HHS aims to spur software apps development
The Department of Health and Human Services plans to release significantly more health-related data in December to spur commercial development of new software applications designed to help patients, providers and policymakers make better healthcare decisions.
National, state and county health performance data sets will be made available via the Internet to HHS's "Health Indicators Warehouse," according to Todd Park, HHS chief technology officer, who said HHS would also set up a permanent "one stop shop" Web site for public access to community health data and health-related data from other federal agencies.
"We want to keep flooding the market with more and more data from our vaults," said Park, who views government as an enabler of business innovation and a source of support to developers and programmers looking to use public data in useful applications and services.
"We would like to be relegated as rapidly as possible to the role of data sugar daddy," he said at an Oct. 12 conference sponsored by West Wireless Health Institute, a medical mobile technology research organization.
HHS has made raw health data available at an interim site since June, when it announced the Community Health Data Initiative. Both efforts are part of the White House Open Government directive to make federal operations and data more accessible to the public.
The Health Indicators Warehouse will publish and continuously update 2,000 population health markers, such as smoking and obesity rates, healthcare costs and rate of usage of health services.
Programmers will be able to access data sets, technical tools and application interfaces at the site, which will also showcase how some developers are using the data and links to private sector data sources.
"We are also rewiring the underlying HHS processes to cough out more data by making data publication a default," Park said. "You will have to explain to your data systems why you can't pull data out."
In an example of innovative uses of the data, Park highlighted how software firm Adobe Systems converted ASCII text files containing veteran and Medicare information into the HTML format for Web documentation, which made the information easier for beneficiaries to read and manipulate.
The application is part of the "Blue Button" initiative, a program under which the Veterans Affairs Department and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services offer beneficiaries access to copies of their personal health information via a button on the VA and CMS Web sties.
VA, CMS, the Defense Department and the Markle Foundation, a public interest group that works on healthcare policies, developed the blue button feature. "There are companies now that are building readers, writers and applications to work with that data to make it more useful," Park said.