A young mother, Aashima Gupta, was returning home to Oakland from a ski trip to the Sierra Nevada, when her husband, who was driving, complained of drowsiness. She found a map to the nearest Starbucks on her smartphone, and the family turned off busy Interstate 80 to get coffee. In three minutes, they were there.
She got her husband's coffee and two cookies for sleepy kids in the back seat. They were back on Route 80 when she realized her seven-year-old daughter, with a nut allergy, was showing the hives around her mouth that were the first sign of an allergic reaction. She was eating a cookie with nuts in it. With a start, Gupta asked herself, what had she done. How had she missed something she was always on guard against?
It was 11:00 p.m., they were all tired, and any nearby doctor's offices or clinics were closed. Now disaster beckoned unless they could quickly find an emergency room with the EpiPen, an auto-injector of epinephrine, the antidote to the swelling that closes off an allergic child's air passages.
Gupta again turned to her smartphone but couldn't find a guide to emergency rooms in the area. She switched to calling hospital switchboards directly and over the next 25 minutes, contacted three before finding the one with an emergency room that was open. The family was soon enroute.
"How can it be so easy to find the nearest Starbucks but not the nearest emergency room?" asked Gupta, who posed the question to 40 developers and software architects at the I Love APIs conference in San Francisco November 5. Gupta might be in a position to answer the question for future families in distress. She is now executive director of technology incubation and innovation for Kaiser Permanente, the giant health insurance and healthcare cooperative based in Oakland, and was a speaker at the API conference.
In an interview afterward, she said it will be important in the future for healthcare providers to put the right tools into the hands of consumers. "All I wanted was timely information," she recalled. Healthcare providers need to extend what they already know out to consumers to help them "correlate information in meaningful ways," she said.
Kaiser has taken its first step toward doing that, and it plans more. In June, it released an API that gives external developers access to the location and hours information of its hospitals, clinics, and physician offices. Kaiser is an integrated health provider with pharmacies at many of its hospital locations, and labs and other facilities on a single campus. To help patients make appointments, find offices and facilities, and fill prescriptions, it's created an Android and iOS application that use the API to provide information to patients.
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