Telehealth APIs: Building Tools for Remote Medical Care
The growth in demand for virtual care during the COVID-19 pandemic propelled the popularity of telehealth software. Today, its convenience is recognized by most patients, with 83 percent of them willing to take advantage of remote medical services even after the outbreak is over.
This trend motivates healthcare providers to invest in telehealth solutions. Using APIs, they can cut down on expenses and reduce development time from years and months to a few weeks.
How APIs facilitate telehealth services
Telehealth is primarily associated with video doctor visits and often used interchangeably with telemedicine. In fact, it covers a broad range of remote care services and related activities including:
- provider-to-provider and provider-to-patient transmission of patient data (so-called asynchronous or store-and-forward interactions);
- real-time virtual appointments via video, voice, or text chats;
- visit scheduling;
- remote patient monitoring;
- lab test ordering;
- e-prescribing and prescription refills;
- billing; and
- patient engagement.
These services are delivered via mobile health apps, patient web-portals, push notifications, and reminders. Healthcare providers, on their side, use existing hospital systems augmented with telehealth functionality.
APIs for telehealth software.
Application programming interfaces or APIs for short have become an essential — though, invisible — part of telehealth. They enable interoperability or smooth data exchange between health systems and create fertile ground for telehealth app development as they
- give access to a range of services that can be implemented into software within a few days or weeks;
- connect to different types of clinical data, including signals from wearables and IoT devices;
- support a common “language” of machine-to-machine communication. Most health APIs have REST design, use a request-response HTTP protocol, and represent data in JSON (or less often in XMS) formats;
- sometimes (though still not always) add an FHIR layer on top of REST, which is to become the number one standard for data transmission in healthcare; and
- as a rule, take care of authentication and HIPAA / GDPR compliance.
In our previous articles, we’ve described some most wanted types of APIs that among other things can be useful for building end-to-end telehealth solutions. Follow the links below for more information.
Medicine and drug data APIs connect health systems and apps to publicly available FDA data, descriptions of drugs and supplements, pharmaceutical knowledge bases, standard terminology, and more.
Symptom checker APIs integrated with triage tools, health apps, chatbots, or decision support software help discover possible causes of conditions, keeping patients better informed and easing the burden on physicians.
Drug interaction checker APIs reduce the number of prescription errors and improve efficiency of treatment. The functionality can be embedded in EHR systems, computerized physician order entry (CPOE) systems, or patient-facing apps.
Health data APIs give access to different types of medical content — such as patient medical records, data from wearables, public health recommendations, statistics, and information on clinical trials. The article also covers healthcare APIs from Amazon, Microsoft, and Google that offer different data management capabilities including
- extraction of clinical concepts from unstructured texts,
- removing protected health information (PHI) to comply with HIPAA rules,
- transforming files into FHIR format,
- creating rich datasets, and
- applying business intelligence tools to draw insights from data.
In this article, we’ll focus on APIs that allow you to add telehealth functionality to your working system, access necessary data, or build doctor and patient apps for remote care.
DrChrono API: the pioneer EHR system with telehealth features
An official Apple Mobility Partner for healthcare, DrChrono is renowned for creating the first EHR apps with telehealth functionality for iPad and iPhone. Currently, the company provides a free REST API to build custom solutions on its platform. Among other things, the API enables users of third-party mobile apps to:
- create, modify, retrieve, and delete appointments and appointment profiles in a doctor’s calendar;
- retrieve patient vitals, demographics, allergies, medications, diseases, procedures, prescription messages, insurance plan name and transactions, and billing profile;
- create and retrieve vaccine records and lab orders; and
- create, modify, retrieve, or delete documents associated with patients (consent forms, payments, messages, and more).
In 2021, DrChrono also launched a FHIR API that works as a standard for transmitting patient information. Currently, it is used to transmit patient records accumulated on the platform to Apple Health, the iPhone-based healthcare app created in 2018.
Target users: Small clinics, ambulatory care facilities, and private practices.
