Medical Records, Interoperability and API’s

Healthcare IT industry and API’s

Don Rosenthal
LinkedIn Profile

My medical data should move with me as easily as my music or photo library…Part II

There are currently over 500,000 apps for the iPhone. Apple has written only a handful of those. How many would there be if Apple had to write a custom interface for every developer who wrote an app?

My previous post threw down the latex gauntlet announcing that, “My medical data should move with me as easily as my music or photo library…”, because, well, it sure doesn’t. And I blamed that problem partly on healthcare IT vendors’ current practice of requiring custom interfaces to be written for every application that wants to interoperate with them. How do other industries avoid this problem? Stay with me to learn the deep dark secret…

But first, back to the iPhone: Apple wasn’t so arrogant as to think that they would come up with all possible good ideas for using the iPhone — or that they would ever be able to hire enough developers to do that. So they built an open platform, and now I can pay my bills, play my games, and find restaurants in the “C” concourse at O’Hare, all through third party apps.

Need more examples? There are at least two applications that will automatically generate an online newspaper filled with articles that interest me, simply by searching through my Twitter account and seeing who and what I follow and what I find important enough to reTweet. Neither of these apps are written by Twitter, but I simply have to log onto them through Twitter and they are off and running.

How this is magic accomplished? Well, except for the applications themselves, there’s not much new here. Public “Application Programming Interfaces” (API‘s) have been a standard programming technique since at least the early 80s. To calibrate that, the Macintosh computer was introduced in 1984. For PC folks, that was the era of the Intel 386 microprocessor, which ran at a speed of about 33MHz. APIs been around for a long, long time.

OK, enough history, what are these API’s all about?

It’s a pretty simple concept: any system that wants to share data publishes the parameters of a public interface – what calls to make, what parameters to pass in, and which values will be returned.

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