How APIs benefit interoperability
At MatrixCare, we’ve had many presentations and panels on the interoperability gaps between post-acute provider organizations and the rest of the healthcare continuum, as well as the solutions that can fill those gaps. But people often ask why the ultimate solution isn’t simply software wrapped with APIs, allowing users to connect whatever they want. The truth is, there is much more that goes into interoperability than API technology componentry. Here, we will discuss what APIs truly are, how APIs benefit interoperability, and what they fail to solve in our increasingly complex industry.
What are APIs?
Simply put, application programming interfaces (APIs) allow different software programs to easily communicate with one another. API technology is fairly ubiquitous in IT—from streaming services to travel comparison sites to fintech. But in the healthcare industry, this technology is poised to address big challenges like interoperability and patient data access.
On a regulatory level, APIs are recognized as a significant solution. In 2020, the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) and CMS released their final rules, which will serve to implement provisions of the 21st Century Cures Act, and which require that healthcare providers and developers promote data access using APIs and third-party applications.
This shift not only makes data more accessible to clinicians and patients, but it also requires the use of the latest FHIR (Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources) API standards, which are designed for exchanging healthcare information electronically. This adoption of APIs among regulatory bodies will help reduce the effort it takes to access, exchange, and use electronic health information. Our healthcare ecosystem will very quickly catch FHIR.
How do APIs benefit interoperability?
While the growing use of EHR technology has fostered the digitization of healthcare information, the ability to share that data seamlessly among patients and providers has not fully evolved to remove the sluggish qualities of old interface technologies. This is where APIs come in. By incorporating APIs as a standardized method for communication between health IT systems, EHRs can reach their full potential for driving patient care and easing the path to population health management.
A significant benefit of APIs emerged during the COVID-19 pandemic, which brought on the need for more modern technology in how interfaces are built. Expanding APIs allowed IT vendors and provider organizations to implement interfaces based on APIs more remotely than predecessor systems could allow for, and this evolution has become especially useful for provider organizations that need communication layers between EHRs. This makes APIs ideal for patient-centric interoperability and for providing support for provider organizations, their operations, and ultimately their business during rapidly changing times.
Beyond the basic interoperability benefit of APIs, providers also find that they reduce the amount of time spent on deploying interfaces, they help to access more discrete information versus other interface types, and they subsequently deliver more accuracy as data moves across care settings.
Some examples of MatrixCare FHIR API-based connections include:
HRS: Telehealth and remote patient monitoring
With nearly 225,000 patients across 90 disease conditions, Health Recovery Solutions (HRS) has become a nationally recognized provider of telehealth and remote patient monitoring. The FHIR APIs connect the MatrixCare EHR with the HRS solution to allow patient information to move seamlessly across systems.
This ePrescribing technology and interface system helps improve hospice pharmacy practices by enabling community workflows specific to post-acute, resulting in better patient care.
By connecting the expertise of nurses with technology and data, CareXM saves on phone support, reduces 911 calls, and enhances the care experience for the patient.
PBMs: Pharmacy benefit managers
This API system provides real-time access to pharmacy benefits, price transparency, and insurance information before filling a prescription.
What do APIs not do?
Setting up and managing connectivity in the healthcare ecosystem is a complex effort. While you can create an API interface, other interoperability aspects need to be addressed in order to truly empower a patient-centric ecosystem.
In addition to the power that APIs can bring to solving interoperability problems, robust patient-centric interoperability needs solutions for patient identity, record location services, enhanced privacy and security, interoperability policy, and scalable network effects to drive out the cost—just to name a few. While APIs can play a major role in solving these needs, optimal solutions need to go beyond just the technology layers. This is where national networks and frameworks (e.g., CommonWell and Carequality), and the aforementioned data-blocking rules empower API-based technologies to do their job in the best way possible.
In a value-based reimbursement world, it’s increasingly important to address the entire spectrum of healthcare data that follows the needs of patients throughout their care journey. When you consider the complexities of post-acute care, and the number of providers and organizations patients interact with, you quickly realize that API-based integrations are the way of the future—but APIs cannot do everything by themselves, they need the rest of the interoperability equation in order to provide a complete solution for providers, patients, and other stakeholders. The future healthcare ecosystem needs to be managed in a more sophisticated manner in support of providers and patients alike, no matter where they are or who is in charge of their care.