What can you build with the API? Patient apps, doctor-facing scheduling tools, lab order management apps.
Health Gorilla APIs: a 360-degree view of the patient
Health Gorilla fuels clinical data exchange with a suite of FHIR-based APIs that give instant access to a vast network of EHR systems and diagnostic labs. The company provides a sandbox where developers can create and test apps and integrations. Namely, they may design new healthcare products tapping into
- Patient360 API to pull medical records from nearly 65,000 care sites across the US. Health Gorilla uses an AI engine that matches clinical documents and allows care providers to easily aggregate a medical history for a particular patient in one place;
- Diagnostic Network API to submit test orders and receive results from over 100 labs. This includes ordering COVID-19 testing from Labcorp and Quest Diagnostics;
- eFax API to electronically exchange fax documents;
- Natural Language Processing API to extract meaningful information from unstructured text and image files;
- Identity Verification API to authenticate identities of care providers and patients using knowledge-based questions; and
- FHIR Store API to manage clinical data in a FHIR database.
It’s worth noting that Health Gorilla provides access to huge volumes of quality medical data that facilitates building analytics tools for better care and risk assessment.
Target users: Hospitals and other healthcare facilities, laboratories, health insurance companies.
What can you build with the API? Lab ordering and other data exchange modules for existing systems, CPOE software, patient health apps, risk management tools.
Validic API: aggregating data from wearables for monitoring conditions
The Validic API offers a standardized, one-to-many connection between a healthcare provider on one side and more than 200 mHealth apps and devices on the other side. The API returns the following types of patient health data:
- fitness records with such parameters as the type of activity, intensity, duration, time, distance, calories burned etc.;
- routine, or data on activities that happen throughout the day;
- nutrition information (daily intake of calories, carbohydrates, protein, fat, fiber, water, and so on );
- sleep measurements;
- weight measurements;
- diabetes measurements including blood glucose and hormone levels; and
- biometrics such as blood pressure, cholesterol level, or heart rate.
Validic one-to-many API connection. Source: HIT Consultant
Once an app or wearable owner generates a new event (for example, a fitness record), the data is de-identified, transformed into a predictable data model and delivered to a target system, portal or application. The end users may retrieve up to 30 days of data.
With all metrics in hand, healthcare businesses can better understand conditions of their patients, prevent adverse events, develop better diet and treatment plans, and manage chronic diseases more effectively.
Target users: healthcare providers, pharmaceutical companies, wellness businesses, health plans.
What can you build with the API? Patient engagement solutions, remote patient monitoring features for existing clinical systems, risk assessment tools.
Bluestream API: embedding virtual visits into existing systems
Bluestream Health is a growing telehealth platform that connects patients with over 500 healthcare facilities. It allows hospitals to adopt virtual care by connecting their existing applications with the Bluestream API. This way, they get access to an end-to-end HIPAA-compliant solution that enables
- secure video visits,
- virtual sessions scheduling,
- monitoring and managing calls in the queue, and
- real-time activity tracking for billing and reporting.
The deployment of functionality takes two to four weeks — depending on the number of features a hospital wants to implement. In any case, you need experienced software engineers on your side to integrate with the API.
Target users: health systems and clinics of any size.
What can you build with the API? Augmented functionality for existing software to run online video appointments.
MyTelemedicine API: multi-party video sessions, vital signs tracking, and more
Built in the IBM Cloud, MyTelemedicine platform leverages powerful APIs that can be integrated with most EHR systems, mobile apps, IoT devices, and wearables within a couple of weeks.
The core offering of the tech provider is secure, HIPAA-compliant video visits to treat patients online or by phone. Besides that, MyTelemedicine API enables
- multi-party sessions between three or more participants. Patients or care providers can invite consultants, caregivers or family members;
- updating critical pieces of medical records like allergies or current medications;
- e-prescribing; and
- support to over 200 medical devices to capture 10 key vital signs. This allows you to expand telemedicine services and run remote patient monitoring without investing in equipment.
