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Navigating through digital disruption in healthcare

Vaishnavi Vijayaram
   

Startups are gaining ground in almost all industries – from insurance and consumer-facing platforms to data analytics and medical software, their presence is known everywhere. But if there’s one industry that’s getting shaken up strongly by startups, it’s healthcare. Globally, healthcare startups have raised over $37.5 billion in the first 9 months of 2019. Now, in the last quarter, Google has acquired Fitbit for $2.1 billion, whose focus is on wellness and helping people live healthier, more active lives.

Why are healthcare startups now more popular than their traditional counterparts? Startups innovate faster. Healthcare startups are metamorphosing the industry from a supply-driven (product-centric) market to a demand-driven (patient-centric) one. Tech’s acceleration into the healthcare industry is increasing every year – till date Apple has bought Gliimpse in 2016, Beddit in 2017, Tueo Health in 2018, Amazon has bought Pillpack in 2018 and this year Google has joined this bandwagon. As part of the company announcement, Google says, ‘By working closely with Fitbit’s team of experts, and bringing together the best AI, software and hardware, we can help spur innovation in wearables and build products to benefit even more people around the world.’

Quartet Health, a tech startup, was founded in 2014 with a goal to bridge the gap between physical and mental healthcare. It operates a cloud-based platform to link patients with healthcare providers. Patients are consistently communicated with and their health monitored so that their conditions improve. Yet another startup, One Medical, was built to make primary care affordable and convenient. The company offers high-end primary care facilities through a mobile app. The app allows access to EHRs, facilitates patient-physician interaction via video chat, electronic messaging, and prescription renewals. The app also cuts the average cost of care for employers by 4.5%.

Traditional healthcare companies fail to come up with rapid innovations and a more ‘patient-centric’ care. This is because innovation within traditional companies is difficult due to silos, legacy, and a rigid organization structure with regulations for almost everything.

Breaking healthcare legacy IT blockers with APIs

Innovation by digital native healthcare startups mostly bank on the power of Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) — a technology that can let traditional healthcare units break out from their legacy trap. With APIs, legacy systems can be reoriented, datasets and functionalities can be defined into composable independent components. These components can then be organized/adapted into new products (microservices) or improved processes that are more efficient. By unlocking trapped data, legacy access is made easy and legacy service disruption minimized.

By exposing the APIs through an interface, the organization can also integrate with multiple 3rd party providers, offering several innovative solutions. All without disrupting existing business processes. Startups are becoming game changers by using APIs that can be easily published using app development platforms like Wavemaker, Outsystem, Mendix, Appian, and Kony, to get rid of inefficient processes due to legacy systems. Here are a few areas in healthcare where APIs are adding immense value.

Customer services

Rigid internal processes prevent traditional healthcare companies from offering better patient experiences. In physician practices, patients have to stand in line, fill up long forms, and repeatedly check-in to make appointments.

APIs can enable products and features to be integrated into useful applications, with seamless transaction capabilities (in-app), so that data exchange becomes easy. This means patients can avail services from the comfort of their homes.

While private practices couldn’t solve the problems that patients predominantly faced, telemedicine and corner pharmacies like Walgreens and CVC handle them easily through APIs.

Walgreens’ pharmacy prescription API allows users of third-party mobile and tablet applications to quickly order refills of prescriptions originally filled at one of the Walgreens pharmacies. Walgreens, along with companies like CVC, now takes away a huge percent of routine office visits and vaccine administration business from private medical practices.

Make data available

Communication is still paper-based in healthcare. In this kind of system, it’s time-consuming, expensive, and cumbersome to get copies of medical records.

Being API-enabled, organizations can ensure that the patients receive data that are most valuable to them (health record, health plans). These kinds of information can be made available on a portal, application or any other software.

An increase in data availability across the healthcare sector, in turn, leads to an increase in collaboration among doctors, patients, insurance companies, and hospitals. Some traditional healthcare systems have leveraged the power of APIs to simplify internal processes and empower patients with information exchange. For example, with Apple’s research kit, an open-source software framework, researchers and developers can create apps to access data on vitals and other measurements gathered via sensors on users’ iPhones.

According to Forbes, Kaiser Permanente, which boasts more than 9 million members, is the first hospital system that allowed public information from its website through API. They transformed their business by moving from SOA to API. Through APIs, they were able to provide access to relevant data. These data were then available to customers and staff members through different portals such as kp.org, flagship mobile app, KP preventive app, video visits, IVR Pharmacy systems.

The innovation edge

Healthcare is a costly affair, with national health expenditures in the United States being around 17.9% of the country’s total GDP (around $3.5 trillion) in 2017. But the digital revolution is predicted to save $300 billion in healthcare spending.

Innovation in healthcare is recombinative in nature. Only here, technologies as diverse as IoT, big data, machine learning, and robotics have as big an impact as bioinformatics and biology. This means it can easily adapt to changes, both internal and external. The changes could be anything: communicating better internally and with patients, integrating with additional services or even providing high-quality security.

Inside story

This case study aims to provide a better understanding of how APIs fit into healthcare and showcase how to tap on the opportunities of API consumption and sharing. A reputed healthcare analytics service provider was looking for ways to optimize their existing system. They had data coming in from various laboratories starting from basic tests that help determine the cause of sickness. But, there were tonnes of unused data generated from routine tests, regular health check-ups, and IoTs. How to leverage such data? They engaged with Imaginea to optimize their existing system of records and improve their turnaround time for genome analysis and connect with third party electronic health records (EHR) to make relevant data available via APIs for internal and external consumption.

The Imaginea approach

Imaginea developed three systems, which eventually write data into a Data Lake on Google Cloud.

    • First, a data pipeline was developed to ingest data from multiple lab instruments and clinical systems, which was based on Kafka and Spring Cloud Data Flow.
    • Second, a platform was developed for designing and developing Bioinformatics pipelines that integrate with the data pipelines to allow for seamless variance computation of DNA sequence files.
    • The third system developed was another platform to integrate with multiple external EHR systems.

Benefits

    • Unified dashboard – perform genome variance analysis based on the data available from multiple systems under a single dashboard. It also allows to check the quality of molecular DNA tests done in labs across multiple locations.
    • Make data available via APIs – offer structured data via APIs to external and internal consumers for features like Continuity of Care Document and Patient Timeline.

Future of API economy

While this is very exciting, it also means that competition can come from unexpected places. Partnering with one company is, therefore, no longer sufficient. To stay relevant among the first generation innovators, organizations have to not only adopt the finest technology out there but also adapt to the change in trends by constantly building innovative solutions or partnering with ones that offer them. Therefore, traditional companies can resort to innovation through collaboration with experienced service providers. Transformative technologies such as APIs can make an organization truly programmable.

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