North America

Despite growing availability of APIs for patient health records, uptake remains low

According to a new study published in JAMA, researchers found that the rate of unique users downloading their health records through an API on a month-over-month basis was flat.
By Laura Lovett
02:27 pm

When it comes to health records, patients have more access than ever before. At many healthcare systems patients can now download records on their smartphone through an API, thanks to the 21st Century Cures Act. However, a new study published in JAMA found that despite the availability of these technologies few patients are using the capabilities. 


Researchers found that on a month-over-month basis, the rate of unique users downloading their health records via the API was virtually flat. They also found a mean 0.7% of users had ever logged into the health system’s patient portal did so using an API. There was an increasing trend of users overtime with a linear trend of 0.14% per month for each health system. 


Researchers zeroed in on 12 health systems from geographically diverse areas in the US. In order to be included the hospitals had to have at least nine months of experience letting their patients download their EHRs onto their smartphones via an API. 

Researchers collected data on the monthly and total number of unique patient users each month and the number of unique patients who logged into the patient portal each month. The team then used the number of users who logged onto the portal as the denominator for patients eligible to download data. 


The healthcare industry has been increasingly focusing on giving patients more access to their health records. Apple launched its Health Records feature last year, which aggregates existing patient-generated data in the Health app with data from their EHR. Then in June of 2018 Apple launched its Health Record API, which allows developers to create apps that can, with permission, use data from patients’ EHRs to help people manage care, medications, nutrition and more. 

But it isn’t just the tech giants getting involved in this area. The federal government is also taking notice. According to the 21st Century Cures Act, provider organizations are allowed to support the patient so they can access their EHR through digital health apps that use open APIs, through download options, by secure email, patient portals or online scheduling and secure messaging, according to government education materials.


“It is anticipated that access to clinical data via Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources APIs and use of this data by smartphone applications will allow individuals to better understand and control their health data, more easily ensure data accuracy, shop for high-value health care services, avoid the need to repeatedly supply data for entry into each new health care provider’s electronic health record, and increase their participation in clinical research. However, because this capability is new, few applications are currently able to access and use the data. In addition, there has been little effort by health care systems or health information technology vendors to market this new capability to patients, and there are not clear incentives for patients to adopt it."


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