“Nurse, can you please give me the syringe. Can you please $HANDLE the patient while I make this incision. Can you please $_POST me the sutures. Ahh! I meant $_GET me the sutures! We're losing him!”
“Ma’am, I have some bad news...the results of your blood test are still parsing.”
Ok ok, it's not quite as serious as it sounds. Truthfully, in the year 2013, it might be difficult to prove that APIs have any sort of direct implication on patient treatment. But APIs undoubtedly affect the healthcare industry as a whole, and in the very near future interaction between applications will become an increasingly important part of everything medical related, including the actual treatment.
As is the same with virtually every other progressing industry, APIs merit some significant consideration when pertaining to healthcare. Let's go through some of the different aspects of healthcare in order to more closely examine such considerations.
It all starts with the patient; they are the target group (end user) of this fine industry. Patient information is at the heart of all medical operations. This information ranges from vital statistics and diagnosis to simple figures such as street address and billing information. No matter what the data is, there's always one uniform element shared by patient information: confidentiality.
Thus, if APIs are sharing patient information between medical providers in-house applications or sharing them with a third party, then the protocol must be tested for security. More and more medical files are being transitioned into electronic format, which will result in great responsibility being rested on the shoulders of medical-related APIs. With paper trails disappearing it will soon be a likely reality that quick and efficient treatment will rely on the transfer and retrieval of vital information - such as blood type, deficiencies and conditions - between programs.
This one is easy. Every time you switch insurance providers, go to a new doctor, or visit a new clinic, you are asked if you have a copy of your insurance card. Depending on the competency of your healthcare provider, this may never stop. But there is hope, and that hope comes in the form of an API.
An API can allow insurance companies, government and healthcare providers to share insurance related information with each other, or at the very least within themselves, like when you switch to another doctor just down the hallway. In all fairness, certain countries are better than others when it comes to this sort of infrastructure.
The Business of Hospitals
Doctors, nurses and all other medical professionals will continue to utilize software and browser-based applications that utilize APIs for functions such as communicating, file sharing, medical image examination and screening - not to mention a plethora of HR related tasks. Medicine is a very large field employing a vast workforce, thus making human resource management a significant concern affecting business and patient care.
Research equipment and electronics heavily rely on computer systems and will even more so in the years to come. Importing and exporting data, secure session authentication and the ability to utilize external resources are all key facets when conducting medical research. As with all computer systems, APIs are an integral component.
If you are a developer working closely with APIs in the medical field then you probably already had your hands full before reading this article. In any case, you now have some considerations cut out for you. When human life is at stake reliability is of the utmost importance, so testing load capacity is a no brainer. Patient confidentiality is next in line; encryption will be necessary for certain applications but at the very least your APIs should be secure inside and out. One last emphasis should be on innovation.
As previously mentioned, APIs within healthcare are at a crucial moment in their existence. APIs within healthcare are on the verge of breaking through to a position of responsibility over the entire industry, patients included, thus they need to be innovative in nature or at the very least flexible and scalable.
If you’re someone who has any sort of input in the direction of your healthcare establishment’s infrastructure then hopefully this article will remind you not to be left behind. APIs are an important part of business within the healthcare industry, but more importantly they are an important part of patient treatment.