To Advance Digital Health, Open Your API and say “Ahh!”
Guest post by Simona Gilman, Event Specialists for Withings
Creating open APIs and making use of the resulting data is not a new concept. As 21st century developers and users, we love open data and use it for pulling anything and everything — from social media data, to sports stats from ESPN, to news data from the New York Times. A new data use is on the rise: pulling data from activity trackers to look at exercise trends across nations. However, these processes are more difficult when companies require you to be a partner to gain access to their API. The partner process can be a long one, and there’s no guarantee that the data will be of value, because many companies don’t reveal upfront which data is available for developers or researchers to use.
Withings has always prided itself on supporting an open API. The data is particularly valuable, as it comes from a connected health company that prides itself on leading the connected health revolution. There are three main reasons why open APIs are particularly important for companies such as Withings:
1. Data Integration — Share Data Between Apps and Platforms
With four lines of activity trackers under our belt and several generations of digital scales, it makes sense to also let users track their calorie intake. Having an open API allows apps to share and integrate data, which helps eliminate the need to start from scratch when adding features. A few years ago, Withings integrated with MyFitnessPal to not only allow users to display their activity and weight data in the MyFitnessPal app, but also to let them view nutrition data directly in the Withings Health Mate app. By doing this, we can see all data displayed in each app, and can easily understand the correlations between caloric intake, activity, and weight. With platforms such as Apple’s Healthkit and Google Fit becoming increasingly popular, having an open API is a huge asset for digital health companies.
2. Data Access — Hospitals
Hospitals are primary users of health devices, but they are starting to go further than just providing care for patients within their walls. Increasingly, hospitals are providing extended monitoring and preventative care through care coordinators. This out-patient relationship is difficult to maintain – think about what it means to have a nurse go to 50-100 patients’ houses just to take their blood pressure. As digital versions of traditional medical devices, such as blood pressure cuffs and scales, become more popular, the data that medical personnel receives needs to be triaged into manageable and useful nuggets that can be used together. Open APIs reduce the burden on hospitals and providers by not restricting patients to one company’s devices. Different companies can provide different tools, and all data can be aggregated in one place. In this way, hospitals that are resource strapped don’t need an extra build to integrate everything into one doctor-friendly platform.
3. Data Aggregation — Pattern Recognition
Health devices create massive datasets. Think of everyone you know weighing–in or taking their temperature once a week. Now, multiply that number by 100,000. While each individual data point is not particularly revelatory, aggregating all of this data helps unearth patterns of global magnitude. For example, view the Withings Observatory maps of American weight, blood pressure, and activity trends. Having an open API allows developers to collect and aggregate data, with permission, from large cohorts of people, which provides a valuable tool for health researchers trying to predict future trends.
Open APIs offer many benefits, beyond just the ability to easily collaborate with partner APIs, to deliver the innovation we need in the health field. As more data is readily available, research, development, and predictive analysis can enter a whole new realm.