NHS England’s vision of a people-powered health and care system – enabled by the integrated digital care record – requires an ecosystem of applications, data and processes working seamlessly to make the right information available to the right user at the right time. The systems underpinning this must also be affordable and sustainable. Open Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) have an important part to play in achieving this by:
- making application functionality easily available– this helps organisations ensure their systems are ‘interoperable’, i.e. that important functionality and information held in one system or department is readily available to another without significant and expensive development effort.
- allowing the best system for the job to be chosen – having key functionality openly available through an API ensures organisations can integrate systems and deliver the best systems to suit the needs of their different clinical and business functions. Some organisations may already have systems providing ‘end to end’ functionality that do not require additional integration work. This is a perfectly acceptable approach. However, it constrains an organisation’s options and flexibility moving forward. Ensuring systems have open API’s ensures you have the greatest flexibility and control, both technically and commercially.
- promoting and accelerating innovation– opening up data within different systems helps to promote and support a culture of innovation. With appropriate controls in place, it makes it easier for technical or clinical staff to use this information to improve patient outcomes or safety. It also allows for the creation of add-on products and services that don’t necessarily need to be built by the vendor of the primary system. This can often be done quicker and at lower cost.
NHS England’s ambition is to move to a position where significant business functionality available within systems is exposed through interfaces where the definition is open. The use of NHS Number, interoperability standards and open APIs together form the architectural foundation of the Integrated Digital Care Record. Consequently, to assist local organisations in embedding the use of Open APIs, NHS England has developed the Open API Policy and supporting guidance. It sets out the key expectations for organisations when developing, upgrading or procuring their systems in the move to open systems.