A Comprehensive Guide To APIs In Healthcare

healthcare api

Key Takeaways

  • APIs in healthcare organizations have helped in providing better care for patients. It has maximized the utilization of electronic health records by using a third party.
  • API platforms offer stringent security standards and features that enhance the digital ecosystem. They provide users access to confidential data from multiple devices without risking security.
  • Healthcare API can improve interoperability and one of the ways to do this is to link wearables with patient portals, so providers can access real-time data.
  • FHIR uses REST (Representational State Transfer) as the basis of API and for data transfer. FHIR RESTful API is designed to retrieve only the desired electronic data from the system, rather than returning an entire bundle of ePHI.
  • Drawback of APIs in healthcare is the lack of design, proper testing, and monitoring tools. It also lacks continuous feedback. These are significant reasons that stop developers from designing a more efficient healthcare API system to tackle challenges.

Table of Contents:

In today’s world, innovative technologies have helped achieve goals that were unimaginable in the past. In addition to improved efficiency, new technologies are affordable and accessible for big and small consumers alike.

Over the years, digital disruption has hit industries like a tidal wave. While other sectors benefit from API integration, the world of healthcare is lagging.

Especially since the healthcare sector requires complex coordination between insurance carriers, healthcare providers, patients, and third-party vendors, it’s essential to adopt the latest interoperability tech.

Its growing importance is partly related to the increasing reliance on modern healthcare technologies and intercommunications. APIs or application programming interfaces improve communication and data sharing among medical departments and institutes.

The varying API applications have improvised the healthcare industry, known for its pen-and-paper legacy systems. Today smaller facilities, such as clinics and medical startups, have vastly adapted APIs to handle multi-facet data challenges.

Integration of APIs in healthcare technologies positively impacted the industry as it allows better data management and synchronization within the patient-provider network. The improved data-sharing capabilities have helped save lives and increase life expectancy.

With EHR booming and the focus on digital interoperability, APIs are becoming increasingly popular. Application programming interfaces allow information systems to streamline communication and transfer data.

Before adopting and benefitting from APIs, you must learn their basics and types. To help you out, we’ve created a comprehensive guide to APIs and how it is revolutionizing the healthcare industry:

A Quick Glance at APIs

Application Programming Interfaces, APIs, allow unrelated software programs to connect. The revolutionary interface acts as a bridge between various platforms, ensuring seamless data flow.

APIs standardize communication throughout the healthcare world and help:

  • Decrease software development time
  • Overcome differences in programming languages
  • Save storage space

In addition, APIs enable increased interoperability in the healthcare industry. They transfer patient information, including treatment records, medical history, billing, and more. It ensures that healthcare professionals and patients alike have easy access to all necessary information.

The History of APIs

Before electronic health record systems, healthcare professionals relied on phone calls, fax machines, and manual paperwork to achieve interoperability.

But in today’s digital world, organizations leverage multiple EHRs within a single building. As a result, patient data often gets disconnected, spreading across various devices, making it fragmented and useless.

The evolution to value-based care models means healthcare specialists are increasingly focused on improving patient care while reducing readmissions. For this, each healthcare organization will likely need real-time healthcare analytics.

To achieve this, the healthcare sector needs to leverage robust interoperability standards—APIs step in to solve patient care coordination issues. Today, healthcare companies across the globe utilize APIs to streamline workflow, ensure effective data communication, and improve patient care.

Understanding the Different Types of APIs

Here we discuss the different types of APIs:

  • Web APIs: They allow you to access various applications with the help of HTTP protocols. It includes REST, JSON, Java, and .NET, among other revolutionary technologies. Thus, Web APIs are accessible through mobile phones, computers, and tablets.
  • Program API: Utilizes Remote Procedure Call to transform remote programs into local ones.
  • Local APIs: For local APIs, developers tend to choose middleware applications.

Furthermore, APIs are available in the following sub-types:

  • Service Object Access Protocol (SOAP): It is an innovative web-based software boasting high security and incredible data transmission. Such APIs are helpful for telecommunication and payment.
  • Representational State Transfer (REST): Otherwise referred to as Restful APIs, REST architecture supports JSON, HTML, and XML. It is comparatively difficult to build.
  • Javascript Object Notation (JSON) API: This type of API helps to reduce the number of responses and requests from servers and clients, plus it is also easy to use. JSON is preferred for medical data exchange as it is designed for lightweight data interchange between two systems operating on the same hardware or between computers in different locations.

What are the Main Types of APIs?

APIs allow evaluating and repurposing of applications. Healthcare systems are complex. Most healthcare organizations require an extensive range of applications, software, databases, and ERPs. It facilitates hospitals, clinics, customers, and more. APIs provide a management layer for managing the healthcare system.

There are three major APIs: internal APIs, external APIs, and third-party APIs.

1. Internal Healthcare APIs

Internal Healthcare APIs, developed within healthcare enterprises, help increase efficiency, interoperability, services, visibility of applications, and digital tools. It includes building APIs on clinic management software, local storage servers, or patient-centered apps. Internal healthcare APIs help track and manage systems. Some healthcare organizations develop APIs on internal tools to make them available for public and partner consumption.

