A second Kaiser executive at I Love APIs, Madhu Nutakki, VP of digital presence technologies, said using public-facing APIs to open Kaiser systems still has many limits. "We're still a healthcare company. We would never do anything to put our members' data at risk," he said in a shared interview with Gupta.
But both say there are still many possibilities. No member of Kaiser who's a parent should have to struggle to find the nearest Kiaser emergency room. Kaiser's existing application can provide that information, although at mid-year, it had been downloaded 85,000 times among a membership that runs up to nine million. Clearly, there is room for greater subscribership. At the same time, the few existing healthcare applications work with the healthcare system as it is, reminding people of appointments, showing them where the MRI room is, and sending their prescription ahead to the pharmacy.
The real potential, Gupta and Nutakki believe, lies in extending healthcare into the lives of patients in ways that focus more on keeping them healthy than in treating them once they fall ill. It impressed Gupta that another Kaiser-originated application, Every Body Walk, which logs an individual's walks and helps record the distance covered, was downloaded 500,000 times. People are beginning to measure their activity and create "a quantified self" that contains vital information on what they're eating, how they're exercising, and how much stress they're encountering, she said.
Devices such as those offered by FitBit at RadioShack and other retailers capture data from exercise workouts and hikes. A simple bracelet captures the number of steps taken, distance covered, minutes of activity, calories burned vs. calories consumed. What if Kaiser could get its members to share that information with their healthcare provider? What applications might be possible for interacting with members on the preventative side of healthcare?
"Self tracking is one of the first requirements to being on top of your health. If I haven't exercised yet this month, do I deserve that cupcake?" said Gupta. Kaiser Permanente and other healthcare providers are generating lots of data, but the data is only useful if it can be analyzed and acted on in something close to real time in relation to the patients' lives. Kaiser and other healthcare providers are still a long way from being in a position to do that.
"In healthcare, we are data-rich and information poor," said Gupta. "We are very actively looking at another API for private patient information use." By that, she means the patient would choose what information to share with Kaiser healthcare systems and opt in or not to follow the information and guidance returned to them. Such an API, however, would make it more practical for developers to produce applications that could make use of that information, should patients decide to submit it. One such application might be guidance to diabetics as they go out to eat in restaurants. It could a combination of the patient's current weight, glucose reading, and blood pressure to advise which foods are the most intelligent choices on the menu, she said.
Such an application doesn't yet exist, as far as she knows. Although Kaiser's current patient relations include outreach, where a representative calls the patient and asks for some feedback on her medical condition, having applications that can interact with patients tapping into them on a voluntary basis holds more potential, she said. Kaiser plans to test a prototype of such an application among its own employees in 2014 and, by 2015, will seek to open up the possibilities of third parties creating such applications to work with both opt-in individuals and the Kaiser healthcare knowledge base.
As Gupta herself knows, it's not only information availability but how it can be put to use in real time that counts. "That's where the power is, real time information. Is the sugar level in this individual normal or should he stay away from that cupcake?"
Healthcare providers must look beyond Meaningful Use regulations and start asking: Is my site as useful as Amazon? Also in the new, all-digital Patient Engagement issue of InformationWeek Healthcare: IT executives need to stay well informed about the strengths and limitations of comparative effectiveness research. (Free registration required.)