Free EMR Newsletter Want to receive the latest news on EMR, Meaningful Use, ARRA and Healthcare IT sent straight to your email? Join thousands of healthcare pros who subscribe to EMR and EHR for FREE!

Integrating With EMR Vendors Remains Difficult, But This Must Change

Posted on October 4, 2016 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. Contact her at @ziegerhealth on Twitter or visit her site at Zieger Healthcare.

Eventually, big EMR vendors will be forced to provide a robust API that makes it easy to attach services on to their core platform. While they may see it as a dilution of their value right now, in time it will become clear that they can’t provide everything to everyone.

For example, is pretty unlikely that companies like Epic and Cerner will build genomics applications, so they’re going to need to connect using an API to add that functionality for their users. (Check out this video with John Lynn, Chris Bradley of Mana Health and Josh Siegel of CareCloud for more background on building a usable healthcare API.)

But as recent research points out, some of the vendors may be dragged kicking and screaming in that direction before they make it easy to connect to their systems. In fact, a new study by Health 2.0 concludes that smaller health IT vendors still face significant difficulties integrating with EMRs created by larger vendors.

“The complaint is true: it’s hard for smaller health tech companies to integrate their solutions with big EMR vendors,” wrote Health 2.0’s Matthew Holt on The Health Care Blog. “Most EMR vendors don’t make it easy.”

The study, which was supported by the California Health Care Foundation, surveyed more than 100 small health technology firms. The researchers found that only two EMR vendors (athenahealth and Allscripts) were viewed by smaller vendors as having a well-advertised, easy to access partner program. When it came to other large vendors, about half were happy with Epic, Cerner and GE’s efforts, while NextGen and eClinicalWorks got low marks for ease of integration, Holt reported.

To get the big vendors on board, it seems as though customer pressure is still critical at present, Holt says. Vendors reported that it helped a great deal if they had a customer who was seeking the integration. The degree to which this mattered varied, but it seemed to be most important in the case of Epic, with 70% of small vendors saying that they needed to have a client recommend them before Epic would get involved in integration project.

But that doesn’t mean it’s smooth sailing from there on out.  Even in the case where the big EMR vendors got involved with the integration project, smaller tech vendors weren’t fond of many of their APIs .

More than a quarter of those using Epic and Cerner APIs rated them poorly, followed by 30% for NextGen, GE and MEDITECH and a whopping 50% for eClinicalWorks. The smaller vendors’ favorite APIs seemed to be the ones offered by athenahealth, Allscripts and McKesson. According to Holt, athenahealth’s API got the best ratings overall.

All that being said, some of the smaller vendors weren’t that enthusiastic about pushing for integration with big EMR vendors at present. Of the roughly 30% who haven’t integrated with such vendors, half said it wasn’t worth the effort to try and integrate, for reasons that included the technical or financial cost would be too great. Also, some of the vendors surveyed by Health 2.0 reported they were more focused on other data-gathering efforts, such as accessing wearables data.

Still, EMR vendors large and small need to change their attitude about opening up the platform, and smaller vendors need to support them when they do so. Otherwise, the industry will remain trapped by a self-fulfilling prophecy that true integration can never happen.

Building a Usable Healthcare API

Posted on August 31, 2016 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the 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 and 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.

Health Data Virtual Reality Demo

Posted on May 11, 2016 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the 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 and John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

Ever since I saw the latest demo of virtual reality at CES, I’ve become a big fan. I think there’s so much potential opportunity to take a look at things from a different angle. I think we’ve barely begun to rethink what it means for us. I’m not sure we’ll have one in every household the way we do our cell phones, but then again Google Cardboard is pretty cheap and inexpensive to share.

Mass appeal or not, we’re going to see useful implementations of virtual reality in healthcare. Of that I’m sure. With that in mind, I’m always interested by companies that are experimenting with the technology in healthcare. In this case, here’s a short demo from Mana Health.

I have a feeling we’re going to look back at this basic implementation even a few years from now and laugh at its simplicity. Although, that was the case with every tech revolution. Have you ever looked back at Windows 3.1 or various websites on the Waybackmachine when the internet first began?

Obviously this demo illustrates that we’re still in the very early days of virtual reality. Although, it’s fun to get the mind to start thinking about a new interface.

When Providing a Health Service, the Infrastructure Behind the API is Equally Important

Posted on May 2, 2016 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 ( 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.

In my ongoing review of application programming interfaces (APIs) as a technical solution for offering rich and flexible services in health care, I recently ran into two companies who showed as much enthusiasm for their internal technologies behind the APIs as for the APIs themselves. APIs are no longer a novelty in health services, as they were just five years ago. As the field gets crowded, maintenance and performance take on more critical roles in offering a successful business–so let’s see how Orion Health and Mana Health back up their very different offerings.