2. External Healthcare APIs

Sometimes, healthcare organizations create APIs for external use. External healthcare APIs are designed for partners, doctors, software developers, and insurance providers. For example, hospitals may use symptom checker tools for external use to boost brand recognition and improve care outcomes.

3. Third-Party APIs

Healthcare organizations use third-party APIs to improve digital offerings for providers and the public. For example, healthcare insurance companies use Google Fit, Samsung Health, or Fitbit APIs to synchronize their fitness activity with insurance accounts to avail rewards and discounts.

Why are APIs Important for the Healthcare Industry?

As per the latest Stanford Medicine Health Trends report, the amount of data gathered in the healthcare industry has drastically increased in recent years. Primarily, it is due to new government policies and initiatives for optimum quality health care. Moreover, digitization of medical records, electronic platforms, and other personal health apps such as Fitbit has widespread the use of API.

This section will discuss the significant reasons why APIs are essential for the healthcare sector.

1. For Healthcare Providers

APIs in healthcare organizations have helped in providing better care for patients. It has maximized the utilization of electronic health records by using a third party. It helps retrieve patients’ data and generate online bills, and scheduling appointments saves time and ensures that the care provider can attend to more patients.

2. For Patients

APIs in healthcare companies have helped in managing health data. Since patients are sick, keeping medical records and appointments becomes a hassle. APIs in healthcare take care of all the processes included in consulting a healthcare provider. APIs have proved to be helpful when patients switch doctors. It saves you the time to go through old medical files as it stores data that is just a click away.

3. For Researchers

APIs have revolutionized clinical research to a higher level. Sometimes, researchers fail to conclude due to the minimal records gathered. However, with APIs, accessing the records of patients has become simpler and hassle-free. Patients can even remain anonymous and still become a part of the research.

4. For developers

Developers use API-integrated tools to facilitate app development. It speeds up the time to launch the app and saves their budget. Developers can also customize the features and use the functionalities they need.

The Top Benefits of Integrating APIs in Healthcare

APIs play an integral role in streamlining workflow and improving productivity. Here’s an overview of how APIs benefit healthcare companies:

  • With its standardized integration, API can enable population health databases with real-time analytics
  • Its robust system allows patients easy access to their medical records
  • APIs uncover new and exciting research opportunities from unique access to critical data

Here we discuss its critical benefits in detail:

1. Improve Security

API platforms offer stringent security standards and features that enhance the digital ecosystem. They provide users access to confidential data from multiple devices without risking security.

In addition, APIs protect patient information from malicious malware and viruses and ensure health information falls into the right hands.

APIs ensure developers build innovative applications more efficiently through their strict guidelines while reducing the risks of data breaches, cybercrimes, and security errors.

2. Easy Access to EHRs

APIs enable patients to access electronic health records in new, innovative, and safer ways. It allows healthcare providers to privately access patient information.

3. Increased Storage Space

Healthcare companies often share information from one party to the other. An application responsible for interacting and exchanging data can eat up a lot of space.

Luckily, APIs save storage space, decrease development time, and are cost-effective.

4. Streamline Information Sharing

With the help of APIs, patients can share diagnostic and treatment information with doctors or clinics.

While not all healthcare providers use these features, electronically sharing blood sugar levels, ultrasound details, and other health data will soon become standard practice.

Patients may also use APIs to collect health information via patient portals.

5. Enhanced Integration and Sharing

APIs provide deeper insights into what additional apps patients use in real-time to monitor their health.

You can also discover how users manage their data and healthcare concerns to develop services based on real-time data effectively.

6. Boost Your Profits

Not all healthcare APIs that you use have to be free. Instead, you can use paid APIs to boost your profits effectively.

7. Innovate the Development Process

APIs are innovating the healthcare sector with their incredible features. Ready-made APIs help you speed up the development process without slowing down the final user experience.

8. Personalize Healthcare

Healthcare API vendors help patients become more concerned about their health. Health API provides easy access to a lab test, health report, and doctor report to personalize your healthcare journey.

Plus, medical billing API helps you manage your expenses and health insurance efficiently.

9. Improved Interoperability

Healthcare API can improve interoperability and one of the ways to do this is to link wearables with patient portals, so providers can access real-time data. This API works at a singular level, so bulk APIs are utilized to access and exchange large quantity data while aligning with robust data standards. FHIR (Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources), an interoperability standard for data exchange, is mentioned in the 21st Century Cures Act to promote patient data exchange using FHIR apps and APIs.

10. Telemedicine Support

API integration in telemedicine applications helps to simplify the medical billing process at both ends: patients and providers. It also supports insurance verification and claims processes. The use of RESTful API supports healthcare developers in building a telemedicine app that allows access to patient data and syncs medical data in a single platform.

11. Elevate Patient Engagement

Software developers can use APIs to build patient-front applications that allow them to communicate with their providers without compromising their security and accessing their data. It can allow developers to build functions like appointment booking and patient portal platforms.

