvement in terms of delivering a cleaner view.
IBM Micromedex APIs
IBM Micromedex is one of the best places to find information about drugs online. It has two JSON-based API choices for different types of users. Summary Drug API lets nurses, insurance companies, and patients find answers to general questions about medications. In-Depth Drug API is for doctors and nurses who need a lot of information about complex care.
Pricing: Subscription-based model. See more details here.
API focus area/information it manages:
- IBM Micromedex Summary Drug API. How to give medications that nurses, insurance companies, and the general public use to learn the basics.
- IBM Micromedex In-Depth Drug API. Healthcare professionals, academics, researchers, and people who want to know more can use detailed answers to questions about complex medical care. Drug Consults from IBM Micromedex are part of the package. It gives consolidated information about drug therapies and treatment guidelines for specific groups.
- Thanks to its Watson synergy, IBM Micromedex delivers a broad range of solutions for improved healthcare insights thanks to advanced AI search capabilities.
- Better care experiences with improved insights for dosing, drug selection, IV compatibility, toxicology, and more.
Cons: It can be considered expensive when considering there are plenty of healthcare APIs free of charge.
Microsoft Azure API for FHIR
Microsoft Azure API for FHIR (Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources) makes it easier for health systems to move old documents that are stored in different places to the cloud. It takes care of protected health information and uses the FHIR standard to make sure that medical data is the same. Also, Microsoft has a special IoT connector to take biometric data from medical devices, analyze it, and build IoMT systems.
Pricing: FHIR capabilities from Microsoft are available in two configurations:
- Azure API for FHIR – A PaaS offering in Azure, easily provisioned in the Azure portal and managed by Microsoft.
- FHIR Server for Azure – an open-source project that can be deployed into your Azure subscription, available on GitHub at https://github.com/Microsoft/fhir-server.
API focus area/information it manages: FHIR allows for a strong, expandable data model with standard semantics and data exchange. This makes it possible for all systems that use FHIR to work together. By changing your data to FHIR, you can quickly connect existing data sources, such as research databases or electronic health record systems. FHIR also makes it possible for mobile and web development to quickly share information. The most important thing about FHIR is that it can make it easier to get data and speed up development with tools for analytics and machine learning.
Protocols to interchange information: The Azure API for FHIR allows for the exchange of data via consistent, RESTful, FHIR APIs based on the HL7 FHIR specification.
Examples/well-known use cases: healthcare ecosystems, research, patient or provider-centric apps, and more.
- Modernization. This API helps health environments transition from legacy documents across disparate storage sites and into a unified and effective location.
- Special IoT connector that ingests biometric data from medical sensors and devices.
Cons: The Microsoft Cloud Solution Center, which is used to deploy healthcare solutions, doesn't tell you how the deployments are going.
openFDA APIs is one of the top medical APIs that is an open-source platform that lets you get information about drugs for people and animals, medical devices, foods, tobacco, and other things. All openFDA APIs give responses in the form of JSON. It's important to note that not all of the information that openFDA APIs give is validated for use in clinical or production settings.
Pricing: You can try out the APIs here.
API focus area/information it manages: reports on adverse events and medical mistakes, drug labels in SPL format, NDC numbers with information about drugs sold in the US, and data on drug recalls, which are when certain medications are taken off the market.
- OpenFDA is a stamp of approval for how FAERS data can be used in different places.
- OpenFDA puts information in a structured, computer-readable format, making it easy for developers and researchers to ask for data quickly and easily.
Cons: Completeness and timeliness. Even though OpenFDA has made available adverse event case reports from the past 9.5 years, the most recent information is already more than a year old.
United States Core Data for Interoperability
United States Core Data for Interoperability is what USCDI stands for. It specifies a set of required pieces of data that have to be made available through their FHIR APIs when a patient asks for them.
The data elements in USCDI are the same as those in FHIR, and they belong to larger data classes like Allergies and food intolerances, Evaluation and Treatment Plans, Care Team Members, Clinical Notes, Goals, Health Concerns, Immunizations, Laboratory Tests and Results, Medications, Patient Demographics, Problems, Procedures, Provenance, Smoking Status, and Vital Signs.
API focus area/information it manages: health data classes and constituent data elements for nationwide, interoperable health information exchange.
Examples/well-known use cases: MediTech, Particle Health, and more.
Pros: USCDI v3 adds a new data class called "Health Insurance Information." This lets health IT systems, not just EHRs, collect and share information about health insurance coverage in a standard way.
Cons: Limited values for different data values such as applicable vocabulary.
World Health Organization API
The Global Health Observatory, which is the WHO's data portal, can be queried through the Athena API. It gives back XML files by default, but the service also has basic support for JSON.
API focus area/information it manages: The GHO is where all the information about global health is kept. It brings together statistics for more than 1000 indicators by country. The GHO works on health issues like child nutrition and health, maternity and reproductive health, immunization, health systems, sanitation, and specific diseases like HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria are some of the things that need to be looked at.
Examples/well-known use cases: Mainly used by hospitals, research centers, medical education departments, web portals, and health analytics solutions.
Pros: It collects statistics by country on a wide range of topics, such as how well children are fed, if they are immunized, and what diseases they have.
Cons: It only retrieves data in XML format and offers basic JSON support.
Security Standards Considerations When Choosing a Healthcare API
Most of the time, data that passes through healthcare APIs is protected health information (PHI). So, it has to follow privacy and security rules that keep sensitive information from getting into the wrong hands or being used in a bad way.
In the US, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) sets these rules. It tells, among other things, what technologies and methods must be used to ensure the right level of security. The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) makes sure that health data is safe in the European Union.
Patients have the right to see their personal information under both laws, and most healthcare APIs have to be HIPAA- or GDPR-compliant. This means that data can only be accessed by the right people and must be encrypted before being sent.
APIs have the capability to connect to different systems, making it a breeze to integrate with patient or provider solutions and take advantage of its many benefits without having to reinvent the wheel or start from scratch.
But how can you be sure that an API for healthcare meets all industry standards and will fit into your system without any problems? Or what API is best for visualization or health analytics? There are several best practices you can employ when reviewing and choosing the right API for your healthcare app or software. These best practices include:
Look for clear instructions and help. Your healthcare API provider should give you clear documentation that makes it as easy as possible to add the API to your app and get updates. They should also promise to provide ongoing support, so you can find out about updates and get in touch with their developer team if you have any questions.
Sign an agreement. HIPAA knows that covered entities, such as telehealth platforms or EHR providers, might let third parties like telehealth platforms or EHR providers see confidential health information. Your secure API provider must sign a Business Associate's Agreement with you to keep you in compliance.
Always compare. For HIPAA compliance, your API provider must have a number of important safety measures in place. Some of these are restricting who can access data, keeping track of system activity, and encrypting data. As another best practice, look for APIs that are SOC-2 compliant, go through annual third-party penetration tests, and have security practices and policies that are written down.
Beware of connector tools. Connector tools are used by a lot of businesses to automate their workflow. These tools can help you get more done in less time by adding events to your calendar right from your email or giving tasks to your staff automatically. But it's important to note that many standard connector tools don't comply with HIPAA. When working with sensitive health information, it's much better to use a secure API that complies with HIPAA.
At Svitla Systems, we have plenty of concrete experience in healthcare and medical industry projects centered around APIs and how to build them from scratch. By adhering to the aforementioned best practices and continuously staying on top of the latest trends, we deliver value to our clients looking to employ an API for their healthcare app or software.
If you care to learn more about our customer-centric solutions in relation to API in healthcare, please reach out so we can share all relevant details.
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