Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) have gained popularity with the rising need to share information across diverse solutions. These small pieces of code that act as an intermediary between different applications have gained prominent status in promoting data access and exchange, execution of business logic, and all manner of transactions.
The Deloitte API Economy report observes that APIs are becoming a more and more important part of business models. One of the key reasons for this demand include the ability to use APIs to generate revenue from organizational assets.
For the healthcare industry, APIs are finding revolutionary use. This is mainly because healthcare is one of the fastest growing sectors in the world and technology is playing a huge role in this growth. Healthcare APIs allow different healthcare solutions to communicate with each other and exchange data. This is essential in an industry where data is constantly changing and new discoveries are being made. Healthcare APIs are also being used to develop new applications that can help providers improve patient care and create a huge impact.
Benefits of integrating healthcare APIs in medical solutions
The core benefit of healthcare APIs is the facilitation of interoperability. The number of players in this sector is ever growing, with patients using different providers for different needs. This calls for better coordination. A study by Black Book Research affirms this, indicating that 93% of patients surveyed in the US alone are complaining about poor data exchange. Even worse, two thirds of respondents said they would actually abandon a provider who does not support data exchange. Luckily the medical APIs can easily take off this pain point. Here are the main benefits:
- Accelerated innovation: Healthcare APIs can accelerate innovation in the healthcare industry by providing a way for developers to easily access data and build new applications.
- Increased revenue: Healthcare APIs can also help to increase revenue for healthcare companies by making it easier for third-party developers to create new products and services that use data from the company's systems.
- Improved decision-making: Healthcare APIs make it easier for clinicians to access data and make better decisions about treatment.
- Cost reduction: Healthcare APIs help to reduce costs by making it easier for organizations to automate tasks and exchange data between systems.
How to select select the right healthcare APIs
There are quite a number of healthcare APIs already in the market, all very good but also serving different needs. So it’s really important that you take time to select the correct one for your project.
Consider these factors:
- Compatibility: Make sure that the healthcare API you select is compatible with your existing systems and infrastructure. Otherwise, it could lead to integration problems and data inconsistencies.
- Security: Healthcare APIs need to be highly secure in order to protect sensitive patient data. Make sure that the healthcare API you select includes robust security features such as encryption and authentication, not forgetting compliance with regulations such as HIPAA.
- Scalability: Ensure that the healthcare API can scale up or down as needed. This is especially important for organizations that are growing quickly or varying amounts of data to process .
- Support: Make sure that the healthcare API you choose comes with adequate support from the vendor. This includes things like online documentation, customer service, and regular updates.
- Price: Consider your budget when selecting a healthcare API. Make sure that the cost of the API is reasonable and within your budget constraints.
Healthcare API challenges
While healthcare APIs are making a huge difference in helping developers across organizations to create innovative healthcare solutions, they also come with a couple of challenges that you ought to be aware of.
1. Lack of real-time data
This means that developers may not be able to get the latest information on items like drugs, patients, their conditions, and treatments. This can lead to outdated and inaccurate information being used to develop healthcare solutions.
2. Security and privacy concerns
Since healthcare APIs give developers access to sensitive patient data, there is a risk that this data could be leaked or stolen. This could have serious implications for the privacy of patients.
3. Interoperability issues
Different applications may not be able to communicate with each other, making it difficult to exchange data and information. This can make it difficult to develop integrated healthcare solutions.
4. Limited functionality
Some APIs may only provide access to certain parts of a patient’s medical record or only allow for certain types of queries. This can make it difficult to develop comprehensive healthcare solutions.
5. Vendor Lock-in
This occurs when a developer becomes reliant on a specific API provider and finds it difficult to switch to another provider. This can limit or derail a developer’s ability to innovate and create new Healthcare solutions.
Standards for healthcare data sharing
Data sharing is not only sensitive but dynamic. There are different datasets in the healthcare industry, all with different formats and requirements. To make it easier to share this data, there are standards that provide guidelines for both the providers and users of data. There are several standards, but let’s discuss two examples.
FHIR stands for Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources and was developed by HL7, a health standards developing body. The FHIR standard defines the structure of where data should live and how it should look. It also outlines how different pieces of information should work together. So, if a developer is creating an app that needs patient data from a hospital’s electronic health record (EHR) system, FHIR provides the framework for how to request that data, what format it will be in when you receive it, and how to incorporate it into the app.FHIR is based on RESTful web services—the same kind used by most websites to deliver content. This makes FHIR very flexible and scalable, which is one of the reasons why it’s become so popular.
