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by Zane Burke
Published on February 15, 2017

This article is part three of a four-part series that will be published throughout the week on Healthcare IT News.

Patients will always receive care across multiple venues, and that means healthcare providers must learn how to exchange data. Application programming interfaces are the way forward for interoperability.

Interoperability is a key area of emphasis in modern healthcare. New technology has made the exchange of health information between systems easier and faster, forging the path for a robust health IT ecosystem devoted to advancing patient care. Though there's still a marathon ahead of us as we work toward this goal, interoperability has become the rallying cry for innovative providers devoted to putting the person at the center of care.

One of the challenges of advancing interoperability lies in consumer expectations. As technology has become more sophisticated, so has its users. Patients now demand timely access to their health information, and they want as few impediments to that access as possible.

It's not just a consumer expectation, either. Data access has become a regulatory requirement. Beginning Jan. 1, 2018, as part of the Stage 3 meaningful use program set by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services and the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT, all healthcare providers will be required to give consumers direct connectivity to their healthcare data using application programming interfaces.

Many provider organizations are recognizing the downstream impact this new patient access API requirement has to their existing patient engagement strategies. In preparation, Cerner been working with our clients to create an approach that facilitates easy data sharing through APIs, as required by MU3, while also unleashing the potential of open APIs more broadly to enable innovation at scale. Standardized APIs will extend the functionality of electronic health records and other emerging solutions by establishing the technological foundation for providers to share information and enabling apps that can be used by patients and providers to improve care.

Open APIs are not a new phenomenon. The financial, retail and technology industries are already utilizing APIs to revolutionize standards and expectations for consumers. Consider the way Google uses APIs to integrate their services with other platforms: If you've ever pulled up Google Maps on your iPhone or accessed a new service using your Google login, you've experienced the full convenience that a comprehensive API strategy can create. When compared to other industries, healthcare has incredible opportunity to leverage open APIs to accelerate innovation and amplify the value of clinical systems and platforms.

In healthcare, the emergence of APIs will enable software developers to create new applications by fully leveraging the underlying health IT systems. This type of access introduces collaboration opportunities for developers who can create tools granting users secure access to health information from various sources. In the last few years, we've observed apps using standards like SMART Health IT and HL7's Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (FHIR®) go from early prototypes to pilot projects to at least a dozen examples in use in the clinical setting today.

We need to work together as an industry to develop the rich experience consumers have come to expect. A prime example came last year as the ONC challenged healthcare providers, major technology suppliers and app developers to demonstrate a real use case for an API-connected app that patients could use to manage their medications from multiple sources. Together, Trinity Health and several large technology companies, including Cerner, showed how three distinct apps could use the medication lists retrieved using APIs from multiple source systems in unique ways. In the coming months, we will have patient-facing APIs broadly deployed in healthcare, which will enable developers to create a wide variety of apps for consumers.

When people living with chronic conditions have complete access to their EHR data via API-enabled apps, for example, they will be able to make more informed decisions about their health and care. This concept exists in tandem with the push toward value-based care, because when consumers are actively involved in their care plans, providers are better able to tailor care, monitor progress and intervene at critical times. Ultimately, by getting consumers actively engaged in their health and care, they will be able to make healthier decisions and lead healthier lives.

It's important to recognize that patients will always receive care across multiple venues, and that means healthcare providers must learn how to exchange data for the good of the person. In implementing an API strategy, we're not only enabling providers to take better care of their patients, but we are empowering consumers to take charge of their health and care.

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