HHS seeing 'culture change' when it comes to data sharing

The federal agency is also focused on new public-private partnerships as it casts away old, bureaucratic ways of thinking.
By Laura Lovett
06:08 PM
HHS regulations

HHS panel speaking at HIMSS18 on Wednesday.

LAS VEGAS – The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services pledged to share more data between federal departments and with the public, HHS Chief Technology Officer Bruce Greenstein said at HIMSS18 on Wednesday. 

The effort to make data more readily available began under the Obama administration. But now the department is working on the next steps, said Greenstein, moving from opening up data to taking action with that data. That often means reaching out to the private sector to help tackle pressing problems.  

“I think there was a cultural transformation that happened in the last administration and how we viewed data and the relationship HHS [has] with external consumers,” Mona Siddiqui, chief data officer at HHS said. 

The department has begun to hold events to encourage private-public partnerships, and encourage data use. 

For example,  in December HHS hosted a code-a-thon to address the opioid crisis. Innovators from across the country were invited to compete for one of three $10,000 prizes and contribute ideas towards solving the epidemic. Developers were encouraged to use the open data to help create their products. 

“It was a fantastic way to see how HHS data could lead to solutions but also a great visual for HHS leadership and staff to see how the data we talk about in an esoteric way could be used in a really practical way,” Siddiqui said. 

However, there are still hurdles when it comes to sharing data between departments, especially since HHS is made up of more than a dozen unique agencies. Siddiqui said that often the agencies don’t view themselves as part of one larger department but rather as their own entity. 

“As government bureaucrats think about these data sets they manage they start to view it as their data,” Greenstein said. “The American people own the data that is in HHS, not a bureaucrat that has been there for 20 years and thinks that they have the control because other people might misuse it. People outside of our building will do much better things with it than we are doing with it alone right now.”

For example, the department has already used data to partner with investors, innovators and healthcare providers to come up with solutions for kidney failure. 

HHS is also reaching out to entrepreneurs with ideas for the future. But Greenstein said it isn’t just data that is important but also making the work people-centered. 

“[People] is the piece that is going to be the catalyst. The data is the enabler, people and taking action that is what really matters.”

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Twitter: @lauralovett7
Email the writer: laura.lovett@himssmedia.com