Data floodgates will stay open, says HHS

'Treasure trove' has already served as raw material for technology improvements
By Diana Manos
11:08 AM
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Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius says the U.S. government will continue to offer open access to data as fuel for healthcare innovation.

Sebelius' remarks came at a keynote given June 3 at Health Datapalooza in Washington, D.C., as she fulfills the last days of her office under President Obama, having announced her departure in April.

[See also: Sebelius releases new HHS data]

Since the Obama administration began in 2009, the federal government has been trying to unlock the wealth of the HHS’s healthcare data, to the betterment of society, Sebelius said.

"The information oligarchy – something that plagues so many large [federal] departments – is a thing of the past at HHS," she said. "Instead, we have grown into an open data democracy. And that’s a good place to be."

An example of such includes an announcement yesterday of open.fda.gov, an open data resource that includes access to adverse drug reactions. Sebelius likened app developers to artists, saying the data is like paint and a canvas, inviting their creativity.

[See also: Why Todd Park wants to set data free]

Since 2009, HHS has tried to release more data to empower developers, policymakers, doctors and consumers to navigate their own care.

"We have this treasure trove of data and we weren’t putting it to good use," she said.

Some of the data is “lazy data,” difficult to read, unencrypt, access or hidden behind paywalls and totally unknown to the public, as is the case across much of the government and the public sector. Disorganization and distrust of the public and paper records were obstacles to release of the data.

"From day one we tried to plant our flag in the ground and commit ourselves to liberating the flow of information, to convert that lazy data into active data, to push it into the public domain for the common good,” she said.

As information is being released, HHS has deidentified the data. "Privacy concerns have and will always be priority number one," Sebelius said. "Patient information needs to be protected."

As of today, HHS has released more than 1,000 data sets, she said.

On Monday, in fact, HHS announced that for the second year in a row it will be releasing what hospitals have been charging for the services they provide to Medicare patients.