HBR: Potential of Health Care APIs

Robert Huckman and Maya Uppaluru of HBR recently published an article titled The Untapped Potential of Health Care APIs. It strikes two chords I regularly discuss with my wife, a Primary Care resident:

  1. My strong desire for easier access to and sharing of healthcare data
  2. My strong dislike for regulated standards in healthcare

Give the article a read, and then continue on below.

I recently called my old dentist office, asking for my latest X-rays to share with my new dentist. The hygienist I spoke to me declined, informing me that she “can’t email them because they are electronic.” Pause for dramatic effect. I couldn’t access an online portal, she couldn’t email a jpeg or png – she could only share with my new dentist if they had the same system. It wasn’t a security or privacy concern – it was their archaic system that only worked one way.

Now, I spent some time working with EDI messaging and other healthcare integrations when I first started IT consulting. While data exchange formats sound great, I have yet to see it work in person. Each system has their own way of sharing data, and I am not sure the HIPAA standards set in place have done much good. In addition, the incentive structures in place for meaningful use have gotten us a short distance along the path to modernization in healthcare tech, but we have a much longer road to travel.

In thinking about this, however, is regulation needed in this space? There are so many barriers to patients when they want to leave a physician or network of physicians: immunization records, past and current prescriptions, procedures, diagnoses… The list goes on. Hell, I cringe knowing I need to establish a new PCP in Seattle, seeing how my medical records are spread across over 50 clinics, hospitals, and other entities.

Large healthcare networks (think Kaiser) have every incentive to hold on to every bit of data they gather on their patients for these reasons. Because of this, there are not many natural mechanisms to incentivize them to ask their technology providers (think Epic) for open APIs. So is this the best next step to tech modernization in healthcare tech?

If so, what should it look like? Should I have a Mint-like interface for my healthcare records? How can we make this attractive to large healthcare networks that fear losing their patients or one of their most expensive assets: their data?

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