The case for expanding API use in healthcare

While the proposed rule for Stage 3 of Meaningful Use and the accompanying certification rule emphasize the use of application programming interfaces (API) for sharing health information with patients, that outlined proposal doesn't go far enough, according to Ashish Jha, a professor of international health at the Harvard School of Public Health.

Jha, writing for the Health Affairs Blog, says if the federal government is serious about fixing the poor usability of EHRs, the systems must be opened up much more robustly.

"[Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT] should require that any vendor that enjoys federal subsidies for its products make its full suite of APIs widely available for third-party products," Jha says. "If these APIs become widely available, third-party vendors will build the tools that currently limit EHR utility and value."

Jha uses the example of the Apple map, saying that if consumers of Apple products were locked into using that application, the company would have no reason to improve upon it.

"That's how the world works--and to improve EHRs, we need the kind of competitive pressure created by open ecosystems," Jha says.

Jeff Smith, vice president of public policy at the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives, recently told FierceEMR he believes the enhanced patient engagement requirements in Stage 3 could be a result of the inclusion of API measures in the new rules.

"That's information we're going to try to get from a policy perspective," he said. "What is the impetus and what is the mechanism through which CMS expects providers to be at such a high level of engagement with patients on something that's outside of their control? ... The provider community is just kind of beside itself in the fact that there are things like more transmit that are outside of their control."

At the ONC's annual meeting last month in the District of Columbia, former U.S. Chief Technology Officer Aneesh Chopra predicted that demand and participation eventually will drive increased use of APIs in healthcare for sharing information between all entities.

To learn more:
- read the Health Affairs Blog post

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