Imagine if you couldn’t access money from ATM machines when travelling overseas; couldn’t send text messages to friends on a different mobile network; and didn’t have any apps on your smartphone.

Your life would be very different, right? None of these are possible without agreed ways for systems to talk to each other.  This includes how data is represented, what communication protocols are used, and how access to data is controlled.

APIs have been embraced by many industries as the way to provide easy access to data and capabilities in well understood and agreed ways. Now imagine how different (and better) your life might be if healthcare, as an industry, caught up to other industries in terms of technical advancement. APIs in healthcare could achieve many things – including facilitating a seamlessly integrated healthcare system. 

Take this example. A friend of mine was recently undergoing aggressive radiotherapy and chemotherapy for a malignant (but curable) tumour and had to chronicle every day in a paper folder (her “little green book”). In this book she recorded how she was feeling, numerous quantities of medication taken, and side effects felt. This information stayed in ink and was only shared with her treatment nurse when she went into the cancer centre. It was not transcribed or shared in real-time at any point. She took this book (and a huge wad of other papers, files and notes) to each appointment with her different specialists in a bag and had to go over everything, sifting through papers, each visit. Fortunately, she had a family member caring for her who helped her navigate her bag of notes and her medication requirements (not easy for a sober person, let alone someone ingesting morphine and other medications).

Imagine if my friend had had access to an app where she could have received notifications and alerts to remind her to take which medication at which time; where she could have logged how she was feeling each day and any unusual symptoms; where she could have securely communicated with her circle of care to ask questions without having to phone and leave messages and wait for hours for a response; where she could have indicated that she was feeling slightly drowsier than usual one day; where an alert in real-time to her oncologist might have led to a phone call and assessment that might have prevented her dying, within a matter of hours at home, from an acute pneumonia. 

It is not just possible – but definite – that APIs that access health data and enable the sharing of this data across an entire circle of care and multidisciplinary care team will improve healthcare outcomes and patient experiences.