At first blush, it might be tempting to view Kaiser Permanente's just announced API initiative, Interchange, as a carbon copy of Aetna's CarePass platform, and while there is a good chance that it will grow to become similar to CarePass, Kaiser Permanente has already made clear that there is an open API line that it won't cross.
KP's API initiative will stop at making personal health information shareable via APIs.
"Initially, Interchange by Kaiser Permanente will make our facility and location information available for third party developers to integrate into apps. This includes location, hours of operation, and specialty information for Kaiser Permanente's 37 hospitals and more than 600 medical offices," Phil Fasano, executive vice president and chief information officer at Kaiser Permanente told the crowd at Health Datapalooza down in Washington, DC this week. "Our intent is to continue making additional data available to developers via APIs, including research information and wellness data. It is important to note that keeping patient information private and secure is a top priority at Kaiser Permanente and personal health information will not be made available externally via API technology. Our goal is to make information that is already publicly available more accessible in a more efficient way."
Fasano and Kaiser Permanente are right, of course, to stress the importance of keeping personal health information private and secure, but does that mean people who want to share their data with third party developers should not be able to do so in a more efficient way like, say, via APIs?
Aetna seems to think so. Right now CarePass includes APIs for identity, insurance information, fitness-related information, nutrition info, lifestyle data, and appointment booking data. While it doesn't yet enable access to personal health information today, Aetna's future plans for CarePass include making it easy for users to permit the sharing of PHI.
"Third parties will be able to consume PHI when permitted by the user in the near future," Martha Wofford, head of Aetna's CarePass platform, told MobiHealthNews in an email. "The third parties will be screened by us" as opposed to "the open access that developers have for fitness and nutrition data (as permitted by the user)."
Kaiser Permanente should be lauded for taking a step toward enabling greater fluidity of health-related data. That's likely the reason HHS greenlit their three-minute announcement from the event's stage this week. But will an API initiative like Interchange fall short if it's not allowing patients to share their personal health data with developers? Is Kaiser being overly conservative?
When should a healthcare provider's privacy concerns trump a patient's desire for a more personal digital health service?