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Building a Usable Healthcare API

Posted on August 31, 2016 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 10 blogs containing over 8000 articles with John having written over 4000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 16 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

I’ve long believed that a rock solid API is going to be required by healthcare IT software companies and EHR vendors in particular. If we want hospitals and doctors to be able to accomplish everything they need to accomplish, we need APIs to connect providers to services that will better serve the patients. EHR vendors aren’t going to do everything. With this in mind, we thought that it was time to start a discussion on how to build a usable healthcare API.

On Thursday, September 8th at 3:30 PM ET (12:30 PM PT), join us LIVE in our latest Healthcare Scene interview, as we discuss healthcare APIs with the following experts:

2016 September - Building a Usable Healthcare API-Headshots
There are a lot of people who talk generally about an API, but very few that have executed it well in healthcare. CareCloud and ManaHealth are two healthcare companies that are trying to implement a health care API in the right way, so we’re excited to sit down with them to talk about their experience building healthcare APIs.

If you’ve never watched one of our live video interviews, you can watch it live on this YouTube page (includes Live Chat room as well) or just visit this post on the day of the event and watch the video embedded below:

We look forward to shedding more light on what it takes to build a high quality, usable healthcare API.

Be sure to Subscribe to Healthcare Scene on YouTube to be updated on our future interviews or watch our archive of past Healthcare Scene Interviews.

Open Standards Advance in Health Care Through the Appeal of FHIR and SMART

Posted on October 13, 2014 I Written By

Andy Oram is an editor at O'Reilly Media, a highly respected book publisher and technology information provider. An employee of the company since 1992, Andy currently specializes in open source, software engineering, and health IT, but his editorial output has ranged from a legal guide covering intellectual property to a graphic novel about teenage hackers. His articles have appeared often on EMR & EHR and other blogs in the health IT space. Andy also writes often for O'Reilly's Radar site (http://oreilly.com/) and other publications on policy issues related to the Internet and on trends affecting technical innovation and its effects on society. Print publications where his work has appeared include The Economist, Communications of the ACM, Copyright World, the Journal of Information Technology & Politics, Vanguardia Dossier, and Internet Law and Business. Conferences where he has presented talks include O'Reilly's Open Source Convention, FISL (Brazil), FOSDEM, and DebConf.

The poor state of interoperability between EHRs–target of fulminations and curses from health care activists over the years–is starting to grind its way forward. Dr. Kenneth Mandl, a leader of the SMART Platform and professor at the Boston Children’s Hospital Informatics Program, found that out when his team, including lead architect Josh Mandel, went to HIMSS this year to support Cerner’s implementation of his standard, and discovered three other vendors running it.

That’s the beauty of open source and standards. Put them out there and anyone can use them without a by-your-leave. Standards can diffuse in ways the original developers never anticipated.

A bit of background. The SMART platform, which I covered a few years ago, was developed by Mandl’s team at Harvard Medical School and Children’s Hospital to solve the festering problem of inaccessibility in EHRs and other health care software. SMART fulfilled the long-time vision of open source advocates to provide a common platform for every vendor that chose to support it, and that would allow third-party developers to create useful applications.

Without a standard, third-party developers were in limbo. They had to write special code to support each EHR they want to run on. Worse still, they may have to ask the EHR vendor for permission to connect. This has been stunting the market for apps expanding the use of patient data by clinicians as well as the patients themselves.

SMART’s prospects have been energized by the creation of a modern interoperability resource called FHIR. It breaks with the traditional health care standards by being lean, extendible in controllable ways, and in tune with modern development standards such as REST and JSON.

It helps that SMART was supported by funds from the ONC, and that FHIR was adopted by the leading health care standards group, HL7. HL7’s backing of FHIR in particular lent these standards authority among the vendor and health care provider community. Now the chocolate and peanut butter favored by health IT advocates have come together in the SMART on FHIR project, which I wrote about earlier this year.

Mandl explains that SMART allows innovators to get access to the point of care. As more organizations and products adopt the SMART on FHIR, API, a SMART app written once will run anywhere.

Vendors have been coming to FHIR meetings and expressing approval in the abstract for these standards. But it was still a pleasant surprise for Mandl to hear of SMART implementations demo’d at HIMSS by Intermountain, Hewlett-Packard, and Harris as well as Cerner.

The SMART project has just released guidlines for health care providers who want to issue RFPs soliciting vendors for SMART implementations. This will help ensure that providers get what they ask and pay for: an API that reliably runs any app written for SMART.

It’s wise to be cautious and very specific when soliciting products based on standards. The notion of “openness” is often misunderstood and taken to places it wasn’t meant to go. In health care, one major vendor can trumpet its “openness” while picking and choosing which vendors to allow use of its API, and charging money for every document transferred.

The slipperiness of the “open” concept is not limited to health IT. For years, Microsoft promulgated an “open source” initiative while keeping to the old proprietary practices of exerting patent rights and restricting who had access to code. Currently they have made great progress and are a major contributor to Linux and other projects, including tools used with their HealthVault PHR.

Google, too, although a major supporter of open source projects, plays games with its Android platform. The code is nominally under an open license–and is being exploited by numerous embedded systems developers that way–but is developed in anything but an open manner at Google, and is hedged by so many requirements that it’s hard to release a product with the Android moniker unless one partners closely with Google.

