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All You Need to Know About Healthcare APIs

  • Rating — 5 (2 votes)
  • by Anna - Technology Author and Strategist
  • Updated on June 10, 2020
  • Read —
    15-16 minutes

Healthcare as well as many other business spheres will never be the same after 2020. This year exposed how unprepared many clinics can be in case of a pandemic. We are not saying that the medicine is bad (in fact, it is on a high level and keeps improving), we are just implying that not all clinics managed to timely consider digitalization and nowadays it is crucial to have all kinds of software able to unload the workers and automate numerous processes. So to avoid collapses that we observed this spring, the healthcare industry needs to seriously consider implementing software optimization. 

The possibilities for digital solutions are endless and you can find where to apply them in every modern clinic. Let’s take IoT (Internet of Things), it helps to create a smart environment within the clinic, connect doctors with patients even if the huge distance is between them, install smart devices to make sure that everything is done properly (f.e. smart sinks and mirrors controlling if the patients use enough soap and wash their hands properly and enough time), use various bracelets and wearables to control and measure heart rate, temperature, blood pressure of patients, etc. 

Digital solutions can also help to provide medical services more fast and efficient because the registration of patients can be automated. There are EHR and EMR (to read more about them, check out our article), electronic queues, apps for remote consultations with doctors, solutions reminding the patients to take their medicine or go and see a doctor and many more other things turning healthcare to a whole new level and improving the overall quality of services. 

We can go on and on about all vital solutions, but that is not what this article is about. In this post we would like to dive deeper into the topic of healthcare APIs, discover what they are for, which ones you should consider implementing and how they help to improve healthcare. So, without further ado, let’s get started! 

Have any questions regarding solutions that can help optimise processes in your clinic?

What is the purpose of healthcare APIs?

To begin with, let’s explain in brief what API is. This is an abbreviation that stands for Application Programming Interface and it is basically a programming code that makes it possible to transmit the data between software products. In other words, API ensures effective communication between information systems. APIs can be differently configured and this defines what exactly this or that API is going to be able to perform. 

Speaking about healthcare APIs, they can perform the following set of tasks:

  • Accumulate, store and provide secure access to the healthcare-related data;
  • Collect information and then provide it when necessary for creating advanced reports;
  • Ensure that the data is sent or received by the system;
  • Update automatically all healthcare information related to a certain patient;
  • Allow easy integration of healthcare applications with individual devices of doctors and patients or the entire clinic ecosystem. 

These are just some crucial functions of healthcare APIs and as you understand there are way more benefits their usage can offer. If you develop a holistic solution using an API you will be able to resolve numerous issues that take place on a daily basis like providing better patient service or ensure higher level of interoperability. So when it comes to API you can choose one of the following options:

  1. Use one of the existing APIs and create your healthcare solution. We can say that there is a huge variety of APIs available and you can set your solution to do whatever you need to. 
  2. Develop your own custom API in case your healthcare organization has some specific requirements or needs that the existing APIs cannot fully meet. 

Whatever option you choose will guarantee to make everything a whole lot easier for all – your developers, doctors and patients. From the development perspective you will be able to save a great deal of money building your solution and make this process faster. Why? Simply because APIs are easy to integrate and set up. Some of them even have ready-made templates that speed up the development and as the result the time to market. The faster your solution is built, the sooner you can start using it and getting all advantages it offers. 

From a doctor’s perspective, APIs are great because doctors can easily manage all the EHR of patients using one corporate software. On top of that, thanks to APIs doctors can get access to all healthcare records related to a certain patient in no time and prescribe the correct treatment or find the cause of some symptoms and set precise diagnosis. 

APIs stimulate medicine innovation because they offer quick access to the data, make the process of medical and scientific research much easier and faster. And what is more important, it unites separate and numerous studies, so all medical researchers can quickly access results of those studies,help their colleagues in finding new approaches and treatments, and study the development of the complex diseases. APIs also make it possible to perform complex analytics of data which is extremely helpful during monitoring of a disease. 

As to the patients, APIs can make their clinics’ experience much more pleasant. F.e. if a person moes or considers to change a clinic, that person will not need to overcome all tiresome application steps all over again (making appointments, waiting at receptionist desk, bringing all health records). It will be possible to transfer all information using digital solutions and without even seeing anyone. Moreover, all patients’ devices (smart bracelets or other wearables) can be connected to the EHR used in the clinic which will make the treatment easier for both a doctor and a patient. 

Already using some solution in your clinic but need help with API integration? We can help you with that or give a good professional advice!

Do APIs have any particular challenges or cons?

