The Vital Signs web app, launched today, brings together the abundance of health reporting we’ve done over the years to provide patients with easy access to information that can help them manage the quality of their care.

Behind the app is our Vital Signs API, which also launches publicly today.

An API — essentially a way for computer programs to exchange data with each other — isn’t the kind of thing you might typically think of as journalism. But behind its creation is the same reporting that powers our in-depth investigative stories and interactive online databases. The API brings together facts and insights from literally years of work from our staff, and its aim is the same of all our work: impact.

There are a few key moments when the information included in Vital Signs is most important: when patients are meeting with their doctors, when patients are choosing doctors, and when other health professionals are choosing which providers to work with. Building a commercial API allows us to make sure our reporting is available to users at all of these moments, by making it easier to see our data in the apps and tools that they’re already using.

We used the API to power our own web app, which focuses on helping patients have important, potentially difficult conversations with the providers they see. We’ve highlighted issues they might want to discuss and provided context for those decisions. We built it specifically for mobile devices so that it’s easy for patients to bring this data into appointments and other health care settings. You can read more about that here.

There are plenty of consumer review sites and doctor-finder tools that already exist to help patients find new doctors. Review sites, insurance companies and other apps give patients information about where doctors are located and what insurance they take, post reviews from other patients, provide star ratings and more. Releasing our data as an API makes it easier for these sites to include the Vital Signs data, as well, helping users make more informed choices about their health care.

An API also makes our data available to hospitals, insurance companies and health care agencies that want to link independent data and analysis with internal systems to assess and compare the performance of providers. When our reporting appears in these kinds of systems, it can help ensure that doctors and nurses who provide lower-cost and higher-quality care are recognized by insurers and employers. It can also help institutions identify and address problems with providers.

If you’re one of these types of users, we’d like to hear from you. The Vital Signs API is a commercial product; for now, it is available only to participants in a closed beta program. Over the coming months, we’ll be learning from them what endpoints, features and data would make the API even more useful. Some of our early users are health care agencies, consumer review sites, mobile app makers and insurers.

We’ll be welcoming a limited number of additional participants into the beta program this spring. If you’re interested in learning more about the API, you can view documentation and sign up for the beta user waitlist here. We’ll roll out the full, commercially available version later this year.

We’ll also be hosting a hackathon in Chicago in May. To apply, submit your information below. If you’re interested in partnering with us on the hackathon (or supporting it as a sponsor) email me at celeste.lecompte@propublica.org.