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:
- SMART is an open source project run by a medical school and is partially government-funded; Apigee is a private company.
- SMART tries to establish a standard; Apigee accepts whatever APIs its customers are using and bridges between them.
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.