Traditional RESTful APIs Will Not Solve Healthcare’s Biggest Interoperability Problems

Traditional RESTful APIs Will Not Solve Healthcare's Biggest Interoperability Problems
Brian Platz, Co-CEO and Co-Chairman of Fluree

Interoperability is a big discussion in health care, with
new regulations requiring interoperability for patient data. Most approaches
follow the typical RESTful API approach that has become the standard method for
data exchange. Yet Health Level Seven (HL7), with its new Fast Healthcare Interoperability
Resources (FHIR) standard for the electronic transfer of health data, is
leading to a rash of implementations that, to date, are not solving core interoperability
issues. 

Data is still insecure, users can’t govern their own health
records, and the need for multiple APIs for different participants with
different rights (human and machine) in the network is adding unneeded
expenditures to an already burdened healthcare system. The way out is not to
add more middleware, but to upgrade the basic tools of interoperability in a
way that finally brings healthcare
technology
into the 21st century.  

A Timely Policy 

Doctors, hospitals, pharmacists, insurance providers,
outpatient treatment centers, labs and billing companies are just a few of the
parties that comprise the overcomplicated U.S. healthcare system. 

In digitizing medical files, as required by the 2009 Health
Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act, providers
have adopted whatever solution was most convenient. This has led to the mess of
interoperability
issues that HL7 seeks to remedy with FHIR. 

Existing Electronic Medical Records
(EMR)
systems do not easily share data. Best case, patients have to sign
off to share data with two incompatible systems. Worst case, information must
be turned into a physical CD or document to follow the patient between
providers. Data security is also notoriously poor. Hackers prioritized the healthcare sector as their main target in 2019; breach
costs exceeded $17.7 billion.

The New Infrastructure Rush

When common formats, by way of FHIR and HL7, provided
standards and solutions to empower global health data interoperability, the
industry erupted into a flurry of activity. Thousands of healthcare databases
are now being draped in virtual construction tarps and surrounded by digital
scaffolding. 

Building a new, interoperable data ontology for the entire
healthcare system is a massive undertaking. For one, 80% of hospital data is
managed using the cryptic, machine-language HL7 Version 2. Most of the rest
uses the inefficient, dated XML data format. HL7 FHIR promotes the use of more
modern data syntaxes, like JSON and RDF (Turtle). 

Secondly, databases have no notion of the new FHIR schema.
Armies of developers must build frameworks and middleware to facilitate interoperability.
This is why Big Tech incumbents including Google Cloud Healthcare, Amazon AWS
and Microsoft for Healthcare are jumping into the fray with their own
solutions. 

The outcome, once HL7’s 22 resources are fully normative, will
be seamless information sharing, electronic notifications, and collaboration
between every player in the giant web of patients, providers, labs, and
middlemen. But it will come at a steep cost in the current traditionally RESTful
API-based manner that is being broadly pursued. 

The Problem with APIs

The new scaffolding is expensive, takes data control away
from patients, and is not inherently secure. The number of unique APIs required
to support the access, rights and disparate user base in the healthcare network
are the reason. 

Interoperability requires a common syntax and “language” to
enable databases to talk to each other. The average traditional API costs up to
$30,000 to build, plus half that cost to manage annually. That is not to
mention the cost to integrate and secure each API. A small healthcare
organization with only 10 APIs faces costs of $450,000 annually for basic API
services. 

When you consider that most big healthcare organizations will
need to connect thousands of APIs, HL7’s interoperability schema really is the
best way forward. The traditional API tooling to manage the interoperability of
the well-framed data structures, however, is the problem. 

Moreover, the patient, the rightful owner of their own
health record, still doesn’t have the ability to govern their own data. Because
change only happens in the database itself, the manager of the database, not
the patient, controls the data within. 

In the best case, this puts an additional burden on patients
to give explicit permission every time health records move between providers.
In the worst case, a provider sees an entire medical history without a
patient’s consent–your podiatrist seeing your psychiatric records, for
example.

Finally, each API enables one data store to talk to the
next, opening opportunities for bad actors to make changes to databases from
the outside. The firewalls that protect databases and networks are penetrable,
and user profiles are sometimes created outside of the database itself, making
it possible to expose, steal and change data from outside the database. 

