Pursuing Interoperability, UPMC Innovator to Head VA's Open API Project

Jack Murtha

The disrupter hopes the initiative will help foster better data sharing across the healthcare system.

When the US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) unveiled its Open Application Programming Interface (API) pledge at HIMSS18 earlier this month, 11 big-name institutions signed on, cementing their support not just to vets but healthcare data at large. And now, a big name has agreed to spearhead the initiative, which is designed to bring about better data standards and levels of interoperability.

VA Sec. David Shulkin, MD, this week appointed Rasu Shrestha, MD, MBA, chief innovation officer for the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, to head the agency’s Open API project. Shrestha has a blue-chip background and a polished reputation in the health information technology (IT) niche, making him a strong candidate to perform the technical and social calculations required for the drive to succeed. He’s charged with nurturing collaboration between the VA and healthcare providers to “increase the mapping pace of health data to industry standards,” notably including Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (FHIR), according to the announcement.

Right off the bat, Shrestha implored private health systems and stakeholders to put their tech knowledge and data to use to help veterans.

“There is no moment greater than now for the industry to step up and make their voices heard to push toward real and meaningful interoperability,” he said in a statement. “This is an important moment for the private sector to answer the secretary’s call and work with our vendors to make information flow and use as freely accessible as possible to make care safer and better for veterans.”

Lighthouse, the VA’s API management platform, enables the pledgees to work with the VA. The entity compared the tech to a waiter, as the platform connects the “kitchen,” or the system that prepares the data order, to the partners.

Participating healthcare groups and the VA hope the venture will simultaneously increase interoperability in the electronic health records (EHR) realm and “accelerate the design, testing, and implementation” of guides for FHIR, according to the agency. The goal, as Shulkin noted, is to “shape a new direction for healthcare.”

If that’s the case, then Shrestha is a good choice. His appointment drew applause in health IT circles on social media, and he has a track record of calling for foundation-shaking disruption in healthcare. “We’ve been too comfortable for too long,” he told a crowd last month. “We have to blow stuff up a little. … We should be thinking about putting ourselves out of business before some else does.”

Pledge partners are shooting for the sort of seamless EHR exchange that will eventually extend beyond the VA and into mainstream healthcare. They’re scheduled to meet for a roundtable discussion in April, and then they’ll begin testing a series of draft specifications for the standards, according to the VA.