Why I started Human API

Over the last few months, as we’ve been busy scaling our amazing team, I’ve found myself doing at least three or four interviews per day. More often than not, the candidate asks me some variation of “Tell me why you started this company”.

There’s a 30 second, 3 minute, and 30 minute way to answer this question. Here’s my stab at the 3 minute version…

We have proven across industries that increased “liquidity” unlocks new products and workflows. By replacing slow, cumbersome “transactions”, we can create things that were never previously possible.

A few examples of technologies that dramatically increased liquidity in their industries:

  • Credit card companies
  • Mobile telecommunications companies
  • Railroad companies
  • Ride sharing companies

Data liquidity measures how easy it is to get the data you need to do something you want to do. Data is the lifeblood of any application or workflow — applications are interfaces on top of the right data, received at the right time, in the right format. Data liquidity, and its potential to transform the healthcare industry, is at the heart of our mission at Human API.

Great tomes have already been written about health data, so I will save my personal rants about standards and interoperability (or lack thereof) for another day.

The way I see it, there are two core issues faced by anyone trying to innovate in the healthcare space:

  • Health data is hard to get (slow and expensive)
  • Health data is hard to use (unstructured and incomplete)

The healthcare field is littered with countless examples of developers, researchers, hospital systems, insurance companies, and end consumers who, at best, spend countless hours and dollars solving their data liquidity problems, and at worst, simply never achieve what they need. The “data transactions” that underpin the applications and workflows in healthcare today are based on antiquated technologies such as:

  • Faxing (forms, records, letters, etc)
  • Calling people on the phone (remember those?!)
  • Scanning and emailing PDFs
  • Custom integrations of two old, clunky databases

In short, healthcare (and, more generally, health) suffers deeply from a data liquidity problem. Ideas for how to improve our systems for clinical research and medical care are plentiful, however the vast majority of these ideas are impossible due to the lack of health data liquidity today. Data liquidity represents the largest cost of solving major problems in health, making it the largest barrier to broad change and innovation in the space.

When we decided to solve the problem of health data liquidity, we knew we’d do it differently from traditional health data transactions. First, we wanted to put the consumer in the driver’s seat (as opposed to obfuscating the transfer of their data from them) and second, we wanted to build a network (as opposed to enabling one-off data exchange between two systems). Our goal was to build something that would enable applications to get health data:

  • From everywhere (rather than a single clinic/lab/device/app)
  • In real time
  • In a structured, consistent, machine readable, actionable, and easy to understand format

Nearly four years ago I wrote the following on our proverbial masthead, and we got to work:

Our mission is to provide widespread health data liquidity — the ability to frictionlessly get all health data, from any source, to any destination, in real time — to every entity across the healthcare ecosystem, all controlled by the end consumer.

Sounds simple enough, right?

In three and a half short years, we have gone from zero data sources to more than 15,000. We’ve analyzed nearly 1 billion unique data elements and created an ontology that can be universally compatible with any “standard” the healthcare industry has provided. Our platform has been deployed to countless institutions, from Fortune 500 healthcare companies, to cutting edge researchers at the top of their field, to indie developers breaking into the healthcare industry for the first time. Today we deliver nearly 50 million unique messages per day through our APIs, and we are just getting started.

Our collective goal can be summed up as such: make structured digital health data available, on any consumer, in real time, with beautiful simplicity. We call the realization of this goal “health data liquidity”.

I firmly believe that bringing data liquidity to the world of health will be the fundamental catalyst for change well beyond what we can do today. Data liquidity will enable developers to build new applications and workflows, and empower consumers to share their data with those applications in exchange for a better, more valuable health experience. We’re democratizing the process of building these applications with the right data, creating the data backbone we believe will power a more personalized, responsive, and efficient healthcare system.

People have built some amazing applications on top of the Human API network already, and they are dreaming up new things each day. I remain most excited for the applications that haven’t even been dreamt of yet, and am humbly looking forward to us helping them achieve their visions.

Founding CEO at Human API