The healthcare industry is one of the most promising fields from which to leverage business intelligence and reporting tools. Organizations in the healthcare field often have vast repositories of patient and operational data that can be used to improve research, treatment and diagnostic procedures, to name just a few. However, healthcare professionals have to be able to access and query this data to gain insights. Medical practitioners and researchers represent a group of end users generally on the "not familiar with software development" side of the spectrum. Furthermore, their current duties make it unlikely that many want to take the time to immerse themselves below the surface level of reporting tools. They just want them to work.

Although the healthcare market represents a significant opportunity, there are a dearth of reporting tools geared directly toward it. Just 1.3 percent of the application programming interfaces on popular API and Web mashup site ProgrammableWeb are used in healthcare, according to VentureBeat contributor Christina Farr. This leaves a wide-open space in which interested developers can create robust APIs that make sense for healthcare applications,

Parsing patient data with reporting tools

Electronic health records offer organizations in the sector the opportunity to convert patient data into smart insights for research and treatment. The sharp rise of EHRs in hospitals - adoption increased from 9 percent in 2008 to more than 80 percent in 2013 - is creating opportunities for API use, according to McKinsey and Company. APIs have helped companies regulate access to patient information, approve payments and validate patient insurance coverage, to name just a few. The interoperability and efficiency afforded by the use of APIs and EHRs can substantially improve productivity in the healthcare industry. It's one that has struggled to maintain pace and keep costs down as the number of organizations involved and conditions that must be met for any one case continue to grow, so EHRs hold a substantial measure of relief.

Decreasing audit risk with patient portals

One of the benefits of using EHRs, the extent of which will likely not even become apparent until they have been in use for several years, is increased organization and transparency. These characteristics are particularly important for compliance and audits, which can be tough for organizations to manage with traditional information records and filing systems. Reporting tools would allow healthcare professionals to better keep track of, manage and update patient files. Apps developed through APIs can be more tailored to the needs of small or disparate groups of end users, increasing oversight and diminishing the risk of losing or confusing information.

One example can be found in the utilization of EHRs to satisfy meaningful use requirements, wrote MedCity News contributor Jim Tate. In order to receive incentives in 2014, eligible hospitals and professionals must ensure that a minimum percentage of patients or patient representatives access portals that distribute information. Audits based on 2014 attestations of Web-based application usage could run into some problems.

"Since the portal activity measure is percentage based, validation might be a problem," Tate wrote. "Using a third party portal? How are you going to track patient activity and have it imported into your MU Dashboard? This could be especially tricky for hospitals that frequently select one vendor for their EHR and another vendor for their portal. The auditors are going to need to see credible documentation that backs up what is claimed during attestation."

As incentives are tied in more directly to the productive use of apps and reporting tools, whether they be for internal use or for customer access, the quality of all programs is critical. To ensure end user engagement, API development must be guided by a rigorous testing process.