APIs, consumerization and advice for innovators: A Q&A with HIMSS Innovator in Residence

HIMSS expert Adam Culbertson talks about the open API space and how it can impact change in healthcare.
By Jonah Comstock
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Adam Culbertson at HIMSS Innovation Center talks to HIMSS TV

Adam Culbertson is the Innovator in Residence at HIMSS, a role in which he works with different stakeholders to drive and support innovation in healthcare. Lately his focus has been on developer programs and APIs.

Babyforyou.net.ua sat down with Culbertson as part of our September Focus on Innovation to get his take on hospital innovation as well as to hear a little more about him, his role, and his latest work. The interview has been edited for length, flow, and clarity.

Babyforyou.net.ua: Tell us a little about yourself.

Culbertson: I’m the innovator in residence at HIMSS. [That means I work] collaboratively with external parties to try to drive change on a problem that is difficult. … Recently my focus has been around developer programs and open APIs. I’ve been working with the community to understand what is happening in the open API space, how it can impact change in healthcare, and how it can smooth and speed the process of interoperability.

What’s new in that space?

We’re seeing a lot more energy and a lot more momentum. There’s a lot of initiatives that are trying to understand how we can use open APIs to drive the business of healthcare. I think of healthcare as three stages: the building of the buckets, and that’s sort of largely done, the connecting of the buckets, and that’s getting to the interoperability piece, and then doing cool stuff with what’s in the buckets. So the API layer I think is going to have a big role to play in terms of connecting the different buckets.

And how do you think that will play out in the long run?

If I could predict the future, I’d trade stocks, but my best guess is it shakes out to a more consumer-friendly healthcare experience for patients, and a more usable experience for providers. We can start thinking about how an API-based ecosystem can build a better interface for clinicians to do documentation, to leverage clinical decision support. For a consumer, what’s the big app that’s going to come out that’s going to impact patient care?

I can do a lot of things on my phone around banking. I don’t have that same level of functionality in healthcare and … I think it’s coming. I think it’s coming sooner than later and I think … it’s going to be a more consumer-friendly environment. It’ll hopefully be more transparent, it’s going to be more clear, it’s going to be easier to make appointments and get access to health data and to share your health data. I think that’s the end goal.

What does innovation mean to you?

Everyone defines innovation a little differently. For me innovation is the creative destruction of the status quo. What do I mean by that? I mean, finding new ways of doing things that we haven’t previously thought of or doing things differently than we have in the past.

It’s asking the question ‘Why?’: Why do we do things if they don’t make sense? If I have a process that’s old and antiquated, maybe I should rethink how I do that. Healthcare’s full of those examples of doing things that just don’t make sense. … Is there a new experience we can bring, is there a new technology we can bring that can improve the process, can improve the consumer experience, improve the amount of data that the providers have?

What role do hospital CIOs have to play in innovation projects?

Hospital CIOs have a huge role to play. They’re agents of change and they’re going to be drivers of change. It’s their job to understand what the status quo is and what’s broken about the current system. What are the problems that clinicians face, that providers face, that consumers face, and how can we apply these new, fresh external approach to healthcare? How can giving a patient access to his health data improve patient outcomes? How can they lower costs, how can they increase patient compliance?

What role does HIMSS have to play?

I think HIMSS has a tremendous opportunity to help healthcare innovate and change the way we do things. As a large organization with sixty thousand- members, we have a tremendous brain trust, particularly looking at our members and our non-profit partners. And within that network there’s a huge opportunity for one group to share with another group to learn from each other. So I think HIMSS is a tremendous platform for groups to learn from each other instead of doing it on their own.

What advice would you have for a hospital launching a new innovation program?

I always encourage folks to look outside their organization. You can think of innovation in two buckets, internal innovation and external innovation. Internal innovation is ‘Am I leveraging the talent and ideas I have within my organization? Am I giving people the means to take good ideas in my organization and solve problems?’ External is a little different. It’s saying ‘Am I making problems accessible, am I engaging developers to build things I can’t necessarily build?’ Or, if there are solve problems I can’t solve internally, maybe I can look externally to solve my problems.

Any final thoughts?

Healthcare is ripe for innovation, it’s ripe for new ways of doing things and thinking about how it could be different and how it could be better. It’s a good opportunity to do things faster, quicker, better, and to learn as we go and learn from the community.
 

Focus on Innovation

In September, we take a deep dive into the cutting-edge development and disruption of healthcare innovation.