Orion Health

This is a large analytics firm that has staked a a major claim in the White House’s Precision Medicine Initiative. Orion Health’s data platform, Amadeus, addresses population health management as well as “considering how they can better tailor care for each chronically ill individual,” as put by Dave Bennett, executive vice president for Product & Strategy. “We like to say that population health is the who and precision medicine is the how.” Thus, Amadeus can harmonize a huge variety of inputs, such as how many steps a patient takes each day at home, to prevent readmissions.

Orion Health has a cloud service, a capacity for handling huge data sets such as genomes, and a selection of tools for handling such varied sources as clinical, claims, pharmacy, genetic, and consumer device or other patient-generated data. Environmental and social data are currently being added. It has more than 90 million patient records in its systems worldwide.

Patient matching links up data sets from different providers. All this data is ingested, normalized, and made accessible through APIs to authorized parties. Customers can write their own applications, visualizations, and SQL queries. Amadeus is used by the Centers for Disease Control, and many hospitals join the chorus to submit data to the CDC.

So far, Orion Health resembles some other big initiatives that major companies in the health care space are offering. I covered services from Philips in a recent article, and another site talks about GE. Bennett says that Orion Health really distinguishes itself through the computing infrastructure that drives the analytics and data access.

Many companies use conventional relational database as their canonical data store. Relational databases are 1980s-era technology, unmatched in their robustness and sophistication in querying (through the SQL language), but becoming a bottleneck for the data sizes that health analytics deals with.

Over the past decade, every industry that needs to handle enormous, streaming sets of data has turned to a variety of data stores known collectively as NoSQL. Ironically, these are often conceptually simpler than SQL databases and have roots going much farther back in computing history (such as key/value stores). But these data stores let organizations run a critical subset of queries in real time over huge data sets. In addition, analytics are carried out by newer MapReduce algorithms and in-memory services such as Spark. As an added impetus for development, these new technologies are usually free and open source software.

Amadeus itself stores data in Cassandra, one of the most mature NoSQL data stores, and uses Spark for processing. According to Bennett, “Spark enables Amadeus to future proof healthcare organizations for long term innovation. Bringing data and analytics together in the cloud allows our customers to generate deeper insights efficiently and with increased relevancy, due to the rapidity of the analytics engine and the streaming of current data in Amadeus. All this can be done at a lower cost than traditional healthcare analytics that move the data from various data warehouses that are still siloed.” Elastic Search is also used. In short, the third-party tools used within Orion Health are ordinary and commonly found. It is simply modern in the same way as computing facilities in other industries–così fan tutte.

Mana Health

This company integrates device data into EHRs and other data stores. It achieved fame when it was chosen for the New York State patient portal. According to Raj Amin, co-founder and Executive Chairman, the company won over the judges with the convenient and slick tile concept in their user interface. Each tile could be clicked to reveal a deeper level of detail in the data. The company tries to serve clinicians, patients, and data analysts alike. Clients include HIEs, health systems, medical device manufacturers, insurers, and app developers.

Like Orion Health, Mana Health is very conscious of staying on the leading edge of technology. They are mobile-friendly and architect their solutions using microservices, a popular form of modular development that attempts to maximize flexibility in coding and deploying new services. On a lark, they developed a VR engine compatible with the Oculus Rift to showcase what can creatively be built on their API. Although this Rift project has no current uses, the development effort helps them stay flexible so that they can adapt to whatever new technologies come down the pike.

Because Mana Health developed their API some eighteen months ago, they pre-dated some newer approaches and standards. They plan to offer compatibility with emerging standards such as FHIR that see industry adoption. The company recently was announced as a partner in the Commonwell Alliance, a project formed by a wide selection of major EHR vendors to pursue interoperability.

To support machine learning, Mana Health stores data in an open source database called Neo4j. This is a very unusual technology called a graph database, whose history and purposes I described two years ago.

Graphs are familiar to anyone who has seen airline maps showing the flights between cities. Graphs are also common for showing social connections, such as your friends-of-friends on Facebook. In health care, as well, graphs are very useful tools. They show relationships, but in a very different way from relational databases. Graphs are better than relational databases at tracing connections between people or other entities. For instance, a team led by health IT expert Fred Trotter used Neo4J to store and query the data in DocGraph, linking primary care physicians to the specialists to which they refer patients.

In their unique ways, Mana Health and Orion Health follow trends in the computing industry and judiciously choose tools that offer new forms of access to data, while being proven in the field. Although commenters in health IT emphasize the importance of good user interfaces, infrastructure matters too.