3 ways to enhance APIs to improve clinician communication, decision support

HHS finalized ONC's final interoperability in March, which will require the healthcare industry to adopt standardized application programming interfaces to support patients' free access and control of their electronic health data via third-party smartphone apps.

While APIs will help empower patients by giving them access to their personal health data, the technology will also reduce administrative burdens for clinicians, according to a recent Pew Charitable Trusts report. APIs can support clinical decision support programs and help providers make decisions relating to diagnostic, treatment and other clinical problems by getting them access to patient data from other hospitals or EHR systems.

"Ultimately, API-enabled EHRs should act more like smartphones and tablets on which apps can easily be installed and removed," the report states. "To be successful, APIs can and should also provide a high level of data security and instill trust that medical records remain private and protected."

Here are three considerations for EHR developers, healthcare providers, clinicians and federal agencies as they collaboratively take steps to support the use of APIs in healthcare:

1.  Make more data available via APIs. CDS tools would have more relevant data to help support clinicians if MRI scans and other information is available via APIs. This extra data would allow clinicians to view past diagnostic tests and reports from the patient's EHR, preventing them from ordering duplicative tests.

2. Allow write access. Federal requirements and EHR vendors are currently focused on read-only API access, which allows users to extract information from the EHR but not edit. APIs need write access, or the ability to securely add information to the EHR. This would require top data security, and ONC has already laid down framework to add provenance, or a record of when specific information was entered in the EHR and where it came from.

3. Build confidence in CDS Hooks. The emerging tech allows the EHR to be in constant communication with apps in the background, providing suggestions on tools to use based on specific clinical circumstances. While CDS Hooks is still being developed, ONC and app developers should work with hospitals and clinicians to assess opportunities for its use.

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