How an API-first approach could revolutionise healthcare

Carlos Oliveira, CEO at cloud-based integration platform SPINR, explains the effect an API-first approach could have on healthcare. 

As the healthcare sector moves away from paper-based processes and embraces collaborative approaches between different departments and organisations, controlling and protecting data has become one of its greatest challenges. It can be difficult to manage – and yet it is immensely powerful.

Building smart controls that can extract, filter and combine data to feed business logic, frees developers to mix and match sources quickly and reliably. Those controls are APIs. They handle the complexities of each data source, hiding the mechanical details of access and control, and translate data to a common format.

Once a common API or network of APIs has been created for data sources, any conceivable application or service can be built to that API.

How does that work in practice?

Consider the high-pressure environment facing the healthcare sector today; the pressure to deliver outstanding service to a growing and ageing population, whilst harnessing new treatments and innovations, protecting highly sensitive information and achieving value for money, always. Thinking with APIs unlocks all these benefits.

Challenges and answers in healthcare

Today’s healthcare practitioners know that accessing the right information, in the right place, at the right time, is crucial to delivering top-quality care in a challenging environment. They need a highly consistent omnichannel experience, an emphasis on mobile, highly usable tools for customisation, and a way to bring together the information and services they want.

Meanwhile, healthcare providers are keen to analyse patient data so they can come up with new ideas and deliver the most tailored and well-informed care possible, and share and integrate this data cleanly and securely with that from other providers.

What resources do healthcare organisations have to help make this happen? As the old maxim says, you fight with the army you have, not the army you want. Think about any healthcare organisation: their existing technical estate likely includes many different data stores from electronic patient records to medical imaging and associated notes, and the organisation’s development process may be anywhere along the pathway from waterfall to DevOps. They also have to consider performance, compliance and security. But practitioners at the sharp end of patient care (rightly) don’t care about any of this. They just want their technology to be seamless, efficient and easy to use.

Management of these elements is done by APIs, effectively breaking them down into optimal logical components that can be connected and reused in the simplest possible way.

Such capabilities are useful for organisations of any size. But they can be especially valuable for small and medium-sized organisations, or those in sectors such a healthcare where absolutely optimising limited resources is critical.

APIs enable more than just speed and efficiency

When healthcare organisations adopt an API-first mindset, they also gain other benefits as well:

  • Democratising innovation

Because APIs hide complexity, they create simple, abstract concepts that anyone can grasp and use in what-if thinking, even if they’re not programmers. Using tools as simple as pencil and paper, or codeless graphical design software, anyone with sector expertise in a company can sketch out how to build a system around data that can address a need or offer a brand-new idea. This can be invaluable across healthcare organisations, where the pressure to innovate and optimise is immense.

Far too often in all business, a lot of valuable information and experience is never used because IT is seen as a disabler rather than an enabler. APIs don’t cure this entirely but they do offer a path through it.

  • Opening up new data sources

There are well over 20,000 open sources of data available online through APIs, according to the ProgrammableWeb API Directory. And that number has been growing by around 15 new APIs per day.

These APIs provide data from every category of source: geographic, social media, weather, advertising, economics and so on. They also provide a signpost to how the future is shaping up, especially in healthcare.

  • Opening up new working models

Once a healthcare organisation has built internal APIs that make data accessible to new ideas and services, it’s a small step to making some of that data available to external interests. This is potentially hugely valuable in the healthcare sector, where different organisations are being encouraged to share information, and better integration with the social care sector is being encouraged. Other organisations can make use of the knowledge generated by one forward-thinking organisation, using it either for their own internal purposes or as part of a partnership or joint enterprise. APIs offer a simple, collaborate.

Where next?

Quickly connecting multiple applications and data sources is a significant operational benefit for healthcare organisations, but building innovative digital platforms is truly transformational.

By connecting your own legacy systems with third party data and cloud applications, you may aggregate information flows and create new services, like market updates, from your own digital platforms. This could deliver value to stakeholders with the potential to generate new revenue opportunities.

APIs are now at the centre of innovation creation and also help to enforce the ontology and data standards throughout an organisation. This in turn demonstrates the importance of healthcare organisations embracing APIs to help solve their key integration challenges, as well as automating and streamlining data operations.


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