Former ONC head Rucker: APIs will ‘empower totally new business models’

Photo: Oscar & Associates for HIMSS

Dr. Don Rucker, former ONC National Coordinator for Health Information Technology, said using APIs for sharing healthcare information will “empower totally new business models” in digital health.

The 21st Century Cures Act, originally passed in 2016, although full implementation was delayed due to COVID-19, enables patients to access their health record through APIs on apps of their choice.

“In the rest of our lives, we live off APIs,” Rucker said at a lightning session at HIMSS21. “Essentially every app that you have on your phone is actually communicating with a server. We live in a world of APIs.”

Though there are hundreds of thousands of health and fitness apps available for smartphones, Rucker noted those apps rarely integrate medical data at this time, so the information can’t be tailored to users’ specific health needs.

“I think those APIs for consumers will be as transformative as APIs have been for music, in printing, in travel, in banking and retail,” he said. “Don’t forget, a company like Amazon is essentially a sea of APIs.”

APIs can transform healthcare at a population level too. Rucker predicts the industry will be able to use artificial intelligence to look at the data generated on a whole population to get deeper health insights.

“So if you want to look at a population, interact with a population, analyze the population, pay providers based on formal analysis and performance, which right now, they don’t forget our best measure of performance in American healthcare is garbage,” he said.

“It’s called quality measures. They’re very narrow. They’re very threadbare. You would never buy stuff on your own with that narrow thing if you had a choice.”

With that huge amount of data that can be pulled from smartphones, healthcare could be delivered earlier, before a serious event like a heart attack or a stroke. Providers and payers could get richer insights about the quality of care they provide. 

“I think, with a catch-up phase, we’re going to bring to healthcare what we’ve seen in the rest of our lives and the rest of our economy,” Rucker said.

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