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How Healthcare APIs Augment Medical Software Development

Healthcare | 15 min read • 22 May 2020
How Healthcare APIs Augment Medical Software Development

What does API stand for in healthcare? In this article, we’ll explain in detail what the two concepts have to do with each other. An API is an application programming interface. It is a set of procedures and functions which allow the creation of applications that access the data or features of an app, operating service, or another service that is separate from it.

In the area of healthcare technologies, APIs have lots of potential uses. That is especially true if you’re talking about interoperability. 

You can think about interoperability as a reflection of the healthcare industry’s need to coordinate patient care across an ever-larger subset of players. Those might include apps, wearables, clinics, hospitals, private practices, etc. There is some ability to do that now, but improvement is definitely needed.

Just consider, the US American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 introduced the incentive to adopting EHR/EMR systems by clinics. As a result, 97% of surveyed hospitals had adopted EHR/EMR technologies in 2014, up from 72% in 2011. For sure, this number has been growing for the last years too. All that means that clinics require advanced technologies of managing data within EHR/EMR and other networks.

That is possible with a healthcare API. Using them, the healthcare providers can transfer data between EHR/EMR, informational systems, networks, healthcare applications, and devices managing it effectively and combine it in one place. Depending on integration mode, APIs can enable a system to retrieve, send, update data on each patients’ individual record. Saying simply, APIs in healthcare,  at its core, is all about the sending of information from one system to another.

For example, let’s say that you have a healthcare provider. With health APIs, they could input a patient’s information into a system that works with insurance companies. They would be able to determine the patient’s coverage for medication or a specific procedure almost instantaneously. This is just one example, though; there are many more.  

 

Healthcare APIs Use Cases

  • Bridging the Gap Between Doctors and Patients 

In case you own a healthcare organization or are a healthcare software provider and want to enable mobile and web diagnostic tools for your users. Or if you're a research institution then you might be looking for new ways to connect with doctors and patients. Or if you’re the healthcare practitioner or hospital that wants to provide faster and real-time patient’s data or health records. Medical APIs would be helpful in all of those scenarios. 

Just consider the next case of using a health API in the medical system. The persons with diabetes need to record their blood sugar levels, while the doctors need to control that and adjust the treatment accordingly.  A health API would be able to facilitate the management and recording of physician-reported data. In easier words, the data on patient’s health records collected with, for example, IoT devices, can instantly be reflected in doctors’ dashboards. Then based on that the doctors can make adjustments to treatment that is instantly reflected in the diabetes platform for patients and saved in the doctor’s system. In such a way, decision-makers can cut overhead costs and improve the efficiency of the treatment where APIs are involved. 

  • Integrating Healthcare Operations

Another use case of API in healthcare is a clinical API a hospital could develop for employees’ use. For instance, it could better predict the staff’s requirements, improve data management. This would reduce overtime costs and better serve patients. Clinical API could also facilitate record sharing with other hospitals and medical offices. This would lessen the possibility of medical errors when hospital staff is focused on patient care instead of paperwork that is automated. Both time and money could be saved. 

  • For Data Integration

Patients always want to have as much control as possible over their health data. APIs help make that a reality. They let patients provide health records to new facilities without having to make phone calls to receptionists. 

Patients can leverage the all advantages of health fitness trackers and other smart devices as well. An API could connect such devices with an EHR system. These devices can be added to their chart data. This will assist doctors with diagnosis and treatment. That is a win-win for patients and doctors both.

Of course, that is not all the medical APIs uses cases as there is much more. To showcase you that, here is an illustration of some other medical system parties who can benefit from data exchange and management with APIs:

what data healthcare apis connect
Source: IBM

 

Medical APIs Types

The APIs in a marketplace can be considered products if their consumption patterns warrant such a designation. In the domain of healthcare, common patterns might include finances and billing, scheduling, patient registration, ancillary, clinical, public health, and IoT.

  • Registration API 

Registration APIs are purposed to handle the registration functions involved with many EMR/EHR systems. Through utilizing these registration APIs, engineers develop easily for patients to use interfaces of patients portals. Then these can be integrated with various EMR systems to manage data exchanges that are patient-specific.

  • Scheduling API

Patients love much the ability to schedule doctor appointments within the app. For this purpose, you could also use the scheduling API to integrate appointment booking feature, sending reminders, synchronization with other calendars or checking for open appointment slots. You could update, cancel, or reschedule appointments as well, again saving the need to make a phone call. 

