With 2021 fast approaching, there’s more in store for APIs in healthcare

Steven Posnack and Stephen Konya | December 14, 2020

Our recent virtual event, Accelerating APIs in Healthcare: A Year in Review and Momentum for 2021, featured more than 1,000 viewers and 40 speakers with one clear, consistent message: big things will come in 2021. The full recording is now available on our website.

We got a front-row seat not just to presentations, but to the passion from our partners across industry for improving health IT (and individuals’ health). The event showcased and set the stage for how application programming interfaces (APIs) in healthcare will connect clinicians to better data, improve the patient experience, and empower the public to take more control of their healthcare.

This genuine excitement comes as a result of years of hard work. The use of APIs in health IT continues to grow thanks to coordinated efforts from stakeholders throughout the healthcare community, including government, industry, and advocacy groups. ONC’s Cures Act Final Rule and CMS’ Interoperability and Patient Access Final Rule, both published in May 2020, gives special emphasis to the acceleration of API development.

5 Key Themes from the API Showcase

It’s hard to boil down four hours of back-to-back content into just a few key themes. However, below is our best attempt to summarize what appeared to be the top five key takeaways or “themes” from the day.

1. Support for patient facing apps continues to mature

If you have a smart phone, your chances of being able to seamlessly access, review, and share your health data with that device has greatly increased during 2020. We heard updates from Apple on their efforts to empower patients using iOS devices and similarly by  The Commons Project who has been working on the CommonHealth app for Android devices.

Additionally, it’s becoming more and more clear that the momentum behind clinically-focused apps is building. During the event, we heard about MedStar’s Mobilizing Million Hearts app, and CRISP’s HIE InContext app. Both of these projects were developed and launched with support from ONC, are now open-sourced, and available for others to implement.

2. Clinical trials and research opportunities are being greatly enhanced by leveraging FHIR APIs

Our Federal government presenters provided examples of how they were leveraging Health Level Seven (HL7®) Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (FHIR®) APIs to advance the field of precision medicine and enhance their other research and clinical trial related efforts. AHRQ highlighted several of their research related challenge competitions and initiatives, while the NIH shared more specific use case examples where they’re leveraging FHIR, such as extracting clinical data for research with a RedCap extension, Phenopackets on FHIR, and their work on the Value Set Authority Center (VSAC) on FHIR. Additionally, the VA showcased its Clinical Trial Selector app, which empowers 9+ million veterans and 50+ million CMS beneficiaries to search for clinical trials powered by API connectivity.

3. APIs are increasing our ability to effectively respond to public health threats

Representatives from the CDC and US Digital Service (USDS) highlighted two key initiatives that were launched in response to the current pandemic. The CDC’s Pandemic Ready Interoperability Modernization Effort (PRIME), a new multi-year collaboration with the USDS, is being designed to strengthen data quality and information technology systems in state and local health departments. Also featured was the CDC’s eCR NOW FHIR app, which can be implemented by EHR developers, health systems, and third parties to meet their electronic case reporting needs.

4. Collaboratives are leading the way

Although the afternoon was filled with references to collaboration and partnerships, there were two key areas of collaboration where we heard of progress being made in the past year. First, organizations like the CARIN Alliance and Graphite Health announced their commitments to bring stakeholders together to address the marketplace friction that often stifles innovation and data sharing in healthcare.

Additionally, we heard presentations on how CMS, CAQH, and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) have stepped up to work with others to advance provider directories. Specifically, CAQH shared details about their National Directory for FHIR Endpoints Project, while RWJF provided an update on new work launched through Schema.org.

And in the same spirit of working together, ONC announced the launch of Project US@ – a collaboration between ONC and the healthcare standards community – to create a unified and consistent way in 2021 to represent a patient’s physical address across many of the transactions used in healthcare.

5. Cloud vendors are still committed to advancing interoperability in healthcare

During the showcase the top cloud technology companies provided an update on their commitments to support healthcare interoperability. Representing their collective stance was Jason Oxman, President and CEO of ITI (the Information Technology Industry Council). Following his remarks, each cloud vendor shared brief updates on their latest efforts. This included representatives from Microsoft, Google, IBM, Salesforce, and Amazon. Furthermore, Google made news by announcing the launch of their new Healthcare Interoperability Readiness Program, and Amazon has also followed up with a launch of their own, Amazon HealthLake.

Ready to “Run” in 2021

The key themes and specific examples featured above are just a fraction of the work already being led by those from both inside and outside of government. The event made clear that stakeholders from all walks of life are working closer than ever, hand in hand, to leverage modern APIs in healthcare. And they’re all working with the end goal of empowering patients and clinicians alike, to be more in control, and to have a greater number of available solutions to choose from at their disposal.

The speakers and presenters painted an exciting picture for the future of health IT, and we are truly inspired by everyone’s innovation and passion. To close this post out, perhaps one of the panelists from our closing plenary said it best:

“We were crawling in the first decade with interoperability… with competing agendas and conflicting vendor standards… we were then walking in the next], where industry started to learn to put one foot in front of the other… and have some level of coordination… and I think in the next decade forward, we can truly have an opportunity to run!” – Rasu Shrestha, MD, MBA, Atrium Health

So, if you haven’t already, we strongly encourage you to go back and watch the full event recording, or to scroll through the twitter conversation discussing the day, by searching for #ONCAPI. And more importantly, we hope you’re able to join us for future events in 2021, all laced up and ready to run!

Visit HealthIT.gov to sign up for our weekly eblast and learn about upcoming events in 2021, and make sure to mark your calendars for ONC’s 2021 Virtual Annual Meeting on March 29-30, 2021.