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Harnessing the Power of Information to Improve Health

Some amazing examples of open government in action.

On Wednesday, we launched a vital new HHS Open Government effort: The Community Health Data Initiative (CHDI).  Joined by almost 700 people in person and online, the Initiative was publicly launched by HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius along with Deputy Secretary Bill Corr, Institute of Medicine President Harvey Fineberg, and White House CTO Aneesh Chopra at a forum held at the National Academy of Sciences.  

The Community Health Data Initiative is an incredibly exciting new public-private collaboration that is encouraging innovators to utilize data made publicly available by HHS to develop applications that will help raise awareness of community health performance, spark action to improve performance, and empower individuals and communities to make informed choices about their health.

This initiative has its roots in a brainstorming session of public and private sector innovators held on March 11 by the Institute of Medicine and HHS.  The objective of the March session was to explore what could be done with HHS’s vast stores of community health data – e.g., smoking rates, obesity rates, access to healthy food, utilization of medical services, etc. If HHS made such data easily accessible by the public, would innovators be interested in developing creative new uses for it that could benefit the public? 

The answer was a resounding yes, so we went to work. Innovators from the worlds of business, technology, academia, and community advocacy identified many areas where exciting new applications to improve health could be developed. HHS built an interim CHDI website and posted a consolidated group of HHS community health data sets in easily accessible, downloadable form. Innovators from across the country then took our data and – in less than 12 weeks! – put together an amazing array of new or improved applications that utilize our data in creative and powerful ways to help advance health.   

At the forum on Wednesday, we showcased more than a dozen of these apps, plus others which have been recently developed. They collectively represented an absolutely stunning show of the power of American innovation, including: 

  • An interactive community health dashboard that allows civic leaders and citizens to see a “report card” of health performance in their county and learn about the latest best practices that other communities have implemented to improve their performance;
  • Integration of patient satisfaction ratings from Medicare’s Hospital Compare database into web search results for hospitals – bringing this information to your fingertips
  • Amazing new health mapping tools that help consumers, providers, and policymakers focus on the right questions and make better informed choices
  • A brilliant new combination of GPS device and app that allows asthmatics to have their inhalers automatically transmit the location and time of each use – producing an anonymized, real-time map of asthma incidence that can provide crucial guidance regarding how to target interventions to reduce the burden of asthma
  • A (highly addictive) new online card game that engages you in a discovery of your community’s health and well-being status and how it compares to other communities in a head-to-head clash
  • And more!

The event, viewable here (video), highlighted the power of bringing together innovators from federal and local government, the public health community, information technology firms, major businesses, nonprofits, academia, and the health care system to do incredible things that no one organization or sector could possibly have done by itself. It was a truly inspiring experience – with much more to come! 

Moving forward, the Community Health Data Initiative will continue to expand the supply of data being made available to innovators – including major new data from HHS and from private sector sources. And we are looking forward to the next wave of super-cool apps that will be built leveraging CHDI data – many of which will be created as part of the 2010 Health 2.0 Developer Challenge, announced at the forum on Wednesday, and showcased at the Health 2.0 conference in October in San Francisco. To learn more about the Developer Challenge, visit   

Todd Park is the Chief Technology Officer at the Department of Health and Human Services, Aman Bhandari is Policy Analyst for the Chief Technology Officer