12. Research and Analytics

Healthcare companies can accelerate their development of care services by using healthcare APIs for standardized data exchange, analytics, and research. For example, cloud healthcare API offers machine learning and analytics to streamline data processes, and to manage analytics securely on Google Cloud.

13. Decision Support Tools

Every day healthcare professionals face burnout due to regular patient encounters and managing EHR or other healthcare platforms. So, to tackle this issue, healthcare developers can leverage APIs that will help them to create clinical decision support tools that will assist doctors in treating, diagnosing, and handling emergency patient conditions, based on relevant medical data.

APIs vs HL7

EHRs have used HL7 technology for formatting information to share data. Since it is limited as it relies on data messages, configuring it with a more advanced interface is necessary. Since its creation took place in 1989, it is not surprising that HL7 is clunky, time-consuming, and does not produce the desired results. Today, EHRs need more advanced systems for sharing data even with non-clinical applications such as cloud patient portals and mobile health portals; HL7 is not compatible with all the apps.

APIs allow easy sharing of data within the systems’ databases. It provides an easy-to-use interface, so an authorized application can send and receive data properly. It enables the third party to exchange data with EHR. It makes APIs more agile and facilitates data sharing.

Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources: What is it?

FHIR (Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources) development began in 2012 to tackle market needs for easier, better, and faster methods to exchange the ever-growing healthcare data. It is an interoperability standard and defines how health data can be transferred between systems securely, regardless of its storage place.

With FHIR, medical software developers can leverage major vendors such as Google, Apple, or Microsoft to build applications. They can also use free, downloadable tools, along with libraries and reference servers. Furthermore, FHIR uses REST (Representational State Transfer) as the basis of API and for data transfer. FHIR RESTful API is designed to retrieve only the desired electronic data from the system, rather than returning an entire bundle of ePHI.

Third-party applications can be integrated by using FHIR API into healthcare software such as EHR, and then the medical data can be fed directly into the provider’s workflow. Apart from this, SMART on FHIR is another approach to assemble data longitudinally so that healthcare providers no longer have to switch between different apps to view the complete patient history.

SMART (Substitutable Medical Applications and Reusable Technologies) is a standard to solve interoperability issues, similar to FHIR. Now, SMART on FHIR is built to offer a platform to develop, launch, and access FHIR applications.

Challenges of APIs in Healthcare

Some challenges come along with all the benefits that APIs provide to the healthcare sector. Healthcare facilities use a complex combination of apps, systems, and technology. Since these systems are more hostile to change, it has become challenging, as the systems may turn old-fashioned with time because they fail to be compatible with modern technology.

Moreover, data sources, technologies, and attributes can change when updated, which creates the need to reinvent ETL– extract/transform/load scripts. If any system uses numerous APIs, transforming data to a readable format may take months and years.

Another major drawback of APIs in healthcare is the lack of design, proper testing, and monitoring tools. It also lacks continuous feedback. These are significant reasons that stop developers from designing a more efficient healthcare API system to solve the challenges faced.

Since testing is a challenge, coordinating tests with companies and agencies is another hassle. Healthcare systems have a complicated data flow that may be difficult to replicate. Therefore, developers must determine an efficient method of testing the API to ensure it provides accurate results.

What Barriers Do Healthcare Brands Face While Introducing APIs?

With the numerous benefits, it offers healthcare organizations, some of the barriers brands experience while introducing APIs are as follows.

1. Budget

Developing a healthcare system is always expensive. Creating an efficient API increases the final sum. The cost of creating an API system may even cross $20,000.

2. Security

Data privacy issues are another challenge that most brands face. While talking about protecting medical information, there are additional standards.

3. Standards

There are numerous standards applied to APIs in healthcare. These standards are expensive to maintain.

4. Workflow

APIs facilitate the flow of data. Data flow starts when patients get access to data, data flow starts, and when patients begin generating data. Many companies are cautious about the flow of data.

How Can You Use Healthcare APIs to Enhance Your Software Security?

Although APIs may become a security risk if the system is poorly implemented. Some ways can help you enhance its software security. The following are three ways to improve your software’s security.

1. Protect web applications

API services detect viruses and data insertions. It will alert you to attempts and malware, enabling you to respond efficiently to solve the problem. Depending on the service, APIs also track the traffic source and will allow you to block malware from the same source.

2. Verify site reliability

APIs verify the reliability of websites, enabling you to block sites, pages, or domains that are risky. This information also alerts users if they enter any dangerous resource.

3. Identify your attack surface

APIs enable you to check your network, including your domain names, IP addresses, and DNS records. You can use APIs to prevent attacks, identify outdated records, and monitor DNS changes.

The Bottom Line

According to research, approximately 7% of all healthcare and pharmaceutical businesses have completed digital transformation- a much lower adoption than other sectors.

But with more providers realizing the potential impact and benefits of modern APIs, the health sector is also leaning towards digitalization. It, in turn, helps improve both patient care and profit.

Overall, healthcare APIs have a bright future as they continue to encourage standardization and proliferation across various companies.

We expect healthcare API to enable providers to connect with critical data, improve patient outcomes, and access public healthcare records in the coming years.