When I talk to CEOs and CIOs often the first question I get is what are APIs and followed almost immediately by why do I need them? Perhaps, as I have come to learn, the root of the question is do I really need it? I mean after all we do have HL7 so why APIs and how are they different.
WHAT IS AN API?
For clarity sake lets all get on the same page about APIs. For starters API stands for Application Programming Interface(s). Better way of thinking of APIs is to think of power sockets. Around the world as you travel you find different sockets depending on which country you are in. To use those sockets you buy an “adapter” that converts your plug, for whatever gadget you have, to that countries specified plug. This is exactly what an API does. It allows an application that has one type of socket to use an adapter (API) that then connects to the other type of socket you need to connect to.
WAIT THIS SOUNDS LIKE HL7!
In many ways HL7 is a great, sort of, API that we have in healthcare that is taken largely for granted. However it is really important to note that a lot of the challenges of HL7 are really due in part to how the software provider configured HL7 and due to the complexity of HL7 there are many deployments of it.
Before I go any further though I would like to point out that APIs have the same challenge as HL7. There is no ultimate governing body and we have to rely on developers. Yes, there is, a widely accepted specification format for displaying such as JSON however how it comes out and how it is deployed is NOT standard.
Retrospectively HL7 has more of a standard than APIs as it forces a set of guidelines for how data should be displayed and more specific how data should be displayed in healthcare.
WAIT BUT WE NEED STANDARDS
Absolutely. Maybe. Perhaps.
The answer to this question is just as tough as figuring out how to solve it. The challenge with any standard is restriction of how something flows; thus why we get specifications. However then the challenge is in how its implemented across the industry.
What I would like you to consider is that instead of focusing on standards we focus on specifications that lay a general guideline and then use the least complex method to get that data in and out.
APIS WILL SOLVE EVERYTHING THEN?
The first step is to shift away from talking about “interoperability” and start talking about data liquidity. After we refocus and redefine our approach and accomplish that we can then put APIs on top to help people access the data faster and help build great experiences.
However the greatest challenge lies beyond data liquidity, the merger of the experience, consumer and the clinical workflow.