After talking to Mandl, I had a phone interview with Stan Huff, Chief Informatics Officer for Intermountain. Huff is an expert in interoperability and active in HL7. About a year ago he led an effort at Intermountain to improve interoperability. The motivation was not some ethereal vision of openness but the realization that Intermountain couldn’t do everything it needed to be competitive on its own–it would have to seek out the contributions of outsiders.

When Intermountain partnered with Cerner, senior management had by that time received a good education in the value of a standard API. Cerner was also committed to it, luckily, and the two companies collaborated on FHIR and SMART. Cerner’s task was to wrap their services in a FHIR-compliant API and to make sure to use standard technology, such as in codes for lab data.

Intermountain also participated in launching a not-for-profit corporation, the Healthcare Services Platform Consortium, that promotes SMART-on-FHIR and other standards. A lot of vendors have joined up, and Huff encourages other vendors to give up their fears that standardization is a catheter siphoning away business and to try the consortium out.

Intermountain currently is offering several applications that run in web browsers (and therefore should be widely usable on different platforms). Although currently in the prototype stage, the applications should be available later this year. Besides an application developed by Intermountain to monitor hemolytic disease among neonates and suggest paths for doctors to take, they support several demonstration apps produced by the SMART project, including a growth chart app, a blood pressure management app, and a cardiovascular app.

Huff reports that apps are easy to build on SMART. In at least one case, it took just two weeks for the coding.

Attendees at HIMSS were very excited about Intermountain’s support for SMART. The health care providers want more flexible and innovative software with good user interfaces, and see SMART providing that. Many vendors look to replicate what Intermountain has done (although some hold back). Understanding that progress is possible can empower doctors and advocates to call for more.

Google EMR, Healthcare Innovation, and EMR Social Media

Posted on March 24, 2013 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 10 blogs containing over 8000 articles with John having written over 4000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 16 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

We have a wide range of tweets today, but so many of them offer interesting insights and discussion points. I think you’ll agree.


I think the reply to the original tweet is a great response. I honestly can’t imagine Google getting back into the healthcare game through an EMR. They might do something with discovery of health information. They might do something cool with their image recognition technology and healthcare, but they’re not going to build an EMR. EMR is enterprise software, and Google won’t be going there.


I’m a huge supporter of API’s and the innovation they can create. I just don’t see many healthcare IT vendors ready to open up their systems like that. This is possibly because there’s too much money to be made by selling their product as is. Thanks EHR Incentive money.


It’s pretty provocative to consider, but the simple answer is yes it will. Although, it might be the HIE more than the EMR. I guess we’ll see how that plays out. However, I think control of when and where your information is shared will be a feature. Of course, most people won’t ever use that feature. They’ll just leave the default settings.

101 Tips to Make Your EMR and EHR More Useful – EHR Tips 66-70

Posted on August 8, 2011 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 10 blogs containing over 8000 articles with John having written over 4000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 16 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

Time for the second entry covering Shawn Riley’s list of 101 Tips to Make your EMR and EHR More Useful. I hope you’re enjoying the series.

70. Hard coded work flows CAN be your friend
EMR vendors are constantly playing the game of out of the box functionality versus unlimited workflow design. This is one way to look at hard coded work flows. Sometimes they have benefits since it’s one less thing that you have to configure on your system.

The other way to look at the above EMR tip is when it comes to reporting. Often if you’ve customized a workflow in your EMR, then you lose out on the benefit of the reporting that’s available with a hard coded work flow. Sometimes you can get the benefit of both, but some advanced reports really benefit from a hard coded work flow.

69. Social Media integration – the way business is done today
No EMR system has really deep social media integration….yet!? Although, it’s worth checking with your EHR vendor to see their views of the future of social media integration. Especially if you’re in a market that has a lot of physicians. You can be sure that future patients will want some sort of social media integration as part of their visit.

68. Determine how the EMR vendor encourages innovation
This EMR tip can be taken a number of different ways. The first is how does your EMR vendor innovate internally. Take a look at their last 3-5 release cycles to get an idea of how quickly they release features and how innovative those features are. It will tell you a lot about future releases of their EHR software.

The second way to take this is by asking the question, how do they take feedback and innovation from their community? Do they have an open API that would allow you (or some developer you pay) to be able to extend their EHR functionality? If you’re someone who likes to tinker with your practice, then an open API that will let you do that would be essential.

67. Determine how innovation is actually put into the practice
This EMR tip highlights the subtle difference between an EHR vendor that talks the talk and the EHR vendor that walks the walk. Every time your EHR vendor says, “That feature will be in the next release.” a red flag should go up in your mind. Maybe this company thinks and talks big, but can’t actually perform big. Although, age of the EHR vendor should play some part in this evaluation as well.

66. Is the patient portal comprehensive
Meaningful Use has almost made patient portals a requirement. It’s hard to say exactly what future meaningful use stages will require, but I won’t be surprised if a patient portal plays a large part in the future of healthcare. Plus, the new digital generation is going to be very interested in using a patient portal. You’ll want to make sure your EHR vendor is ready for both of these trends.

If you want to see my analysis of the other 101 EMR and EHR tips, I’ll be updating this page with my 101 EMR and EHR tips analysis. So, click on that link to see the other EMR tips.