  • Financial API 

Financial APIs for hospitals help to manage money transactions between different healthcare providers and other parties like insurance agencies, pharmacies, etc. These APIs can be narrowed down into different categories. Some of those might be billing APIs or claims APIs. 

Integrated this technology into your system or app the doctors can automated payment posting e.g. ebilling,  generate and send prescriptions to patients or insurance agencies as well. Now it becomes a must-have feature for mobile health apps that allows patients to pay with a smartphone. Samely, this is a very convenient function for insurance and other medical parties. All of these become much easier where APIs are used. 

  • Hospital Management APIs 

Hospital management APIs can manage any clinical data exchanges through EHR/EMR systems of different standards. Perhaps you have a mature API platform that is capable of data format transformations. It would connect to multiple systems and provide data feeds whenever a consumer made such requests. 

These systems would include data streams like treatment plans, patient medication data, immunization details, and detailed family medical history. The physician looks at this data and makes decisions about the patient’s treatment. By using clinical API data is more secure and readily accessible. If a speedy decision is needed about an ailing patient, this will allow consulting doctors to make it.   

  • Ancillary API 

Ancillary APIs can integrate into one place information stored in the systems separated from core medical functions. Those might include radiology, nutrition, pharmacy, laboratory, telemedicine platforms, and more. 

For example, this API application might be helpful when hospitals need to exchange data with external pharmacies regarding prescriptions and refill requests. An API might also help in the areas of laboratory result data exchanges with different information systems, or managing dietary orders with an external nutrition system. In an era where diabetes is on the rise, this is particularly useful. 

  • Public Health API

Public health APIs can exchange reportable clinical data to the public, professional, or federal registries, research organizations. This can be used to track public health in the case of a threat, like the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.

Moreover, according to Harvard Business Review with properly implemented public health API researchers have easier access to full clinical and claims data. That helps them to create hypotheses and identify trends, use data for science, which will result in better treatment solutions.

Also, these APIs enable easy data exchanges that might be needed for public health surveillance like from EHR systems. 

  • IoT and Activity Tracker API Products

Recently, there has been a great deal of growth in wearable health and activity monitoring devices. These data streams represent an exciting new aspect of personal health monitoring. Sending these streams through a consumable platform might accelerate the innovation of patient-centric health applications. However, such personal data is only ever shared if you give explicit permission. 

Of course, it depends on API type, but these all types generally work in the next way:

how medical api works

 

Top Healthcare APIs Marketplace

  • Cloud Healthcare API

This API allows standardized, easy data exchanges between solutions built on Google iCloud and various healthcare apps. It features automated DICOM and FHIR that are value-added capabilities for de-identification. Moreover, the Google Cloud API has become generally available recently. 

  • HealthKit 

The HealthKit API serves as a repository for fitness and health data. It works primarily with Apple Watches and iPhones. Apps can communicate with HealthKit, but only with the user’s permission. Their doctor can then assess their physical condition and recommend treatment options for various issues based on that data.   

  • Box API

The Box API is all about managing your files, and not only in the area of healthcare. You can easily integrate it with a long list of healthcare apps. You can share and store documents on it having to do with such things as your prescriptions, test results, and medical records. You can then pull those up if you’re seeing a new doctor or visiting a new lab, clinic, or another facility.

  • Iasis healthcare API

The Iasis healthcare API came out of a medium-sized, for-profit acute care hospital network that sprang up in several suburban and high-growth urban markets in the past decade. The company got its start in Tennessee. The API is representative of the data gathered for all those patients who used it. If you were one of those patients, you could use the API to share data from your time spent in the Iasis network with any healthcare individual or entity belonging to a different system.

  • Human API 

The Human API is a platform that has collected data from transactions such as financial claims, medications prescribed by pharmacies, lab test results, and medical records from hospitals. Human API handles data transfer and sharing between third-party data sources and identity user management. In other words, you can give permission to this API, and your data will be shared as part of a wide-scale compiling effort. This can be useful in the future for several studies and public health initiatives.  

  • GE Healthcare API

This can be considered healthcare-specific workforce management software. Under the name API Healthcare, it is based in Hartford, Wisconsin. For entities in the healthcare industry, such as hospitals and clinics, this is an API that can be used to cut costs and streamline workplace policies. One of the main ideas behind it is to introduce new management strategies that will allow for smaller workforces, enabling the savings to be passed on to patients to drive down their care expenditures.    

