Application Programming Interfaces (API)

In my June 2016 article on Application Programming Interfaces (API), I defined APIs as specifications that detail how software components should interact, and APIs provide the technology to power graphical user interfaces (GUI).  From a health care organization (HCO), health researcher, or patient perspective an API is the glue that enables one to connect systems and data.

In this article, I'd like to explore the application of an API.  While there are many ways that an API is applicable within a healthcare ecosystem, I'd like to explore the relationship between an API and the Internet of things (IOT).  A recent HIMSS article defined IOT as the availability of  “real-time (data) visibility and intelligence into patient records, specimens, medications, supply inventories, etc.”(@HIMSS, 2015).  IOT can represent data streams or physical devices.  Some current examples of physical IOT devices include; Smart outlets, physical fitness monitors, medication monitors, and vital sign monitors.  The key ingredient to making any of these data streams or devices work is the ability to transfer data from the instrument to a business system that analyzes the data.  Figure 1 illustrates a notional IOT ecosystem (Hossain & Muhammad, 2016).   Observe that each element of the ecosystem interacts with central business systems.  The interaction between the IOT device and the enterprise system is supported (in many cases) by an API.

The API supports the need for the IOT device and its’ connected network to communicate together so that “IOT devices (instruments and sensors), and people function together as one smart system to monitor, track, and store patients' healthcare information for ongoing care.”(Hossain & Muhammad, 2016)

As IOT devices emerge (along with supporting APIs) one of the most significant capabilities that is developing includes improved patient engagement.  IOT devices are used to improve patient and provider communication, they are used to monitor and transmit vital signs more efficiently, they are used to deploy staff more efficiently, and they are used to support telemedicine encounters.

With these many positive capabilities, why should one take a pause or at least apply caution before developing and IOT device and associated API?  The first reason is that academic and industry research are not yet sufficiently supportive of IOT devices.  To find support for my argument, one only needs to look at the fact that both Google and Microsoft have adopted a wait and see approach regarding how to invest in health IOT.  Another issue is the consideration of security.  IOT devices (because they transfer patient data) are highly desirable to hacking and data loss.  Finally, the issue of scalability needs to be fully considered.  If one is going to develop an IOT device for use in fitness or vital sign monitoring the ability to capture, stream, and manage large amounts of data is critical.  Building this secure and available infrastructure is an endeavor that must be thoroughly investigated before the final IOT decision.



@HIMSS. (2015). 3 Ways the Internet of Things Is Improving Healthcare. Retrieved from http://www.himss.org/news/3-ways-internet-things-improving-healthcare

Hossain, M. S., & Muhammad, G. (2016). Cloud-assisted Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) - Enabled framework for health monitoring. Computer Networks, 101, 192-202. doi:10.1016/j.comnet.2016.01.009

Mathews, M. (2015). patient education « Healthcare Intelligence Network. Healthcare Intelligence Network. Retrieved from http://hin.com/blog/tag/patient-education/


About the Author

Stuart Rabinowitz is the Director of Federal Health Data and Informatics programs within IMS Government Solutions.  IMS is a global healthcare company delivering health data analytics and market intelligence, policy analysis, healthcare IT system development and management, and healthcare economic and outcomes research analysis to public and private organizations. Stuart holds an undergraduate degree from Temple University, an MBA from Lehigh University, and a Master’s of Science in Health Informatics from the University of Illinois at Chicago.