As we all know, connectivity is an incredible feature of our time—linking us to the world and to one another as never before. But how does it happen? How do different devices, applications and systems communicate with each other when we book flights or do our banking online? More importantly, how does it affect healthcare?
The unacknowledged dignitary is the Application Programming Interface (API); the one working behind the scenes that we all take for granted – making connectivity and, in particular, interoperability within the healthcare industry possible. The messenger and backbone of modern connectivity, APIs link two or more siloed entities and allow for the exchange of data between them. A simple example of an API at work is an online travel service that aggregates information from many airlines to deliver a consolidated list of available flights to its end-user. The travel service, through the use of APIs, eliminates the time-consuming process of having to visit each site individually by sending, receiving and delivering data across various applications, systems and devices.
Pertaining to healthcare, APIs allow for different Electronic Health Record (EHR) systems to exchange and make use of patient information across multiple health related entities, such as: hospitals, care homes, agencies, pharmacies, and applications, just to name a few. This supports patient engagement, improves diagnoses, increases workflow, reduces error and ambiguity, and enhances safety. By giving providers access to the many resources they require, APIs give providers the power to offer the best possible quality of care – regardless of the application or vendor.
The Challenges of Interoperability Within Healthcare
Healthcare’s use of the API has unfortunately not kept pace with other industry giants. Within industries such as travel and banking, instant transactions are a convenience often taken for granted, but for the patients who are discharged from a hospital to a nursing facility, the transition of their healthcare information is usually not as seamless. This disjointed information exchange is one of the most pressing issues facing healthcare reform; communication breakdowns put patients at risk and are a key cause of medication errors that can result in re-hospitalization or, at times, even death.
Because the healthcare industry is unique and arguably serves the most personal purpose, it has strict security requirements and privacy regulations imposed upon it, with a number of federal rules to comply with when using applications to transmit data. Further complicating matters is the reluctance of the traditional Electronic Medical Record (EMR) vendors to promote easy record sharing. Working with these vendors requires using older legacy systems that are usually not compatible with newer technologies, making it difficult for new vendors to integrate with them. This resistance to data sharing – which is seen to conflict with their broader business interests – has been perhaps the primary barrier towards achieving true interoperability in healthcare. Simply put, blocking off access and resisting integration amounts to a major industry roadblock that only serves to discourage future innovations by developers and overall collaboration within the industry.
While some leading healthcare providers are investing in new and innovative methods of communication, others remain unprepared for the challenges that lie ahead. Suddenly being asked to work together in the best interest of the patient, the vast majority of hospitals are unable to meet the criteria necessary to achieve this connectivity. Since EMRs are composed of a number of separate systems built in silos, these separate entities are like islands – each part of a complex whole – but lacking the bridges to connect them.
Healthcare’s Direction Is Unquestionable
With modern software solutions leveraging APIs to increase the flow of information relevant to the many key players involved with health management, Interoperability is slowly transforming the future of healthcare delivery and is becoming an industry imperative with funded programs like Medicare/Medicaid now mandated to only use software providers certified API-compliant under 2015 Edition requirements.
Kristen Duell, CEO of Savii, a provider of post-acute, homecare management solutions believes that building effective partnerships is a key part of the solution. “We need to work together – and not just with the third party integrations in our industry – but also with those that we consider competitors. I believe that there are ways for us to come together in order to better serve healthcare. There is no reason to put up so many barriers. In fact, if solution providers continue to do so, interoperability ends up sounding like salesperson lip service.”
Echoing a similar sentiment, Neil Grunberg, Co-founder of AlayaCare, provider of end-to-end, cloud-based homecare solutions, shared: “There is no single solution that completely gives an agency the freedom, flexibility and speed to keep up with the necessary innovation to remain autonomous. Agencies of the future have a unique opportunity to help build a cohesive ecosystem with partners such as hospitals, healthcare networks, software vendors and application providers, including innovative start-up companies”.
Although lagging behind and its ascent to interoperability is slow, healthcare’s direction is unquestionable. Enhancing service offerings through strategic partnership appears to be the solution. Coupling innovative and technologically relevant start-ups with the proven-track record and experience of industry leaders creates the synergy required to effectively improve our healthcare system. Furthermore, since change and progress is always inevitable – no matter how leisurely – it is also the secret sauce to being well-positioned in the long run.