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Why being open is critical to the future of health IT and patient health

Erik Kins, Chief Innovation Officer, Allscripts

Healthcare IT is really a team sport; it’s a collective effort and everyone has a role to play. But that can happen only on an open playing field. There has been much discussion lately on the importance of being open to advance health IT. Open is not just about technology. It’s also a philosophy – to have a culture committed to sharing for a common benefit. Achieving the Triple Aim – higher quality, lower costs and better outcomes – is possible only with strong, open health IT platforms.

Let’s define what an open approach actually means. Companies adopting an open approach facilitate the exchange of information between programs, making it easier for their software to talk to other developers’ software. When we say a platform is open, it means it offers a rich, comprehensive set of web services to reach deeply into the underlying system. Open platforms enable systems to be connected more tightly than ever before by exchanging data in relevant snippets and building truly cooperative solutions.

A key component of this philosophy is an open Application Programming Interface (API). APIs are sets of tools and specifications that describe how software should interact. The concept of APIs is not new, but having fully supported APIs is not widespread in health IT today. Fully supported APIs come with updated documentation, sandbox environments, sample code, training classes, workshops and live resources to help navigate the process. They improve collaboration with the electronic health record (EHR) vendor and require less customization. APIs also tend to be more accessible, easier to use and a lower cost option when compared with other integration options.

When we talk high level about the open philosophy and what it takes to be an open platform, sometimes it’s hard to realize the effect it can have on the lives of physicians and patients. But it is critical that the health IT industry works together on an open approach that can help improve care delivery in several ways, including offering new patient engagement options and accelerating innovation.

Offer more options for patients to engage in their own care

As consumers become central to new healthcare delivery models, technology is evolving to meet the changing needs of patient-provider relationships. Patients who engage in their health care tend to be healthier, and engagement tools such as a patient portal are essential for many providers and patients today.

Patient portals are online websites that provide patients access to their health data and connect to the organization’s EHR. Patients are usually able to access information about recent doctor visits, discharge summaries, medications, immunizations, allergies and lab results. Some portals also enable patients to securely message their health care teams, request prescription refills, and check benefits and coverage.

An open approach will expand these opportunities for patients beyond the physician-provider portal. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid’s Meaningful Use Stage 3 program requires healthcare providers to have at least one application that enables patients to access their health information via an API from the organization’s EHR.

This regulation enables patients to have more flexibility and, as a result, patients can expect more options in direct-to-consumer applications, especially Personal Health Record (PHR) applications. Apple’s App Store currently lists more than 65 PHRs from third-party developers and that number is sure to rise in the wake of these requirements. Patients will be able to use portals offered by providers or select the PHR that works best for them.

Accelerate innovation with faster, simpler integration of third-party solutions

At the Allscripts Client Experience (ACE) 2016 conference held in August, we activated about a dozen applications for our clients during the event – in fact, one installation took less than an hour from purchase to go-live. One client learned about the application in an education session and visited our booth afterwards to learn more. With help from our developer program station, the client activated the application on its production server, all within one hour.
Another client, Navin Jain, chief information officer and director of billing services at Cookeville Medical Center (Cookeville, Tennessee), installed one of our certified third-party apps at ACE. He had seen information for QueueDr, an application that texts patients to fill cancelled appointments. It only took Cookeville Medical 46 minutes to get connected to QueueDr, and it’s already saving time and reducing costs.

Cookeville Medical has had an open platform for 18 years and, because of that, the organization has better integration with other third-party developers. It’s a lot more agile, they can literally get things going in a few days. Having an open technology platform not only makes it faster and easier to integrate, it makes Cookeville Medical’s EHR more comprehensive. The organization has exchanged data using Allscripts Open APIs with third-party apps more than 1.2 million times since February 2013.

It is critical for the future of health IT and our patients that our industry is played as a team sport on an open playing field. An open approach enables healthcare providers to take advantage of breakthrough technologies and improve healthcare delivery. Collaboration is the only way to accelerate solving problems – and an open platform enables the brightest minds from all corners of the industry to work together.