Patient Data Access News

Interoperability, APIs Critical for Effective Patient Portal Use

APIs will help enhance patient engagement technology by allowing patients to plug their health information in from multiple patient portals.

interoperability apis patient engagement technology

Source: Thinkstock

By Sara Heath

- Better health IT interoperability and application programming interface (API) use are essential for making the most out of the patient portal and other patient engagement technology, according to ONC head Don Rucker, MD.

In a recent ONC blog post, Rucker explained that better health IT interoperability and the use of APIs will enable patients to access their own medical information and organize that information in a way that is usable and makes sense to them. Currently, healthcare consumers do not have access to usable patient engagement technologies, which serves as a barrier to health improvement.

“ONC’s interoperability efforts focus on improving individuals’ ability to control their health information so they can shop for and coordinate their own care,” Rucker wrote in the post. “While many patients can access their medical information through multiple provider portals, the current ecosystem is frustrating and cumbersome.”

For example, patients visiting multiple different types of doctors – a primary care physician, a dermatologist, and an OBGYN, for example – might have a different patient portal for each provider. While it is certainly a positive thing that patients have access to their health data, it is not useful when the patient has to manage multiple log-ins and other portal information.

Instead, patients should be able to see all of this data, regardless of provider origin, in one aggregate location.

READ MORE: Why Interoperability is Vital to Patient Access to Health Data

Rucker likened this to a phone map app. Consumers can see the routes to their destinations, different timeframes for walking, biking, driving, and public transportation, the costs of each mode of transport, traffic patterns, and more. All of this is on one singular dashboard.

“What makes our smartphones so powerful is the multitude of apps and software programs that use open and accessible APIs for delivering new products to consumers and businesses, creating new market entrants and opportunities,” Rucker said. “There is nothing analogous to this app ecosystem in healthcare.”

ONC is working to support better use of APIs to make patient data access and engagement more of a reality, Rucker asserted.

For example, the agency is currently launching efforts to create APIs on mobile applications to allow patients to manage both their own health and the health of loved ones for whom they may be caregivers.

ONC and workers at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) are also working to develop apps for patients to share their own disease-specific data as a part of the All of Us Research Program focusing on precision medicine.

READ MORE: How Patient Portals Improve Patient Engagement

ONC is also supporting better API use by including certain technical requirements in the 2015 Edition Health IT Certification Program. Currently, the program includes certification criteria for technology developers to demonstrate that their products can support patient data using an API.

Through calls under the 21st Century Cures Act, developers must prove that their tools do not require “extra effort” to leverage data using an API, Rucker added.

“Ensuring that APIs in the health ecosystem are standardized, transparent, and pro-competitive are the central principles guiding our work,” he said. “These goals should allow new business models and tools that will expand the transparency of all aspects of healthcare. New tools should allow patients to comparison shop for their healthcare needs like they do when hailing a ride.”

HHS and its other agencies are also working to put health data back into the hands of patients. The MyHealtheData initiative, announced earlier this year at HIMSS18, calls for providers and health IT developers to enable patients in accessing their own medical data.

In addition to allowing patients to aggregate their own data in a patient portal or personal health record, the principles in the MyHealtheData initiative will allow patients to send their health data to their chosen providers using APIs.

READ MORE: How Do Patient Portals and Personal Health Records Differ?

“MyHealthEData will help to break down the barriers that prevent patients from having electronic access and true control of their own health records from the device or application of their choice,” CMS wrote in a press release. “Patients will be able to choose the provider that best meets their needs and then give that provider secure access to their data, leading to greater competition and reducing costs.”

Some health IT developers are currently stepping up to the plate. Earlier this year, Apple announced efforts to help patients access their own health data in the medical records app on Apple products.

It has been several years since CMS first began mandating patients have access to their own medical records. These mandates have caused the uptick in providers offering patient portal access, and patients creating their own usernames.

Now, healthcare professionals are working to make patient portals more usable. It is no longer enough to simply have a patient portal – patients need to be able to conveniently view all of their health data and use it to improve their own health.


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