The United States Core Data for Interoperability ( USCDI) standard is a set of classes and elements for exchanging health information nationwide. It includes classes for patient demographics, medications, allergies and adverse reactions, laboratory test results, smoking status, clinical notes and more.
Popular healthcare APIs
Healthcare APIs can be divided into various categories depending on their main purposes. Here is a look at some of the popular APIs today and what they offer.
1. Human API
The Human API makes it possible for companies across insurance, life sciences, and digital health to access a proprietary health data network that covers over 260 million people in the United States.
With just one unified API, you can connect to pharmacies, labs, hospitals and even patent portals. The medical data in the Human API is highly structured, making it possible for organizations to customize it and deliver exceptional services to their patients.
2. Apple Health Records API
In 2018, Apple opened its health records API to developers. This API is focused on better management of medications, nutrition plans, and diagnosed diseases among others.
Healthcare organizations can use this API to enable their patients to aggregate their records from different hospitals and share it with their providers to facilitate better service. This makes it easy for patients to get a clear view of their health, making it convenient to provide the right details whenever visiting new providers. From COVID vaccinations to lab results, the Apple health records APl delivers it all.
3. Bluestream API
The Bluestream API is designed for telehealth, enabling organizations to build robust virtual visit functionalities to their telehealth solutions.
Some of the workflows you can implement with Buestream API include the ability to invite patients into virtual care sessions via email/text, real-time tracking of transactions, schedules, assessment forms, and inclusion of interpreters to telehealth sessions.
4. DrChrono API
DrChrono API is a free OAuth REST API for EHR solutions that enables users to infuse unique functionality to their applications. Developers can use any preferred HTTP client across any programming language to bring their applications to life.
5. Health gorilla FHIR based API
Health Gorilla is a FHIR-based APIs platform that enables organizations to access clinical data. Some of the popular APIs provided by Health Gorila include the Lab Network API and My360. Lab Network is a diagnostic network API that makes it possible to submit orders relating to laboratory/radiology and get results electronically from a wide network of vendors. My360 API allows facilities to send retrieval requests on behalf of patients. Some of the vendors in Health Gorilla’s vast network include Bioreference and Labcorp.
6. openFDA API
The openFDA API provides developers with access to a wealth of information on drugs, medical devices, and food. The API is well-documented and easy to use, making it a valuable resource for anyone looking to build applications that make use of FDA data. Best of all, the openFDA team is responsive to feedback and requests for new features, making it a continually improving resource. If you're looking for reliable data on drugs and other FDA-regulated products, the openFDA API is definitely worth checking out.
The openFDA only serves publicly available data and therefore does not contain personally identifiable information.The API is organized around resources, such as drugs, devices, and labels. Each resource has a unique URL that can be used to access data about the resource.
7. Mayo clinic API
Mayo Clinic is a world-renowned provider of medical information. Through its API, developers can access a wealth of Mayo Clinic content, including Disease & Condition content, Drug Information pages, and Health & Wellness Topics. With its extensive and up-to-date content, the Mayo Clinic API can help organizations provide their users with the latest medical information. Whether you’re developing a symptom checker or a health news aggregator, the Mayo Clinic API is an essential tool.
8. Google Cloud Healthcare API
The Google Cloud Healthcare API makes it easy to exchange standardized data between healthcare applications and solutions that are built on Google Cloud. It supports popular healthcare data standards such as FHIR and DICOM. The API platform is a managed service that provides a consistent, scalable, and secure way to exchange healthcare data.
9. GHO OData API, by WHO
The GHO OData API provides access to the World Health Organization's data and statistics content via a convenient query interface that uses Open Data Protocol standards. Organizations can use this API to access the most up-to-date and comprehensive data set, making it easy to retrieve diverse WHO information for different needs. The API allows for easy integration with other applications, making it possible to create custom reports and visualizations. The data is also available in a number of different formats, making it easy to find the right format for your needs. This is a valuable resource for anyone who needs access to the latest data and statistics on global health.
When COVID hit the world, the use of technology in the healthcare sector soared. Telehealth in particular experienced a surge and according to CDC, telehealth visits shot up by about 50% through quarter one of 2020. This trend is behind the current intense demand for healthcare APIs among other healthcare tech products. When you see that tech giants like Google, Amazon and Microsoft are all putting up massive healthcare API platforms, then know that this niche is ripe.
As a healthcare organization or even a developer looking to remain competitive in such an industry that is increasingly driven by cutting edge technology including the robust use of APIs in healthcare, you don't want to make the mistake of being left out of the opportunities that medical APIs present.