APIs can unlock health information for patients

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Already widely used in the banking and credit card industries, APIs could allow patients to easily access digital medical records.

Technology that allows consumers to withdraw money from any ATM in the world could also be the key to giving patients better access to their health data.

Application program interfaces (API), which facilitate secure information transfers between computer programs, are poised to take on a greater role in healthcare, according to researchers at The Commonwealth Fund. Already widely used within the banking and credit card industries, API technology would allow patients to easily access digital medical records and improve interoperability between different healthcare providers.

Several new laws will help bring APIs to the healthcare industry. Through the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act (MACRA), which was signed into law in April, the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT (ONC) announced two metrics to measure interoperability among providers. The 21st Century Cures Act, which passed the Senate on Wednesday and is expected to be signed into law by President Obama, requires the ONC’s Health IT Certification Program to include API technology.

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Widespread use of openly accessible APIs would not only offer patients simplified access to digital medical records, it would also allow providers to coordinate care across different settings and reduce barriers for health apps and devices, according to researchers. Widespread interest in API technology will also prompt private sector investment, making it easier to incorporate APIs into existing EHR systems.

“Because there are a variety of distinct EHRs and other health data systems that must communicate to mobilize health data, APIs are key to advancing health record interoperability,” the researchers wrote.

A task force appointed by the ONC released narrowly approved recommendations in May encouraging the use of APIs, with some committee members expressing concerns about the ability of providers to block detrimental mobile apps. Meanwhile, both insurers and providers have already tapped into APIs in order to improve information sharing with patients and beneficiaries.