How is Human API is tackling the challenges of health-data sharing?

The big and bold mission of Human API—the reason we started the company—is we want to accelerate the pace of innovation in healthcare for everyone, everywhere. That’s really our reason for existing. It’s fair to say that innovation within the healthcare industry significantly lags behind other industries where disruption has continued to accelerate and improve our quality of life. Yet healthcare may have the biggest opportunity to make a real impact on that very quality.

And the biggest gating factor is feeding that innovation with data. The inherent issue with access to healthcare data today is core to what’s holding back innovation. The fact that healthcare data is so difficult to get, much less actually make sense of and use, means that anyone who wants to push the envelope on innovation can’t get their hands on the data they need at any level of scale or consistency to deliver on their vision. To that end, we took a different approach than anything that has been tried in the market to date, to my knowledge.

We approach health data sharing as fundamentally a consumer-centric—or really human-centric—problem, hence the company name. The Human API model is to put the human at the center: allow that person to permit, to authenticate, to authorize his or her data from wherever it may exist to wherever that person wants it to go.

As an example, say you are applying for life insurance and you as the consumer are saying, “Look, I understand that as part of this process you guys need to collect medical records from me. So rather than making you do it by fax machine and wait eight weeks, I’ll just give you my patient portal credentials to do this in a few days.”

What are the challenges in “consumerizing” health data? And can tools like those Human API is developing get people to engage with their health data to inform their decisions?

I don’t think the majority of consumers want to engage directly with their health data; it’s more like a raw ingredient. That data is not going to create value on its own. But when it’s leveraged for a specific purpose to generate an outcome, it becomes incredibly valuable. No one used PayPal to store money online just to watch it sit there, but they began to use it—and then use it a lot—to fulfill the outcome of purchasing valuable items on eBay.
Similarly in healthcare, users can create value with data via transactions—you’re signing in to the doctor’s office, and you don’t want to fill in the form for the hundredth time and maybe miss something important. You’re applying for insurance, and you don’t want to have to pee in a cup and get another blood test and wait eight weeks.

You’re not going to engage with your data as a consumer because it’s fun. You’re going to engage with it because you have a specific job you’re trying to do. The first step in empowering consumers is to find transactions that they’re already going through and make them easier—tapping into the unmet needs.

Part of the problem is that before a consumer can even get that value—that diagnosis, that insight, that insurance product, participation in that clinical trial—before you can unlock that experience, you need to have portability and availability of your relevant data to share. And, in the best-case scenario, share seamlessly.

How can employers use Human API’s technology to address healthcare costs and improve employee health?

I think you’ll find both employers and payers fit in the same category—at some level, they are both risk-bearing organizations. That means they care about their employees’ or their members’ health because they have a financial incentive to manage their risk. One big problem is that there’s no way they can manage what they can’t measure. It’s impossible.

The way Human API fits into this equation is that we’re enabling employers and payers to better appreciate and understand their risk and how it impacts their costs. We’re helping them do that by enriching and actually providing a holistic view of those individuals’ health. And we can sleep well at night by knowing this serves to both help control these costs and improve individuals’ health.

The way that we’re solving this problem is very different from what’s been traditionally done. We’re saying, “Why don’t you just ask the consumer, the employee or the member to share it with you? You are giving them value—they should want to do it.” This is a narrative that is resonating with payers extensively now, because the future of their business depends on being member-centric. So that’s helping a lot.

Where do employee benefit brokers fit in?

"We’re moving closer to what I would consider web standards for data sharing, which is sort of the gold standard."

Andrei Pop, Founder, Chief Executive Officer, Human API

We work a lot in the life, disability and long-term care arenas with benefit brokerages. Those types of products use us a lot. In a similar manner, there are additional benefit plans that Human API can be instrumental to improve.

Let’s zoom out again and think about how the goal of a broker is to connect people and to help the applicants get a product that matches their needs. And much like the payers, their financial incentive lines up with the consumer incentive—if the enrollment process is painful for the applicant, regardless of the product, brokers are going to lose business. And even for those that do go through the process, it’s longer and more costly for the broker.

Since health data is changing hands—lab data, pharmacy data, electronic health record data—we make that painless for the consumer and faster for the broker. But more than that, we provide this information directly to the underwriter to make a decision on this data. That’s where the real value is created: the outcome of the data changing hands quickly and easily.

How is the current regulatory environment helping or hindering your work?

The current regulatory environment in the United States is helping us. We have HIPAA, the HITECH Act and “meaningful use” legislation. On top of that, we now have the GDPR [General Data Protection Regulation] in the European Union with U.S. versions coming of age as well, such as the California Consumer Privacy Act—which is near and dear to our hearts, as we’re based in Silicon Valley.

All of these regulations push a similar agenda that I support 110%: protect consumer/patient data like it is your own and put that person in a position to own it. It’s the right way to do it. It’s why we don’t avoid the consumers but, rather, put them in charge of their own data portability.
While these regulations provide tailwinds to our approach, they are not enough on their own. But it’s certainly comforting to know that the spirit across all legislation and all political parties is supportive of the Human API business model of putting consumers at the center, allowing them to share their data, to access their data, on their terms.

Can you discuss the impact of the adoption of the Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources standard (FHIR), and Apple’s role in driving that?

I think it’s fantastic that FHIR is being adopted by some providers. We’re moving closer to what I would consider web standards for data sharing, which is sort of the gold standard. I speak on this topic often, and I caution people that we’ve had this type of Promised Land before and there’s never a silver bullet.

On FHIR in general, it’s good that we’ve implemented superior authentication protocols. It’s good that we’ve implemented some more structured web standards, because that’s how more modern data sharing works. With respect to Apple, it’s fantastic to see the largest and most successful consumer company in the world just playing in this space. I don’t know if Apple is driving the adoption of FHIR so much as legitimizing the fact that patients should have access to their data. That is helping the industry as a whole move forward, given Apple’s clout.

What are some of the roadblocks you’re facing?

Making sure the data is made available to consumers is a critical component to our model of data sharing. We’re not talking about burdening the vendors that originate this data with standards or excessive work; we’re simply just saying to make it available. It doesn’t matter the format; it doesn’t matter the standard. If you make it available, we’ll be happy to take it from there. That is the biggest roadblock, but the good news is that this data availability is trending very positively in our favor. In some cases, people haven’t made 100% of the data available to their patients or consumers yet, but the infrastructure is there, so the heavy lifting is done.

What impact will health-data sharing have going forward, and what role will Human API play?

We will see that pace of innovation in healthcare truly accelerate. It starts with solving for those unmet needs by improving processes that consumers are already going through and creating better versions. But true disruption will occur when more radical innovation tackles the unrealized needs—solutions that consumers didn’t even know were possible until they see them. That stage of innovation will come from current brand names like Apple, Google and Amazon as well as new entrants that are singularly focused on a grand vision.