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Pioneering Innovation Through Health Data Transparency

As advocates across the country celebrate Sunshine Week, a time to focus on government transparency, the Department of Health and Human Services is proud of its work in spearheading greater data transparency.

As advocates across the country celebrate Sunshine Week, a time to focus on government transparency, the Department of Health and Human Services is proud of its work in spearheading greater data transparency.  Signature among our work in this area is the Health Data Initiative (HDI).  Founded in early 2010, the HDI is a three-pronged effort to publish brand new HHS data for public access; use tools to that make existing HHS data much more accessible; and energetically market and promote our data to innovators who can creatively use it as raw material to develop applications and services to improve health. Based on the principles of improved access to data from all sectors of health and healthcare, collaboration by a wide array of organizations, and participation by many individuals, HDI is a powerful emerging catalyst for change.  Remarkable insights are being gained into some of our most vexing challenges in health care, and new windows of opportunity are opening for an incredible array of data-fueled innovations that embody American ingenuity.

The key ingredients for the success of this HHS Open Government flagship initiative include policies that have enhanced access to a rapidly growing array of data resources and have resulted in the launch of a wide array of semi-annual data releases and reviews.

Additionally, HHS is upgrading its technology capabilities to improve the release of new datasets, and is modifying existing tools to support the growing community of data users.  To engage the developer community, HHS has publicized data and improved health data transparency through health data bootcamps, a dozen code-a-thons, and 20 health data developer challenges and competitions held across the country. Talent and skills from across all aspects of business, government, and academia are emerging to put health data to work.

And what are the results? The unprecedented availability of free, easily accessible, and valuable data about health and health care represents an incentive for innovators developing businesses in technology and information services. Already, a wide array of innovative information tools and health care services are emerging. For example, HDI data resources are enabling the development of consumer smart phone applications that deliver personalized information about health issues and vital health services. These tools are also enabling powerful knowledge engines that provide user-specific information through personal electronic devices to support health practitioners and consumers as they make critical decisions about care. In essence, HDI has become a conceptual and technological centerpiece of an emerging health data ecosystem.  Now, local, regional, and state governments are also taking major steps to make their health-related data more accessible, understandable, and usable.

Looking forward, we will continue to improve the breadth, depth, granularity, and timeliness of the data we are making available, guided by user feedback.  We will enhance our collaboration and partnership with key stakeholders, and broaden efforts through the Health Data Consortium, a new public-private partnership to advance open health data and its use.  We will increase our efforts to unlock the creative potential of data to improve health and health care for all Americans through greater knowledge and understanding.   Learn more about our efforts in the weeks to come as we prepare for our celebration of health data at the Health Data Initiative Forum III – the Health Datapalooza.

Todd Park is Chief Technology Officer at the Department of Health and Human Services. On March 9, President Obama announced that he will be the next US Chief Technology Officer, based in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, starting March 16. In that role, he will continue his work with health IT and take on a number of new challenges aimed at harnessing technology for the American people.