Setting the data free

Health Datapalooza unites ‘dataholics’ for healthcare reform
By Erin McCann
12:00 AM
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The Fourth Annual Health Datapalooza stayed true to its name. It was, indeed, all about data  -  how to liberate data, the necessity of liberating data, data warehousing, promising new data apps, and how data scientists just might have the sexiest career of the 21st century.
It was a charged event, bringing together the best and brightest entrepreneurs, innovators, government leaders and tech virtuosos. Big speeches were given. Big announcements were made.
For one, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announced the release of cost data for 30 outpatient procedures, a move that officials say aims to increase healthcare transparency. "We've gone from what Todd Park would refer to as 'lazy data', which just sat in a file room somewhere into active data that is now informing the marketplace," Sebelius said.
This is the second round of hospital charge data HHS has released. Just in May, Sebelius announced the release of cost information on 100 of the most common Medicare inpatient services.
But many say it's still not enough. The electric and unapologetic Jonathan Bush, chief executive officer of athenahealth, offered his own perspective on data during a colorful keynote address to a packed audience.
In Bush's June keynote, he shuffled onto the stage with slumped shoulders and a somber expression. He willed himself to glance up at the audience and confessed, "I am a dataholic." Cheers and applause erupted throughout the crowd.
He thanked Sebelius for releasing the new data set, with a noticeable tinge of sarcasm in his voice. "Thank you, