UK healthtech has seen remarkable growth, in fact, the UK experienced the third highest global healthtech investment in 2021 at nearly $3.8 billion dollars, an almost 900% increase from 2016. There is clear potential for further development, as the UK’s healthcare system does not yet appear to be reaping the rewards of healthtech. It is clear to most that improvement is needed in regard to the efficiency of healthcare systems and their ability to respond to increasing demand.

The UK healthcare system is struggling despite its best efforts. Massively extended wait times, overpopulated hospitals and a general frustration with NHS services have caused satisfaction levels to drop to the lowest since its inception – 29%. Healthcare reforms and innovations are needed in order to remain fit for purpose: the NHS has almost 570 million patient interactions per year, so it is essential to streamline processes and create a more communicative and open system.

Healthtech is key to this, yet the implementation of healthtech solutions in the UK is currently restricted, due to the dominance of closed APIs across the ecosystem.

A lack of standardisation for open APIs has led to UK healthcare becoming extremely divided. NHS bodies, private healthtech and other forms of healthcare such as pharmacies, are currently unintentionally keeping tech advancements that could benefit the sector close to their chest. If UK healthtech is to continue to see real progress, this approach must be discarded, and a more collaborative relationship founded on a system of open APIs must be encouraged – but this can only occur through positive action from healthcare organisations at all levels.

The problem with closed APIs

In theory, APIs exist to provide an interface for applications to communicate with each other. In a healthtech context, this can help promote communication between healthcare providers and systems, allowing third parties to access data to increase the efficiency of their own processes.

However, many healthtech APIs currently do not facilitate communication: internal data standards have failed to regulate how APIs should work or what information they should share. As a consequence, current APIs can be best described as part of a ‘closed system’ – in that they do not encourage the exchange of information between third party organisations without significant costs or negotiations. Such a system fails to promote the cooperation that will be so crucial to further healthtech development – with the high costs of using third party APIs leading to healthcare bodies such as the NHS and private startups simply making their own, and keeping them closed from one another, which has prevented UK healthcare from reaching its full potential.

With digitalisation in healthcare laboured, many healthcare bodies continue to rely on outdated and inefficient forms of communication, which typically leads to delays and errors. Without interoperability between systems, this can result in incomplete patient records for providers, in turn causing difficulties in tracking what type of care a patient has already engaged with, and whether this has been successful. Consequently, it is common for UK healthcare to be characterised by repeated, ineffective treatments that fail to appropriately respond to the needs of the patient.

Several of the challenges facing healthcare in the UK are the result of the system’s approach to APIs, and as such should provide impetus for NHS and private sector organisations to transform their thinking and adopt a more collaborative approach. There is ongoing innovation and progress, however it is happening in siloes. We need regulation and standardisation to properly harness the potential of healthtech and to bolster healthcare systems.

The potential of open APIs

The transition to a healthtech ecosystem based on open APIs will encourage collaboration between healthcare bodies, and will result in a much more personalised healthcare system.

75% of people want a more personalised system of healthcare, but the state of UK healthtech and the closed nature of current APIs have created a system with a one-size-fits-all approach that is increasingly being scorned. Limited data sharing, fragmented patient records, and a lack of interoperability all mean that providers cannot have a holistic view of a patient’s health status, and can restrict their ability to improve patient outcomes.

Open APIs can help standardise apps to be compatible with each other. For example, patients could engage with different forms of care across the country, with each healthcare provider able to easily locate the patient’s data due to a shared interface, increasing both the efficiency and efficacy of patient care.

An equally valuable consequence of a shift towards open APIs is how they serve to encourage further innovation, particularly on the part of healthtech startups, which represent a major component of UK investment.

Closed APIs restrict startups in numerous ways, most notably in terms of the costs of establishing themselves – open APIs allow startups to borrow core tech interfaces from other parties, and the NHS, rather than spending significant resources to create them manually. Currently, startups may spend thousands on their prerequisite cyber systems, preventing them from making significant contributions and discouraging potential talent from getting involved in the sector. Open APIs, through encouraging communication, will enable healthtechs to further develop and spare resources to pursue innovations that can  improve healthcare.

Open APIs and the future of UK healthtech

The NHS is one of the UK’s most crucial public sector institutions, essential to a vast majority of the population, but it is also one of the UK’s most burdened institutions. The vibrancy of UK healthcare is reliant on further healthtech advancement, and despite the country’s status as one of the top three global investors in healthtech, this change can only come about through a collaborative approach from the Government, NHS and healthtech innovators.

Amidst a national health crisis, citizens want healthcare that is personalised, streamlined and high quality. By building an integrated infrastructure under a system of open APIs, we can contribute towards a healthcare system that is robust, responsive and encourages innovation.

Ultimately, open APIs are not just the future of UK healthtech, but crucial to improving patient outcomes and restoring the healthcare sector.


By Devaraj Soundararajan, CTO at NHS-integrated healthtech startup Charac










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