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Imagine having the ability to detect cancerous tissue within 10 seconds via a pen-shaped device, or the ability to receive an organ donation on-demand via a 3D printer. These scenarios are becoming a reality, as the frontend of healthcare technology brims with possibility.

However, a dichotomy exists in the healthcare industry. Hidden below the surface of incredible medical advances is a disarray of legacy backend systems and paper-based records that are siloing patient data and negatively impacting care. According to a Johns Hopkins study, medical errors are the third-leading cause of death in the United States. Errors range from mix-ups with medication doses to missing information during patient handoffs in the emergency room.

In the age of robotic surgery, artificial embryos and regenerative nanodevices, hospitals should no longer be relying on paper-based records and disconnected medical systems. Patients today expect complete and personalized experiences, making it frustrating—and at times life threatening—when medical history gaps exist, or repetitive paperwork is required at each hospital visit. According to the recent Consumer Connectivity Insights Report, only 42 percent of consumers believe healthcare providers are currently making effective use of the data available to them to deliver better care.

There is a clear and critical need for IT to reshape patient care by putting the connectivity fabric in place to achieve 360-degree patient views. This requires connecting systems within hospitals, between hospitals, as well as securely enabling connectivity with external third-party applications, devices and services. Think of a traveling patient requiring follow up care in different hospitals, or a diabetic patient wanting to share insulin data from a Continuous Glucose Monitoring (CGM) transmitter. Having a 360-degree view of the patient can mean the difference between life and death, and healthcare IT has the tools—and more importantly the methods—to start breaking down data silos in order to better connect the healthcare ecosystem.

Ineffective data sharing hinders patient care

The proliferation of electronic health records (EHRs), medical devices, mobile health applications and wearable devices has led to an explosion of medical data. Ingesting this data, analyzing it and exposing it to relevant stakeholders has proved to be a massive challenge. For starters, health data is particularly difficult to work with, where clinical systems—such as EHRs and LIMSs—are notorious for being closed off. In addition, the HL7 health data standard is still too complicated and cumbersome for developing innovations on top of these systems, as it’s not natively supported by many end-user consuming applications.

Further adding to the complexity of the healthcare ecosystem are the privacy and security concerns held by many healthcare organizations and patients. In today’s breach landscape, it can be particularly worrisome to share information that could contain personal, financial or medical data. These obstacles, among others, have stymied historical attempts at creating healthcare data interoperability. However, there is a secure and reliable way to navigate these murky waters.

The power of connectivity in healthcare

The easiest way to build a complete 360-degree view of the patient is by providing a method for various systems, applications and devices to talk to each other and share data in real time, regardless of format or source. Enter the modern API.

The magic of modern APIs, or application programming interfaces, is they can enable controlled and secured access to a defined scope of data regardless of where it resides—on-premises, in the cloud or in hybrid environments. The APIs can be developed to play a set role, from exposing specific legacy system data to orchestrating data together from multiple systems to sending orchestrated data up to a mobile app. Leveraged in this way, APIs can be treated as products instead of code: products that provide consistent, secured and managed access to data and capabilities. As a result, they can be secured at the point of design.

One of the oldest integrated healthcare systems in the United States, for example, is using an API strategy to improve the patient experience and streamline how doctors provide care within and outside of the clinic. Finding that doctors often had to sift through an average of five applications to get a comprehensive view of a patient’s medical record, Mount Sinai decided to address the lack of data interoperability and eliminate data silos.

As a result, Mount Sinai’s IT team built an application network of APIs to expose data from its various systems, applications and devices and making those APIs pluggable and reusable—as if each were products. The hospital system now shares data through these productized APIs with hundreds of community care organizations and healthcare providers across New York City. Mount Sinai was able to provide a single patient view in real time and improve coordination between physicians, caseworkers and community care providers. (Disclosure: Mount Sinai is a customer of my employer, MuleSoft.)

The way forward

The world of healthcare is complex and is only growing more complicated every day. In the near future, healthcare IT teams will have a whole swath of new technologies to integrate with. For example, Gartner predicts that 40 percent of U.S. primary care visits will be virtual by 2018. Therefore, it’s imperative IT teams implement agile approaches now that will future-proof their organizations in the years to come as the healthcare ecosystem continues to evolve.

Do you agree? Is connectivity one of the next big frontiers in healthcare?

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