  • BetterDoctor API

Headquartered in San Francisco, BetterDoctor is currently one of the more trusted sources of validated doctor data. The services and data collected in this hospital API allow people to find doctors through consumer review sites. It is also instrumental in letting patients browse health plan directories and provider groups. A patient can use BetterDoctor to see a nearby doctor’s specialty and whether they take a particular kind of insurance.   

  • Doximity API

This is more of a doctor API that one intended for patients. It is an online network service that was set up for medical professionals to use. Over a million US healthcare providers have used it up to this point. The members get curated medical news. They also have ways of communicating and collaborating through it. They can even do near-instant case collaborations that once would have required travel and days or weeks of meticulous note collecting. The Doximity definition isn’t something with which you need to concern yourself. Just know that this is a useful API for medical professionals. 

  • DrChrono API

DrChrono is a digital health technology company that is based in America. This medical office management API acts mostly as a billing service platform. Patient care can be optimized with DrChrono for hospitals, but it works even better for smaller clinics and private practices. It features telehealth functionality, as well as practice management, revenue cycle management, and mobile EHR. It works with the iPad, Apple Watch, iPhone, and desktop.   

  • Eligible API

This API builds versatile tools for patient healthcare. This is what you’d want to use as a doctor if you wished to provide a patient with a reliable estimate of your services, taking into account their healthcare provider. You can issue statements to them, and deduct claims that are paid by their insurance. It is used today both by small startups and also public companies worth billions of dollars.  

  • Verified API

This API allows integrations with a lot of databases that compile information from vision, medical, and dental plans. It also can connect with provider and network data, drug supply feedback, and information from other sources. It is meant to be the intersection between technology and health insurance. You can use it to do a cost comparison of plans that is more comprehensive and detailed than ever before.  

  • Getsafe API

The Getsafe API is a digital insurance company. You can use it to see transparent insurance plans that integrate machine learning technology. The real difference is that you can quickly look at the plans and see what’s covered and what isn’t. The platform can help you figure out, from a statistical standpoint, what you’re likely to need as part of your individualized package. This is likely to save you money in the long run.  

healthcare apis marketplace

 

Challenges of APIs Integrations  

Today with advancements in technology healthcare environments consist of a complicated mix of systems, databases, devices, processes, and applications. These serve physicians and patients, and there are always organizational challenges on how to combine and store security all that data that needs to be solved. 

  • Privacy, security and legacy concerns

Medicine depends a lot on the medical regulations and it’s no surprise as every person as a patient wants his or her data e.g. personal health information (PHI) to be kept secure and private. For that purpose, many have their own set of legal regulations regarding protecting medical data: HIPAA in the US, GDPR in Europe, the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act in Canada, the Data Protection Act in the UK. All that has slowed down the growth of health APIs as they need to meet the requirements of these regulations.

Hopefully now, most APIs provide safe data storage and exchange between all systems and networks with such technologies as encrypted protocols usage, blockchain, advanced authentication, and access controls of the system.

  • Technical barriers 

A lot of medical organizations are faced with the lack of technological resources, development standards, low scalability of medical software. That all slows down healthcare interoperability and in results the treatment quality of these healthcare providers.

  • Financial concerns

These are about a lack of financial resources in the healthcare organization and lack of understanding that these investments to the healthcare interoperability will transform their medical services to the more advanced level of quality. For sure, costs of medical software development, or implementing and optimizing current software means the requirements of a lot of resources. But it’s a long-term investment for making healthcare systems much better.g lack of incentives for sharing information and need for business models for secondary uses of data.

  • Lack of IT usability 

An additional challenge in the development of APIs for healthcare environments is sometimes the lack of full documentation, effective tools for testing, designing, and monitoring them for developers. In such cases, it’s often difficult for healthcare providers to integrate API with their own development resources. The solutions for that might be the API dev community that provides feedback and insight into features or using external developers with already proven experience.

 

Wrapping Up

Healthcare APIs are something that healthcare providers should obviously take into consideration. As there is no doubt,  APIs are the key steps to healthcare interoperability, improved treatment, and doctor-patient relationships, better cooperation, and research in medicine.

Developing a medical API is challenging, but there is a strong demand in the connected health market both for APIs for storing and exchanging medical data and for apps that integrate with these APIs.

 If you plan on integrating the needed APIs into your medical network or developing a new one, our team is ready to provide a free quote on your project with all the details on it. With our main focus on medical software development, we have an experienced team of healthcare developers with a lot of successfully completed projects of different types and complexity.

Anyway, despite what you will decide, technologies in medicine provide significant potential for transforming the delivery of healthcare we had before.

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