Q2 2018 Newsletter - Do We Really Need APIs in Healthcare?

by Mo Alkady, President at Hart

When I talk to CIOs, often the first question I get is “what are APIs?” This is usually followed immediately by, “why do I need them?” Perhaps, as I have come to learn, these questions stem from the concern of necessity. After all, we already possess the power of HL7, so how are APIs different and why do they deserve preferential treatment? 

What is an API?

For clarity’s sake, let’s all get on the same page about APIs. API stands for Application Programming Interface(s).  A good way to think of APIs is to imagine the function of power sockets. You find different types of sockets in varying countries, and in order to use those sockets when you travel, you buy an "adapter" that converts your plug. This is exactly what an API does by functioning as an adapter between applications, thus allowing one application to connect and exchange data to another.

Wait, this sounds like HL7!  

In many ways HL7 is both functional and similar to an API, and is largely taken for granted in healthcare. However, it is crucial to note that many of the challenges of HL7 are due in part to its complexity, along with the added complexity a software provider’s unique deployment configuration. The lack of flexibility associated with HL7 inhibits its effectiveness and while HL7 accomplishes some of the same objectives as APIs, it does not do so comprehensively. Essentially, HL7 has more of a standard than APIs, as it forces a set of guidelines for how data should be displayed in healthcare. 

We need standards

The challenge with any standard is the restriction of flow it creates. Hence, we acquire certain specifications to adhere to in order to overcome this difficulty. However, then the challenge extends to the way in which these specifications are implemented across the industry. Initially, instead of focusing on standards, we focus on specifications that create a general guideline and then use the least complex method to get that data in and out.  

APIs will solve everything then?

While APIs will not resolve all of the issues present within a health system, the first step is to shift away from talking about “interoperability” and start talking about data liquidity. Once we refocus and redefine our approach, we can then put APIs at the forefront of progress. Consequently, we allow rapid access to data, create efficiency and help build more positive experiences. However, the greatest challenge lies beyond data liquidity; the weight of success falls on the merger of the experience, the consumer and the clinical workflow.

About the Author

Mo Alkady founded medical software technology company Hart in Orange County, Calif., in 2012 to improve the ways in which people inside and outside of the industry access and engage with health data. A leader of the movement that views healthcare as a service, Hart has developed a powerful bi-directional API platform upon which incredible experiences can be built, among other technology products that keep Hart’s clients current and effective in today’s patient-driven landscape. Under Alkady’s guidance, Hart is fulfilling a vision of an industry that can better serve providers, clinicians and patients by embracing, rather than resisting, the perpetual changes and transformations so inherent to it. 

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