In that light, HL7 is paving the wrong road with good
intentions. But there is another way. 

Semantic Standards and Blockchain to the Rescue

If you eliminate data APIs, secure interoperability, with
data governance fully in the hands of the patient, becomes possible. Healthcare
data silos will be replaced with a dynamic, trusted and shared data network
with privacy and security directly baked in. The solution involves adding
semantic standards for full interoperability, blockchain for data governance
and data-centric security. 

Semantic standards, such as RDF formatting and SPARQL
queries, let users quickly and easily gain answers from multiple databases and
other data stores at once. Relational databases, the ones currently in use in healthcare,
are all formatted differently, and need API middleware to talk to one another.
Accurate answers are not guaranteed. Semantic standards, on the other hand,
create a common language between all databases. Instead of untangling the
mismatched definitions and formatting inevitable with relational databases,
doctors’ offices, for example, could easily pull in pertinent patient records,
insurance coverage, and the latest research on diseases.

Patients, for their part, would use blockchain to regain control
of their data. Patients would be able to turn on aspects of their data to
specific caregivers, instead of relinquishing control to database business
managers, as is currently the case. Your podiatrist, in other words, will not
be able to see your psychiatric records unless you choose to share them. 

The data ledger, which lives on the blockchain, will contain
instructions as to who can update (writer new records on) the ledger, who can
read it, and who can make changes. All changes are controlled by private-key
encryption that is in the hands of the patient; only those with authorization
can see select histories of health data (or, as in the case of an ER doctor,
entire histories, with permission). 

Data security is controlled in the data layer itself,
instead of through middleware such as a firewall. Data can be shared without
API, thanks to those semantic standards, and data are natively embedded with
security in the blockchain. Compliance, governance, security and data
management all become easier. Data cannot be stolen or manipulated by an
outside party, the way it commonly is by healthcare hackers today. 

The interoperability conundrum, in other words, is solved.
Fewer APIs means fewer security vulnerabilities; a common, semantic standard
eliminates confusion and minimizes mistakes. Blockchain puts patients in
control of who sees what parts of their health records. Eliminating the need
for API middleware also saves tens of thousands of dollars, at a minimum.


About Brian Platz 

Brian is the Co-CEO and Co-Chairman of Fluree, PBC, a decentralized app platform that aims to remodel how business applications are built. Before establishing Fluree, Brian was the co-founder of SilkRoad technology which expanded to over 2,000 customers and 500 employees in 12 international offices.


M&A: TigerConnect Acquires Hospital Middleware Solution Critical Alert

M&A: TigerConnect Acquires Hospital Middleware Solution Critical Alert

What You Should Know:

– TigerConnect has announced an expansion in their suite
through the acquisition of Critical Alert, a leading provider of
enterprise-grade middleware for hospitals and health systems.

– For the hundreds of thousands of nurses that currently
use TigerConnect, these new capabilities will deliver real-time, contextual
information to their mobile device or desktop to allow them to work smarter,
prioritize responses, and efficiently coordinate care, all within the same
reliable TigerConnect platform they use every day for enterprise messaging.


 TigerConnect®,
a care team collaboration solution, today announced the acquisition
of Critical Alert, a Jacksonville,
FL-based leading provider of enterprise-grade middleware for hospitals and
health systems. Critical Alert’s product suite consists of a middleware suite
of products as well as traditional nurse call hardware servicing over 200
hospitals in North America. Financial details of the acquisition were not
disclosed.

Real-Time Care Team Collaboration for Hospitals

Founded in 1983, Cloud-native and mobile-first, Critical
Alert’s middleware solution enables any health system to combine nurse call,
alarm and event management, medical device interoperability, and clinical
workflow analytics.  TigerConnect will integrate Critical
Alert’s middleware stack into its platform to power a wide range of alert types
and alarm management enhancements for TigerConnect’s customers. Critical
Alert’s Nurse Call hardware business will continue to operate under its
namesake as a standalone business unit.  

When combined with Critical Alert’s middleware, TigerConnect dramatically
enhances the value proposition to nursing, IT leadership, and end-users. This ‘dream
suite’ of capabilities comes at a time when nurse burnout is at a record high
and chronic nurse shortages are severely challenging organizations’ ability to
deliver the best quality care.

