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APIs Need Increased Standardization, Tools to Lift Data Research

The ONC final interoperability rule should trigger API utilization and standardization.

Current application programming interfaces (APIs) need increased standardization and tools to expand use in research and data extraction, according to the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT (ONC) Researcher Perspectives on APIs report

Specifically, ONC said there needs to be more standardization and improved tools for configuring, extracting, and mapping data across separate healthcare organizations. Researchers also need to be more aware of and educated about Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (FHIR) and FHIR Bulk Data Access APIs to utilize full API potential, ONC recommended.

While the ONC final interoperability rule eradicates information blocking, it also calls on medical providers and device developers to promote patient data access using third-party apps and APIs. Once APIs are more prevalent, their research utilization should expand.

“The data sources that exist to inform clinical and biomedical research are more diverse than ever, drawing from electronic health records (EHRs), genomic tests, recordings from wearable devices, and patient surveys, to name a few,” ONC wrote. “The insights that can be drawn from these require effective data collection, aggregation, and sharing in addition to health IT infrastructure capable of supporting research goals.” 

In order to meet some of these requirements, ONC said it is focused on accelerating a standardized API ecosystem. To put its finger on the pulse of the API ecosystem, ONC polled nine healthcare organizations involved in biomedical, clinical, informatics, and pharmacological research.

Surveyed stakeholders recommended an increase in standardization and improved mapping, configuration, and extract, transform, and load (ETL) tools for research data across separate healthcare organizations.

Next, the respondents said they want to leverage standardized APIs for clinical and biomedical informatics research, especially for larger-scale studies. The stakeholders also recommended an increase in FHIR and FHIR Bulk Data Access API education for researchers to leverage increased API use for research.

The stakeholders also recommended accelerated examples of FHIR Bulk Data Access API for research, although the development efforts show potential.

However, the respondents expressed concern over privacy and security measures to increase API and app adoption in healthcare.

“The discussions explored the utility and prevalence of using standardized APIs, such as the FHIR and FHIR Bulk Data Access APIs, for research to enable scientific discovery, and gathered perspectives from stakeholder representatives in the research community actively working on various initiatives in biomedical and clinical informatics, clinical trials, and other types of health research,” ONC explained.

Furthermore, the findings established a baseline of current API research success and identified potential challenges and opportunities for health IT professionals to develop standardized APIs and apps in the future. The results also showed potential examples of surfacing APIs and apps that current researchers are utilizing.

“The open-ended nature of the discussions facilitated gathering valuable individual insights that may or may not be able to be aggregated and synthesized across stakeholder groups,” ONC wrote.

“Discussions identified potential areas for ONC to consider for future funding of studies, pilots, or policy development. Discussion participants varied in their insights into the broader goals of ONC and national priorities for research. Their viewpoints tended towards narrow focus on how their organizations use health IT data and APIs,” ONC added.

Overall, ONC said respondents’ priorities and needs reflect the ONC final interoperability rule's vision.  

Although ONC gathered key data, the organization said the report and results were limited due to a small sample size of respondents and a limited type of healthcare stakeholders.

“While this report details findings geared towards health research, the results can support efforts aimed at accelerating the use of standardized APIs and apps for other important use cases in public health, disease registries, pharmacovigilance, and biosurveillance,” ONC concluded.

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