Target users: providers of healthcare services including urgent, primary, and pediatric care; chronic disease and behavioral health management; wellness companies; telemedicine systems.
What can you build with the API? Video visit features for existing EHR and practice management systems, patient scheduling applications, wellness mobile apps, virtual care, and remote patient monitoring platforms.
Appointment schedule by MyTelemedicine API.
HealthTap APIs: mix of real-time chats, Big Data analytics, and prepared answers from doctors
A virtual healthcare provider, HealthTap comes with a suite of microservices available via APIs. Developers may mix them in any combination to augment EHR or other systems or build end-to-end apps for different use cases. To be more specific, HealthTap APIs give access to
- cross-platform telemedicine with text, voice, and video chats, and the ability to invite multiple participants during a session;
- patient data from EHR systems, apps, wearables, and IoT devices;
- Big Data analytics;
- the world’s largest searchable library of questions answered by doctors; and
- clinical CRM with automated reminders and follow-up capabilities.
Target users: hospitals and health systems, labs, health plans, pharmacies.
What can you build with the API? Telemedicine platforms and apps, integrations with EHR systems, labs, and pharmacies, remote patient monitoring solutions, analytics dashboards, patient engagement apps with doctor answers.
Truepill APIs: access to pharmacies and prescription delivery
Owning six pharma distribution centers, Truepill concentrates on medication fulfillment and delivery services across the US. By connecting to their API platform, pharmacies, health brands, and other companies may ship pills directly to a patient’s doorstep within hours.
Truepill also offers a separate telehealth API that enables video chatting between patients and a team of over 9,000 third-party physicians who can write and send prescriptions.
Target users: pharmacies, telemedicine companies, direct-to-consumer healthcare providers.
What can you build with the API? Telemedicine platforms, pharmacy management systems, and marketplaces for health brands.
Eligible API: simplifying medical billing
Eligible API connects health apps and systems with more than 90 percent of insurance plans in the US. It enables developers to add a health insurance claim form (CMS 1500) to existing software with a few lines of code. The API also streamlines such processes as checking insurance eligibility, submitting claims, and tracking payments.
Target users: Healthcare providers of all sizes, health app developers.
What can you build with the API? Medical billing software, billing modules for EHR, practice management, and telemedicine systems, healthcare payment apps.
Major concerns to be addressed
APIs enable software engineers to build new products against ready-to-use features and pre-processed data. At the same time, the explosion in API integrations creates new challenges to be addressed.
Complex API landscape
The more external services or data sources your system or app connects to, the more APIs it uses. This leads to the growing complexity of control over their work. Besides tracking every single instance, you must monitor how all APIs co-exist in the landscape.
Available solutions. If your system heavily relies on numerous third-party services, use special API monitoring software that will notify your tech team on performance issues and identify their roots. There are no healthcare-specific solutions for checking API health, so you can try one of the popular tools — such as APImetrics.io or API Fortress.
Lack of standardization
FHIR API is declared to be a new standard for healthcare information exchange. However, currently, its adoption is mandatory only for health plans and hospitals that must share patient data under interoperability rules. Other types of diverse healthcare information are far from being normalized. Data is often unstructured and lacks details to be understandable to other systems.
Available solutions. Some API providers including Google and Amazon offer powerful mapping tools to convert data to a FHIR standard. However, in most cases developers have to create custom data transformations.
Sensitive data leaks
Despite all precautions taken by API providers, security specialists find healthcare apps and APIs relatively easy to hack. Meanwhile, Gartner predicts that by 2022 APIs will become the most frequent goal of hacker attacks.
Available solutions. Experts recommend using tools such as APIsec to perform automated penetration testing and detect critical vulnerabilities before releasing apps in production. The problem may be partially solved with Google Consent Management API. The tech giant made it publicly available in March 2021 as a part of their Cloud Healthcare API. The solution aims at getting consent from patients before accessing their health data via devices.