Unleashing the Power of Data and Innovation To Improve Health

Welcome to HealthData.gov! This site is dedicated to making high value health data more accessible to entrepreneurs, researchers, and policy makers in the hopes of better health outcomes for all. In a recent article, Todd Park, United States Chief Technology Officer, captured the essence of what the Health Data Initiative is all about and why our efforts here are so important.

"When a woman is choosing where to deliver her baby, she should be able to get on the Internet and compare the quality of care and patient satisfaction at hospitals in her area. When a doctor needs to make a patient referral, he or she should be able to find the right specialists efficiently and communicate with them easily and securely. A nurse case manager taking on the care of a chronically ill patient should be able to access instantly the latest and greatest information on how best to help that patient. When patients with serious conditions want to find clinical trials that might be relevant to them, they should both be able to do so with ease, as well as be able to sign up for proactive updates about any new clinical trial that gets launched in their area that might be relevant to them.

More and more scenarios like these are now possible, thanks to the growing availability and accessibility of key health-related data resources -- and the rapidly proliferating array of innovators who are harnessing the power of these data to help improve health and health care.   

'Liberating' Data

Three decades ago, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration began publishing weather data in electronic form for free download. Today, entrepreneurs and innovators across the country leverage this freely available, easily accessible data to power a wide array of applications and services that benefit the American people, including weather newscasts, websites, mobile applications, insurance, research and much more. Similarly, the government's decision in the 1980s to make Global Positioning System data openly available has spawned a vast array of private-sector innovations that have created large-scale public benefit and economic value.   

In much the same way, HHS has begun "liberating" health data through the Health Data Initiative -- making more and more data from HHS' vaults (from CMS, CDC, FDA and NIH, to name a few sources) easily available and accessible to the public and to innovators across the country. This information includes clinical care provider quality information, nationwide health service provider directories, databases of the latest medical and scientific knowledge, consumer product data, community health performance information, government spending data and much more. 

In addition to publishing brand-new data, we've also focused on making existing data much easier for developers to use -- i.e., by making it machine-readable, downloadable and accessible via application programming interfaces -- while rigorously protecting privacy and confidentiality. We've made this growing inventory of publicly available data resources easily findable and accessible at a central location through the HealthData.gov website, which launched in February. We are helping to promote the availability of our data to innovators across the country through grassroots "meetups," public competitions, "code-a-thons" and more.

Our goal is to unleash the power of private-sector innovators and entrepreneurs to utilize HHS data to create applications, products, services and features that help improve health and health care -- while also helping to create jobs of the future at the same time. By opening up our data, the idea is to help catalyze the emergence of a decentralized, self-propelled "ecosystem" of innovators across America who leverage HHS data to help consumers, care providers, employers, journalists, local policymakers and others in ways that no one organization could possibly even imagine -- let alone build, deploy and scale.

As Sun Microsystems' co-founder Bill Joy famously said, "No matter who you are, you have to remember that most of the smart people in the world work for someone else." We believe that the way to maximize the value created by HHS data is to let as many smart people as possible harness its power to create value.      

Policy Developments Support Openness

Several recent policy developments have contributed to an environment in which the Health Data Initiative is flourishing. President Obama's Open Government initiative, launched in 2009, has provided tremendous support for opening government data reservoirs to the public. In addition, the Affordable Care Act, the health reform law signed by President Obama in March 2010, authorizes HHS to release new data resources that advance transparency in the health care provider market and health insurance market in significant ways.

The Affordable Care Act also authorizes CMS to evolve how it pays care providers from "pay for volume of services" to "pay for health" -- a move being mirrored by private payers. This shift is creating strong incentives for health care providers to leverage the power of data and technology to help reduce errors, cut avoidable hospital admissions and readmissions, improve care coordination, reach beyond the walls of their medical offices and engage patients in a whole new way.     

Success Seen at Health Data Initiative Forum

The growing momentum of the Health Data Initiative was recently highlighted at a Health Data Initiative Forum (a.k.a. "Health Datapalooza") hosted on June 9 by the Institute of Medicine and HHS. This forum showcased 50 of the best products and services developed by companies that have harnessed HHS data to help consumers get the information they need, help doctors deliver better care, help employers promote health and wellness, help local policymakers make better-informed decisions and much more.

The solutions presented at the forum were a truly inspiring display of American entrepreneurship and ingenuity, exemplifying the power of open data and open innovation. As HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius remarked that day, no one organization -- no 10 organizations -- could have even dreamed up the ideas for these 50 products and services, let alone have built them, deployed them and scaled them to the point where they are already helping millions of Americans.    

These solutions represent just the very beginning of what is to come. We are thrilled about what the combination of open data and grassroots American innovation is producing. It's a recipe that will help power both continuous improvement of our health care system and creation of jobs of the future. We can't wait to see where American innovators will take things next, for the betterment of all. "