Healthcare institutions deal with a lot of crucial and valuable information and documents daily, so when it comes to implementing any technology, you should be 100% sure that it is reliable and will not cause any mess in the process of usage. That is why we think that it is reasonable to point out some key challenges API integration may have. Although we can say for sure that APIs make work of clinics much easier, they can possibly add some following complications:

  • They may require further investments in the future. If you are dealing with existing APIs, chances are that their provider at some point can change data policy or something else influencing API functioning. During those changes an API may no longer be able to work with requests properly and lead to issues with your app/software. So you will need the help of the developers to fix the issue which will lead to some additional costs. 
  • Lack of customization. Some existing APIs may not just be a perfect fit for your particular healthcare institution needs. Sometimes they are quite basic and take into account some needs that lay on the surface. But if you dig deeper they do not have such crucial flexibility which makes you either compromise some of your clinic’s needs or consider developing your own custom API. 
  • Tiresome management of several APIs. If you faced lack of customization, then you probably may try to find several APIs able to address your current requirements. This may seem a reasonable solution, because it is easy to connect several APIs and make your solution as useful as you need it to be. However, multiple APIs create multiple challenges. Systems are getting upgraded, data policies change and if you manage to fix everything for one API, you should be on guard for the other one. Sometimes it even takes a lot of time because issues should be fixed on the provider’s side. It can also be hard for a system to transform the data into the readable format if too many APIs are in use. 
  • Testing complications. The specifics of the healthcare industry is that it works with a complicated data flow and multiple environments. And it can be extremely difficult to replicate those environments in the test ones. So you need really qualified testers to find a method of checking your API and make sure that it functions fine and provides accurate results of data transfer. 

Are you experiencing any issues with API integration or testing? We have tech takes who can help you set everything up.

What about data security? 

Healthcare data is the one that requires the highest level of protection because in case it’s being misused this can lead to various situations violating the law of the country (like stolen patients identities) and situations influencing the patients rights and well-being. 

So of course before developing any solution or looking for a way to improve the existing solution using APIs, you should make sure that all data is going to be protected. Based on our experience we can help you identify the main elements that should be preserved if you value your data safety: 

  1. Data encryption and signatures. This is a must for all key solutions that are used in your healthcare institution. The data can be encrypted using TSL method and to get an access to it, it will ask you for a signature. This helps to identify if the entrusted user is decrypting and changing your data. 
  2. Only authorized access to data. All people who are going to work with the patient’s information should perform some sort of registration and authentication. There also should be different levels of access depending on the worker’s responsibilities. 
  3. Device security. In many clinics employees use the software that can be accessed from both work computers and their own devices. That is why device security also matters.  
  4. Timely identification of security holes. From time to time you need to test how your solution works and check out whether there are any weak spots in your APIs. There are various so-called “sniffers” on the Internet that can be used for this purpose. 

As to the APIs, their security should be preserved on different levels of data processing and there also should be present various threat preventive tools. Why is that? Well, in many countries all over the world there is law that protects the rights of citizens, i.e. all clinic patients. That law regulates who can have access to which information, and it also states how that information should be managed and secured. If a clinic violates that law, it can have big problems starting with fines (f.e. In some countries the average fine is 4% of global turnover and separate fines for each violated health record) and ending with lost reputation and as a result business (because no client is going to entrust insecure company with their sensitive data). 

API security often depends on good management tools you are going to use. These tools often support such main types of security schemes:

  • Usual Authentication – we all get used to this type of security because it implies username and password (so-called two token string);
  • API key – meaning a separate hardware device that is responsible for providing unique authorization data (one token string);
  • OpenID connect – it uses an authentication server to check and verify a separate user by getting its main profile information (identity layer on top of OAuth framework). 

API managers are usually in control of such crucial information as API itself, all used applications, developer roles. There also can be a traffic manager and identity provider hub which support numerous protocols related to authentication. So as you understand API will not be a threat to your clinic’s solutions and on the contrary it can make them even more secure and reliable in terms of data storage, management and use. 

Top healthcare APIs you should pay attention to

If you need to develop a holistic solution for your clinic or you already have one but need to improve it or connect with other services, then you definitely should look for some effective APIs and compare them. 

There are hundreds of APIs on the Internet and it may not be so easy to choose the exact one that can fit your requirements. So let us help you with that since we have the first-hand experience in this field. We have made a research, checked some of the best healthcare APIs, and collected the top 5 ones for you to consider. 

