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APIs: The invisible warriors in healthcare

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Ross Mason Founder and VP of Product Strategy, MuleSoft

Sporting a small, wearable patch on your skin that continuously monitors your body’s vital signs, such as heart rate, hydration levels, and temperature, may seem futuristic. But the University of Texas at Austin (UT) is making this a reality and may take it one step further by allowing the smart, tattoo-like patch to automatically connect with a person’s healthcare records, thus keeping doctors updated in real-time.

UT will work seamlessly to transmit health data through APIs that allow information sharing among internal systems at hospitals as well as third-party applications, such as UT’s patch. 

APIs offer a more complete view of patient information

UT is not the only organization conquering new ground with APIs in the healthcare space. UCSF Medical Center, Sutter Health, and Johns Hopkins Medicine are also revolutionizing healthcare. For instance, UCSF Medical Center’s Center for Digital Innovation (CDHI) rolled out an engagement platform called CareWeb Messenger, which allows healthcare professionals and patients to securely communicate online and on mobile devices in real time through APIs. It helps caregivers improve care through a complete view of communications regarding the patient.

The value of APIs to healthcare cannot be overstated. Ten years ago, we didn’t know to ask for our healthcare data to be shared with our doctors. Today, it’s what we expect. Now there’s mounting pressure on technology vendors and hospitals to adopt an open approach to sharing data.

Take for example Salesforce, which recently launched Salesforce Health Cloud to make patient data more accessible to healthcare providers. Salesforce is using an API-led approach to bring data from external systems such as EMRs, lab systems, and wearables into Salesforce’s patient relationship management platform. The integration enhances the patient experience, which is a trend beginning to kick into full gear as millennials demand tech-savvy options for managing their health.

Data access: Insider vs. outsider trust

Innovators, however, are hindered when they don’t have access to relevant data. Right now, the Internet of Things (IoT) market is being hindered from making a difference in healthcare because third-party providers, such as FitBit and Apple Watch, are still waiting to gain access to the valuable patient data within hospitals and vice versa.

To combat this, some large hospitals, such as UCSF Medical Center and Johns Hopkins Medicine, are creating incubator programs within their facilities to give healthcare tech startups more access to information contained within a hospital's four walls. Essentially, the startups are granted access to inside information that outside innovators typically fail to gain access to.

Let's take advantage of the connected era

With regard to IT innovation, healthcare is behind the curve. Even though we’re exposed to the latest technology at hospitals in the form of 3-D body scanners, digestible sensors, and robots that can perform surgery, when it comes to the waiting room we still require patients to fill out the same forms multiple times every time they visit, which is extremely error prone and creates a slew of downstream problems.

Why isn’t this information synced across departments, with other healthcare providers, and with our personal devices that track health functions? It should be. And APIs will serve as the invisible warriors in the healthcare industry that fight on the back end to enable connections between all relevant systems and the subsequent data. APIs are taking healthcare deeper into the connected era and are changing the way hospitals and patients interact.

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