Clinician’s guide to how apps talk to each other

If you’re a clinician who wants to innovate in tech the most important concept you should understand is API. Once you understand how APIs work in clinical tech you will not only see ideas but simple solutions. You will be able to make those solutions a reality with the limited resources that you have at hand. But first of all let’s explore what API is.


API stands for Application Programming Interface. This is a set of subroutine protocols and definitions. Sound boring? Ok let’s explain this in medical terms. In a sense clinicians use APIs all the time. It’s essential to work efficiently. Like apps doctors and nurses communicate with each other constantly. As a result, a set of terms has been defined. For instance, instead of employing the description of blood pressure every time we talk to another clinician we just say the word blood pressure and the other clinician will know what we are referring to. Usually you document the blood pressure under the title blood pressure so another clinician can quickly scan the notes and see what the blood pressure is. With software developers will define a set of API keys. The software will then package certain bits of data under the API key. When another piece of software or app wants to access the data from another piece of software, the developers will give them their API keys and authorisation. Using the API keys the developers of the app can now pull the data of the API key, and that data only and use it however they like in their app. Therefore, smartphone apps are generally faster than going on a webpage. The graphical interface is already compiled into the phone app. The only thing you are downloading is raw bits of data via API. A webpage must download the graphical interface as well as the data. Using apps generally will reduce your mobile data usage.

So, what does this mean for you? This means you have an opportunity to develop cheap software solutions that streamline clinical practice in niche situations. Let’s say that your hospital is using Cerner. Cerner is a massive clinical computer system that stores a lot of information. However, the nurses are either having to remember what meds to give or lug a laptop around to each patient when doing med rounds. With the Cerner API keys, you can create an app that only loads the patient’s meds and vital signs. Because of this it can run on a cheap tablet or smartphone. In the busy clinical world, there is a revolution to be had with developing lightweight fast apps that serve a particular purpose, and can be utilised by smaller devices. A clinician armed with a simple web app framework will be able to do this quickly, cheaply and accurately. These niche applications require clinical insight.

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