#1 Healthcare API powered by Google. This API is built on Google Cloud and it allows data exchange between healthcare solutions. The data can be obtained from different systems and then managed and analyzed thanks to AI and machine learning. These powerful technologies are also totally secure. Thanks to fast and advanced information exchange clinics can make analysis-driven and data-driven decisions faster and avoid any kind of collapses during the working process. And this helps not only to treat patients better but also to save someone’s life. 

Google cares a lot about data security so it added some data loss prevention tools and instruments for managing policy and identity. So whatever healthcare solution you are going to build using its API it will be fast, efficient, and protected. 

#2 Evity Web API. Thanks to this API it is possible to get access to various healthcare data. It uses a separate code to determine different info such as the type of cancer, its stage, care plan, clinical trials, complexities, drugs, etc. So all doctors can easily and fast choose the best treatment for each patient with a certain set of symptoms, any particular diagnosis, or by the type of health insurance. 

Evity provides not only access to APIs, but also API documentation, listing of all available method calls, Javascript SDK for easier handling of login tokens and API calls, and of course API playground (access in real-time). This makes Evity one of the best providers that should be taken into account if you consider building your medical solution. 

#3 Human API. This is not only an API provider but rather a holistic platform that lets you exchange securely various personal medical data. This API is centered on information about patients and their health. It works with Big Data technology which is a perfect solution because it allows to store, process, and analyze huge loads of data. This in turn helps to automate reporting in clinics. The data is also structured in special forms which makes it easier to comprehend and access. 

Human API is responsible for various healthcare blocks which makes it possible for doctors and patients to manage prescriptions, view profiles, check out test results, etc. This is a free API that has an secure cloud. It is easy to integrate with because the documentation is clear, and there are also guides helping to do everything correctly. 

#4 Doximity. This provider’s API can be used to connect doctors with patients and ensure easier communication between them. Patients can even check out the doctor’s background to choose the best specialist to treat them. This is how it works – an API extracts all necessary information about doctor’s qualification, practice, specialization, and even the list of colleagues that the doctor has been working with. 

As to the doctors, they can use the data provided by API to communicate with patients and colleagues regarding some crucial medical matters. There are such options as no-reply text messages, on-the-go calling from cell phones (however, your office number will be displayed on a patient’s device), instant and advanced search for healthcare providers, access to the latest medical news and ability to earn CME. 

#5 Drchrono API. This particular API can become a powerful basis for the medical platform able to help doctors and various healthcare specialists. It is possible to create not only a system with detailed information regarding prescriptions, patients, colleagues, observational notes, but also add instant messaging options and make treatment planning and discussion more fast and convenient. 

The API and SDK provided by Drchrono are free so any developer can use them to access health data, EHR systems, platforms related to medical practice, insurance, and billing. On top of that, this API has sample code snippets so it is easier to do everything from the developer’s side. 

Need to discuss any other API provider or perform API integration into your solutions? Don't hesitate and contact us to ask any questions related to this topic.

To sum it all up 

Current course of events implies that the healthcare industry should keep improving and performing digital transformation. It is impossible to function without holistic systems for managing documentation, without EHR and EMR systems and solutions that incorporate APIs. 

Even if you already have some great solutions in use, you should consider improving them and making them more adapted to today’s world. And the most affordable and reliable way to make your solutions better is to use various healthcare APIs, because they are powered by advanced technologies, they have high data protection levels and they are able not only transfer the information but also perform its analysis. Incorporating API helps to improve the quality of healthcare services, doctors qualification, and establish the connection and communication between patients and doctors (which leads to better and more effective disease treatment that is the main goal of every clinic). 

There are four main types of APIs. Open or public ones that are easy to integrate, have minimum restrictions and available to all developers and users. Partner APIs that are not publicly available and provided by business partner under specific entitlement. Internal of private ones that are used only by your internal systems and are not available to others. Composite APIs that combine several API services and multiple data.
APIs are powerful instruments when it comes to boosting your clinic’s productivity, digitalizing patient’s experience and reducing development cost. APIs can not only extend the functionality of your current solutions and make them more advanced and up-to-date, but they also can connect all your existing internal solutions ensuring that all processes run smoothly.
API integration takes up to 7 weeks. It starts with research of all technical moments like data structure, protocols, user authentication methods. Then goes API documentation and prototype building aimed to check connectivity and functionality. After that management of possible issues and logging are performed. And the last step is monitoring how it works and what alerts appear.

 

Anna - Technology Author and Strategist I am mainly focused on enterprise mobility (Apple, Android), and digital transformation, highly curious about all emerging tech trends, always pay close attention to crucial details and try to find answers to a lot of questions before writing about something.

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