Pew Charitable Trusts report pushes for API use in healthcare

The best way to solve interoperability issues in healthcare is through the use of application program interfaces (APIs), Pew Charitable Trusts argues in its latest report.  

In a report released this week, the organization made its case for using APIs to share health data. APIs are described as tools that enable “easy and prompt access to data through algorithms so that information can be shared and used in creative ways.”

While APIs are fairly common in most industries, the organization said they’re not frequently used in healthcare and argued that APIs could help the industry reach its interoperability goals.

“Although APIs are common in web services like social media sites and online retailers, they are not broadly leveraged for exchanging data among electronic health records (EHRs) or providing patients with access to their information,” the report said. “Widespread adoption of APIs—coupled with increasing use of data formatting and nomenclature standards—could revolutionize how information is shared and free patients from hand-delivering their records to providers.”

The organization said APIs can be used to collect health data from multiple sources, like EHRs, patients and physicians, to better coordinate care and treatment options and maintain an accurate medical history. It also said the use of APIs can enhance interoperability by having systems adopt standardized vocabulary for exchanging healthcare information.

While the report noted the federal government and private sector have taken steps to support API use in healthcare, it said there are several challenges that need to be addressed before API implementation.

“Use of APIs to extract data from EHRs could mark a turning point for interoperability. Clinicians could gain access to more usable data from other institutions and use new clinical decision-support tools based on that information to better coordinate care,” the report concluded. “When implemented effectively and with appropriate standards ... APIs could propel health information technology forward by enabling the flow of useful, usable data.”