“We see the Critical Alert acquisition as highly strategic and
a natural evolution of our already-robust collaboration
platform,” said Brad Brooks, CEO and co-founder of TigerConnect. “For the
hundreds of thousands of nurses that currently use TigerConnect, these new
capabilities will deliver real-time, contextual information to their mobile
device or desktop to allow them to work smarter, prioritize responses, and
efficiently coordinate care, all within the same reliable TigerConnect platform
they use every day for enterprise messaging.”

Post-Acquisition Plans

Joining TigerConnect is Critical Alert CEO John
Elms, who will assume the role as TigerConnect Chief Product Officer,
guiding the integration of the two companies’ technologies and leading the
development of all future product offerings. Wil Lukens, currently VP of Sales
for Critical Alert, will assume the role of General Manager of Critical Alert’s
traditional Nurse Call hardware unit. 

“The timing of the deal and the fit of these two companies aligned perfectly,” said John Elms, CEO of Critical Alert. “Two best-in-class, highly complementary solutions coming together to solve some of the chronic challenges—alarm fatigue, response prioritization, resource optimization—that have driven nurse teams to the brink. Together, these unified technologies will make care professionals’ lives easier, not harder, and I couldn’t be more excited to lead the TigerConnect product organization into this next chapter.”

Critical Alert Integration with TigerConnect Plans

TigerConnect’s robust product suite, which includes care
team collaboration (TigerFlow®), on-call scheduling (TigerSchedule®), virtual
care/telemedicine (TigerTouch®), and now virtualized nurse call and
alerts/alarm management (Critical Alert middleware), will help transform
hospitals and healthcare organizations into the real-time health systems of the
future. 

Hardware-free Middleware Forms the Foundation

With a shared cloud-native approach, Critical Alert’s
advanced middleware seamlessly fuses TigerConnect’s care team
collaboration with alarm management and event notifications. Deep
enterprise-level integrations with hospital systems enable the centralization
of clinical workflow management and real-time analytics. Integrating these
systems will have a sizable impact on customer organizations’ productivity and
patient care.

Next Generation Nurse Call

Critical Alert’s nurse call solution brings a modern, badly
needed upgrade to legacy systems, extending both their life and feature-set. A
single mobile- or desktop-enabled user-interface brings vital contextual
information about requests while allowing for centralized answering of nurse
call alerts and management of workflows and assignments. These streamlined
workflows reduce noise and clinical interruptions while improving
responsiveness.

Physiological Monitoring – Less Noise, More Signal

The FDA-cleared offering intelligently routes context-rich
alarm notifications from clinical systems to TigerFlow+. An easy-to-use
workflow builder ensures alerts are prioritized accordingly and are routed to
the appropriate caregiver, suppressing unnecessary noise. The filtering,
mobilization, and escalation of alerts pairs with TigerConnect Teams,
allowing for prompt responses in critical situations.

Smart Bed Alarms for Enhanced Patient Safety

Integrations with popular smart bed systems provide remote
monitoring of bed status details, informing nurses whether they should walk or
run to a patient’s room. Staff can review and adjust bed compliance settings
from their mobile device and receive fall prevention notifications if safe-bed
configuration is compromised.

Real-time Location System (RTLS) Measures What Matters

The integration of RTLS with a deployed nurse call
application greatly enhances the data available to clinical leadership. The
combined TigerConnect/Critical Alert offering enables real-time tracking
of staff location (presence) and time spent on tasks, providing deeper insights
into resource planning, workflow effectiveness and ongoing process improvement
initiatives.

Advanced Analytics for Deeper Workflow Insights

A better understanding of patient behavior and workflows
helps reveal areas for optimization that can lead to improved patient care and
staff efficacy. The new combined platform capabilities centralize the
collection and tracking of patient event data and nurse task efficiency,
turning insights into action. Advanced analytics also allow for identifying,
documenting, and benchmarking responsiveness, compliance, resource allocation,
and patient throughput across the health system. 

Availability

This new integrated functionality is expected to be
available to TigerConnect customers in Q1 of 2021.