31 Aug, 2022 | 3 min read

How APIs are Aiding the Healthcare Industry in the 21st Century

  • Asanka Abeysinghe
  • CTO - WSO2

Photo by jesse orrico on Unsplash

First published on Electronic Specifier.

Without a doubt, the pandemic has accelerated digital transformation initiatives, and, in our new remote working environment, enterprises are focusing on how they can continue to provide seamless digital experiences to consumers. To achieve this, APIs are widely recognized as the oil that fuels our digital world, and different types of APIs power the digital mesh to which we are now all connected. 

APIs are a Booming Market

Once considered niche, API technology has now become mainstream and is viewed as an integral part of the day-to-day digital landscape. In fact, according to The Forrester Wave: API Management Solutions, Q3 2020 report, “By opening access to digital business capabilities, APIs drive agility to optimize customer experiences, create dynamic digital ecosystems, achieve operational excellence, and build platform business models.”

As a result, APIs are fast becoming the products of the 21st century with integration and security becoming pivotal to having a winning digital transformation strategy. Put simply, APIs perform two valuable activities:

  • They connect customers to your data and services.
  • They simplify that connection process with your business ecosystem.

Today, the API market is booming. For context, analysts at MarketsandMarkets expect the global API management market to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 32.9% to $5.1bn in 2023 from $1.2bn in 2018.

The Growth of APIs in Healthcare

One market where APIs have seen significant growth is in the health and wellness industry. This is where health and wellbeing apps and wearable devices are driving innovation. There are several drivers behind this. The strong move towards healthier lifestyles and the increased use of wearable health trackers has proved to be a major factor. IDC estimates this to be a $50bn industry and that wearables have laid the foundation for the consumer internet of things.

Additionally, the proliferation of smart health trackers, which now total over 2.53 billion digital devices all over the world, makes collecting data easier. There is also a rising obesity crisis, and, since the COVID-19 pandemic, a lot more people have become more aware of their weight and the impact this could have on their health. Likewise, the adoption of health tracking applications fueled by COVID-19 has accelerated the evolution of healthcare ecosystems to provide better and wider access to healthcare.

APIs are also at the heart of efforts by the US Centres for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to give patients ready access to their healthcare information. For healthcare insurance companies and other healthcare payers, this means complying with the Patient Access API and Provider Directory API requirements of the CMS Interoperability and Patient Access Final Rule (CMS-9115-F) no later than July 1, 2021. In order to achieve successful interoperability, healthcare payers and institutions must use APIs - specifically the Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (FIHR) standards - for Electronic Health Records (EHRs) and digital health applications. This whitepaper looks at the CMS rule in detail, who it applies to, and the timelines.

Other drivers are technologies such as Artificial Intelligence (AI). For example, AI detection systems are being used to detect early-stage conditions and translate patient information into diagnostic information, such as diabetes and early cancer detection. Thanks to AI, this is now 30 times faster. At the same time, on-demand healthcare is growing massively with online consultation, reservations, and more. There is also a growing need for increased cross-industry data sharing with correlations. 

For example, you can obtain data from a bank to measure disease outbreaks. So, if 800 people bought cough medicine from pharmacies in a particular town on their bank cards, researchers could measure if there was an outbreak in that area. And finally, improvements in broadband cellular network technologies, such as 5G, stands to further boost API adoption, whereby data transmission will be greatly enhanced (e.g., 5G enables real-time data streams from multiple sources).

How one Healthcare Provider is Utilizing APIs

Global healthcare providers are really utilizing APIs effectively to support their customers. One company in particular uses WSO2 API Manager, WSO2 Identity Server, and the developer portal as standard components in its technology stack. According to the CIO of this organization, these are now indispensable to ongoing development.

This healthcare provider has one of the world’s largest shared value wellness programs, and the company partners with a number of third parties to deliver this global platform. In essence, it is a behavioral change platform, with over 1,395,850 active members in more than 12 countries and operates as a cloud-based solution.

The platform is consumer-facing and provides behavioral change capabilities. It has an app with goal tracking technology, so users are rewarded for maintaining healthy behaviors. This is all done via assessment questionnaires to understand behavior, e.g., how much an individual exercises, drinks, and eats, as well as other health indicators such as blood pressure, whether they have diabetes, and so on. This data is then collated to produce a list of goals, which the platform tracks against, rewarding users for good behavior, creating habitual loops to create healthy habits.

Significant Traction in the Wearables Market

In particular, WSO2 has given the organization a major uplift in the wearables market. That is because APIs are critical to wearable/IoT environments. They enable the transfer of data from wearable devices to online cloud-based accounts for users to immediately review. They also enable the transfer of data to third-party accounts. The healthcare platform reads data from multiple wearable manufacturers to use in its global program, and, thanks to WSO2, this information can be quickly processed by both the healthcare provider as well as other third parties. Currently, 25 million records per day, across 15 countries, are processed through the APIs exposed to the platform. 

The organization’s data exchange can integrate with everyone, anywhere and the concept of federated development enables its partner development teams to work with the organization through the WSO2 developer portal. This drives innovation across the program, with new features and ideas coming into the ecosystem that previously might not have been considered.

APIs are not Only Mainstream, They are Vital for Every Digital Business

As mentioned earlier, COVID-19 has accelerated the take-up of APIs in the healthcare market. That is because APIs enable open and efficient ecosystems with an integrated value chain providing seamless data capture and exchange. However, you need that API backbone to create the ecosystem.

Going forward, if we look at the way platforms are evolving, large companies want ecosystems, and they want an open environment. The way that you achieve this is by making sure you have APIs open to third parties or by leveraging APIs from other third parties to enrich your own. This further demonstrates how mainstream and critical APIs have become not only for our present world but also our future.

WSO2 Open Healthcare connects, translates, validates, secures, and exposes health data. Find out how they helped ZeOmega.