API

As Meaningful Use 2014 EHRs come online this winter, clinicians across the country gain access the host of new features included in the MU 2014 Certification Requirements.

In this post, we’ll dig into one of these features: EHR-based secure e-mail capabilities that operate using the “Direct Project” specification. (If you’re new to this world: when you hear “Direct Project,” you should think “secure e-mail for healthcare.”)

It’s a party!

In theory, giving every clinician in the country a secure e-mail inbox ought to enable something amazing (and amazingly familiar, for anyone who has used e-mail outside of healthcare): the ability to converse electronically, back-and-forth, in one-on-one or one-to-many discussions with… well… whomever you choose.

… but not everybody’s invited

Unfortunately, the practice hasn’t caught up to the theory. EHRs provide restricted inboxes that allow messaging to some recipients but not others. Why? It comes down to “trust,” which is a broad topic that we’ll treat only glancingly, where it intersects with the technology.

One of the requirements for Direct Project messaging is security, which means (among other things) that messages must be encrypted as they travel. To properly handle encryption, the sender’s EHR software (or Health Information Service Provider) needs to reliably discover the recipient’s cryptographic certificate, extract a public key from that certificate, and use that public key to encrypt each message before sending it out over the wire.

So far so good.

Continue reading “Teach Your EMR to Do Email? Impossible!!?! Unthinkable??? Maybe Not”

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A recent blog posting calls for a “universal EMR” for the entire healthcare system. The author provides an example and correctly laments how lack of access to the complete data about a patient impedes optimal clinical care. I would add that quality improvement, clinical research, and public health are impeded by this situation as well.

However, I do not agree that a “universal EMR” is the best way to solve this problem. Instead, I would advocate that we need universal access to underlying clinical data, from which many different types of electronic health records (EHRs), personal health records (PHRs), and other applications can emerge.

What we really need for optimal use of health information is not an application but a platform. This notion has been advanced by many, perhaps most eloquently by Drs. Kenneth Mandl and Isaac Kohane of Boston Children’s Hospital [1,2]. Their work is being manifested in the SMART platform that is being funded by an ONC SHARP Award.

Continue reading “Universal EHR? No. Universal Data Access? Yes.”

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It’s heavy tech time at THCB. Health 2.0 is running a developer conference called Health:Refactored on May 13-4, and a big topic there will be the opening of APIs from Microsoft, Intel, Walgreens, NY Health Information Network, MedHelp, Nuance and more. What’s an API, why does it matter for health care? Funny you should ask but Andy Oram from O’Reilly Radar wrote an article for THCB all about it!–Matthew Holt

As the health care field inches toward adoption of the computer technologies that have streamlined other industries and made them more responsive to users, it has sought ways to digitize data and make it easier to consume. I recently talked to two organizations with different approaches to sharing data: the SMART platform and the Apigee corporation. Both focus on programming APIs and thus converge on a similar vision off health care’s future. But they respond to that vision in their own ways. Differences include:

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I want to begin by sharing well-known information for the sake of comparison. Both the Apple and Google Android platforms welcome the introduction of new and (sometimes) highly valuable functionality through plug-n-play applications built by completely different companies.

You know that already.

Healthcare IT companies welcome you to pay them great sums of money for enhancements to their closed systems. This is on top of substantial maintenance fees that may or may not lead to hoped-for updates in a timely fashion. (With all due respect to the just-announced CommonWell Health Alliance, Meaningful Use does mandate interoperability. The participants are, in effect, marketing what they have to do anyway to try to differentiate themselves from Epic.)

The respective results of these two divergent approaches are probably also familiar to you.

Consumer technology has taken over the planet and altered almost every aspect of our lives. These companies and industries have flourished by knowing what customers will want before those same customers feel even a faint whiff of desire. We are both witnesses to and beneficiaries of dazzling speed-to-solution successes.

Back on planet health IT, the American College of Physicians reports that the percentage of doctors who are “very dissatisfied” with their EHRs has risen by 15 percent since 2010; in a poll, 39 percent said they would not recommend their EHR to colleagues and 38 percent said they would not buy the same system again.

I will argue that the difference between health IT and every other progressive, mature industry is the application of open source, open standards and, most importantly, open platforms. These platforms supporting interoperability and substitutability have enabled Apple and Google—and NOAA weather data, the Facebook Developer Platform, Amazon Web Services, Salesforce, Twitter, eBay, etc.—to drive innovation and competition instead of stifling it. They have created markets where everyone wins—the client, the application developer and the platform company.

The keys to open platforms are application programming interfaces (APIs) through which a platform-building company (i.e., Apple, Google) welcomes the contributions of clients and other companies. The more elegant the API, the more it can support true interoperability.

Continue reading “Beyond HIT Operability: Open Platforms Are Key”

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