Web applications have made the business world more efficient—from creating better consumer experiences with customer management systems to being able to make transactions over an app. As developers have become better at building data-driven and information-focused systems, web applications have proliferated.

But, there’s one industry that hasn’t caught on as much: the healthcare system. And there’s good reason too.

As the Harvard Business Review reports in “The Untapped Potential of Health Care APIs,” the main issue is the control of information and the lack of open APIs in healthcare. The business world has already been using a standardized set of APIs to expand their business’ reach.

Robert Huckman, Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School and Faculty Chair of the HBS Healthcare Initiative, and Maya Uppaluru, Policy Advisor at the White House Office of Science and Technology, argue that the benefit of opening information would be enormous.   

“The availability of data,” the article reports, “would lead to the development of an entirely new group of healthcare innovators: developers who do not have particular expertise in healthcare but, when given secure access to clinical data from the industry, could create tools of significant value.”

APIs, or application program interface, allows software applications to speak and work with each other. More important, the industry ought to standardize the way information is captured, stored, and shared is standardized. This forces companies to work collaboratively together.

Facebook, Google, IBM, Salesforce.com, and more have all standardized the way data is captured and stored, creating an environment where companies can create APIs and applications to work together. This era of openness has created value that provides great consumer experiences.

If the healthcare industry standardized the way they capture data and open up their APIs, what would happen?

  • Patients would better understand their health and allow them to make more informed choices.
  • Clinical providers would be supported in their decision making with innovative user interfaces and analytics platforms.
  • Researchers would be able to create hypotheses and identify trends by having access to detailed sets of data, and experiences for people donating their data for science.

While there has been some headway, progress has been slow. Due to the cost of development and the imperative to secure patient information, the sector has an enormous task of creating systems that respect the care, quality, and safety of providing decent medical care. Just think back to Healthcare.gov’s abominable launch. Creating a product or any web application within the sector is incredibly hard.

Given the excellent opportunity to improve the healthcare system, we need to ask ourselves, ‘What would it take to speed up the acceptance of standardizing data and opening up APIs in healthcare?’ With this question in mind, here are four main needs:

Use a financial incentive. It is very clear creating standards that allow open APIs will improve almost any system. The healthcare system is not immune to this fact. But it takes time and energy to create.

However, when faced with a direct incentive, the financial benefit of implementing APIs will encourage faster implementations. We’re in luck. Payments under Medicare that will go into effect in 2019 contain requirements for providers to use technology to improve patient care.

Address any and all privacy concerns. The healthcare system is subject to unique security and privacy laws, and there are more fears of patient information leaking. Laws need to be modernized and updated to reflect the technology’s current capabilities. While there has been data breaches in every sector, standards used in the private sector can ensure that these incidents happen less often, ensuring the benefits outway the cons.

Standardized the forms in which data is captured, and provide greater transparency in regards to cost from development agencies. At the moment, there’s no one standardized way of capturing and storing data, which makes working with APIs difficult and costly. Creating a standard will allow for an easier flow of information between applications and reduce costs. Moreover, it will allow software development agencies to project better costs associated with development, allowing more providers to launch web applications.

Address the cultural and workflow issues within the healthcare system. At the heart of the issue of getting healthcare systems to use APIs is the current cultural mindsets—one that’s not conducive to collaboration. In order to change to take place, market forces or government mandates may need to take place for the healthcare industry to embrace entirely current technological advancements.

Hat tip: Harvard Business Review