VA platform for managing APIs starting to take shape

System will enable veterans to have real-time, comprehensive view of their healthcare via apps.

The Department of Veterans Affairs is moving forward with plans to implement a cloud-based application programming interface management platform.

The agency says the initiative will serve as an enterprise-wide system for designing, developing, publishing, operating, monitoring, analyzing and optimizing all of the VA’s APIs.

The system called Lighthouse—previously known as the Digital Health Platform—will connect data from different sources using an open-source API gateway platform on a private VA cloud, enabling external app developers to build both mobile and web apps on a standard set of APIs.

APIs, which enable a software program to access the services provided by another software program, are seen by the agency as the enabling technology for veterans to gain access to their healthcare information that is held in multiple systems—including electronic health records.

“When completed, veterans will be able to manage their own health experience with a platform that is innovative, interoperable, streamlined and secure,” according to the VA Office of Information and Technology. “Lighthouse will enable veterans to take control of their health in ways that are both convenient and accessible. They will enjoy a real-time, comprehensive view of their healthcare that is available with a simple tap on their smartphones.”

In particular, Lighthouse will provide veterans with critical functionality, including the ability to:
  • Schedule appointments, view medical records and manage their care plans.
  • Video conference with doctors and contact their entire care team.
  • Manage medications and refill prescriptions.
  • Aggregate and use data from smartphone and smartwatch apps.
  • Connect to non-VA community healthcare providers in real time.
A proof-of-concept conducted in the fall of 2016, managed by the Georgia Institute of Technology, demonstrated interoperability technologies from both the public and private sectors, including the capability to obtain patient data from disparate military and commercial EHRs—as well as apps, devices and wearables—by leveraging HL7’s emerging Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (FHIR) standard.

Also See: Georgia Tech demonstrates VA Digital Health Platform in proof-of-concept

Public-private collaboration is critical to the ultimate success of Lighthouse, according to agency officials.

“VA is working with our community and industry partners to make Lighthouse into a lasting veteran-centric, data-driven, standards-based digital platform,” says Michele Hammonds in the Veterans Health Administration’s Office of Media Operations and Plans. “Since Lighthouse’s introduction, VA has completed a number of user-centered design sprints around the APIs veterans need the most. We applied the insights we gathered to put out two Requests for Information. We will take the feedback from the latest RFI to help better understand which APIs we should focus on first and how to deliver them.”

According to Hammonds, the VA released the second of two RFIs last month and is currently building out its implementation plan for Lighthouse. She notes that the feedback from the RFI will help the agency to refine its overall strategy and to influence the implementation plan.

“We worked to identify industry best practices and existing architecture that can be configured for VA’s specific needs, and we looked at existing internal efforts toward adopting FHIR standards and open API standards,” adds Hammonds. “We also began working with other government agencies to identify API best practices, including the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.”

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