APIs to Consider When Building Healthcare Apps

By Nick Epson on April 7, 2020

A lot goes into creating great platforms for the medical industry – and really, every business vertical – but at the core of it is sharing health information thanks largely in part to these unique APIs on the market. While the architecture of these systems is important, the ability to transmit information between internal systems and in some cases, outside agencies, is crucial for today’s modern medical apps.

Most turnkey EMR and EHR solutions available on the market use an API to push and pull data between popular databases such as more classic designs like those in the SQL family or even more modern solutions like Firebase. Better yet, some businesses can be built from the ground up or at least utilize custom third-party integrations that have the potential to work better than out-of-the-box software. We’re going to look at some of these solutions after discussing the importance of sharing information.

Why sharing health information is a significant factor for today’s software

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, one this we see is that despite preparation (though the degree of which has been debated) sharing health information has been a quintessential component of combatting the virus. We can take a look at the Coronavirus tracking app from John Hopkin’s which updates based on numbers collected from various reporting sources such as hospitals and agencies like the CDC.

This manner of tracking and providing figures helps us understand the scope of the problem but it’s not efficient. On the backend, the figures are being updated somewhat manually to NNDSS staff as reporting for this outbreak is disjointed – most places are sending in batched uploads of spreadsheets, some deluge the system email, and others… who knows. Because there is no unified way of transmitting information as it’s different for every medical site, this makes denoting the numbers slower than it could be.

The above method is wholly outdated and inefficient. It’s automated processes is also what makes apps that use medical data tick, thus providing real utility for users. So let’s glance at modern tech for a parallel example to understand how this process could work better using a modern API.?

Let’s take a look at the popular device, the Fitbit which collects a significant amount of data to perform various services like tracking steps, calculating distance, counting stairs climbs, and other functions. This data is pushed and pulled between a corresponding app on a smart device where it’s processed and stored (too, data is pushed out to the cloud for safekeeping) then transmitted back to the Fitbit. It happens in real-time, so a user can climb a set of stairs, walk a half a mile, then check their device to see up-to-date information on these metrics in addition to other calculations like calories burned.

This same design is what also serves to assist with other apps with real-time reporting, whether it’s another medical app or perhaps a hypothetical reporting mechanism for an organization like the CDC.

4 APIs to consider when building or scaling a healthcare ap

Regardless of the base platform selected platform used for an EMR or EHR – i.e. whether a turnkey, out-of-the-box software or a custom solution – there are third-party APIs that work to supplement sharing health information. Turnkey systems often see major benefits from third-party APIs as do some open platforms like OpenEMR or FreeMED, either of which can be used to build medical systems from the ground up.

The following APIs can capably integrate with most systems and their databases, including software not necessarily designed for medical. Let’s quickly look at some of the favorites on the market today.

DailyMed. Right now, there are apps on the market like GoodRx which works as a supplemental service to save people money on their prescription medications. To build this service, it would either require manually inputting every kind of script configuration in the medical work or it could pull information from a repository like DailyMed through their RESTful API.

This unique service provides access to databases via an API for medications which has application in a variety of areas, namely wherever a drug needs validated. It includes access to information on not just drugs prescribed for humans but those for animals as well, meaning it could prove useful for veterinary practices as well. Developers are able to take advantage of DailyMed to pull a breadth of information on medications for EMR and EHR systems, a prescription saving app like GoodRx or other areas where access to medication information is necessary for a medical practice or for the end consumer.

ClinicalTrials.gov. Unlike the Box platform, this service works a bit differently. The ClinicalTrials.gov platform is essentially a repository that links over 300,000 studies from 210 countries that are accessible through their API which is a great asset in combatting widespread diseases.

With the current pandemic surrounding the COVID-19 Coronavirus, this kind of tool helps supplement medical efforts by giving providers access to information much faster than searching through individual research institutions databases. The actual API can be used by developers for researchers and medical practitioners to easily query from a variety of sources to learn more about isolated or widespread conditions.

The downside is that there isn’t a function in place for sharing information from a medical practice site or research institution. Of course, this information has to be regulated so hopefully, we’ll see a more efficient way to share well-documented studies among institutions as well as with agencies like the CDC.

NPPES NPI Registry. This neat tool is an open API that lets software developers verify physician NPI numbers with the central database, allowing you to verify the physician is a real doctor. Their goal is to provide simplified access to HIPAA-protected information through a searchable database on the web that can also be accessed via their own API for real-time data sharing with an authorized app.

This is helpful for tracking pandemics such as the one we’re seeing now as it allows users to verify the authenticity information they might obtain by being able to search for providers. One issue we see is agencies without medical authorization declaring that individuals are or are not infected by certain conditions with no real data to prove the authenticity of the claim. This system helps verify the integrity of information, similar to a checksum (or cryptographic hash) of a file.

Human API. The Human API is an example of a tool that exists purely as an API for sharing information between consumers and providers. They currently have an effort in place called #flattenthecurve created in response to the COVID-19 outbreak that gives providers a free tool to pull information from patient EHRs, wherever they may be. This alleviates the burden on hospitals and other facilities when treating a new patient as this allows them to quickly and securely access patients’ past medical history.

Outside of Human API’s application for pandemics, it caters to the consumer by allowing them to share both PII and non-PII data to different agencies. Consumers can authorize providers, meaning medical care facilities and other tools like Android and iPhone apps, using Human API access to medical data. This makes getting treatment easier and opens up possibilities for those who use apps for fitness tracking, weight loss, and vital tracking, among many others.

 

Let Blue Label Labs securely connect your medical data?

Sharing health information is a touchy subject as there is a precipice that this leads to violating HIPAA policy. When done correctly, using the best API expedites processes for providers which benefits patients in the long run while helping with the bottom line of medical practices. Too, consumers can enjoy the benefits of being able to share their personal health information between selected systems used to sustain or improve healthy lifestyles.

Get in touch with us at Blue Label Labs to learn more about how sharing health information and why real-time reporting is important for your medical app.

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