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NHS Digital claims success with API management platform

16/12/21

Mark Say Managing Editor

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NHS Digital has said it has created a framework for future integrations of APIs from healthcare systems using a management platform.

Hand holding API icon

Along with the Central Digital and Data Office it has published a case study on the project, saying this will support the roll out of digital healthcare services more quickly and consistently.

The API management platform has initially been developed to support the integration of the Personal Demographics Service (PDS) – the national database of patient details – with other systems.

It has been available for 15 years using a SOAP (simple object access protocol) API that was technically difficult to connect to NHS Digital services. This prompted the project, sponsored by the Cabinet Office, to make things easier for external developers through a central platform gateway and associated governance.

NHS Digital identified a handful of features for the platform to support developer teams producing the APIs.

One is a developer hub that centralises the documentation and provides a publishing process to make it more easily discoverable. This has drawn on the skills of a team of technical writers who have been assigned projects based on needs.

Sandbox

Another is a sandboxing function that provides a self-service environment that developers can access without the need for authorisation. This allows them to start quickly integrating with the API and returns placeholder patient data in a standard RESTful format with the correct responses. This helps teams to start building services while they are still seeking authorisation to use the live API.

Thirdly, the team built and documented processes to help evaluate and assess APIs in their early stages. This resulted in an assurance process that helps teams follow best practice and reduces the time to production.

NHS Digital has also set up 24-hour support in the use of the platform where needed, with an on-call rota of staff available to respond to emergencies and provide back-up.

Developers also received training on diagnosing issues and standard operating procedures when working out of hours.

The project also involved a shift from serving the PDS API over the Health and Social Care Network to the open internet, using the Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (FHIR) standard for passing healthcare information between systems.

In addition, a new pattern to handle security and authorisation was rolled out to reduce any vulnerabilities in the approach. Using the API management platform as a proxy allowed the team to apply the pattern to all APIs, and to connect with an identity platform and identity and access management module.

Time saving

NHS Digital said the initial project for the exemplar API took about seven months, following which it was able to roll out two more – the PDS FHIR API and Ambulance Data Submission FHIR API – in just a few months, compared with previous lead times of around a year.

It has since been able to add others and now has a model for future APIs.

“This has therefore created a framework or template for future integrations,” it said. “This will make things easier for teams doing similar projects, not only for consumers of APIs, as was the initial objective here, but also for API producers.”

Image from iStock, Melpomenem

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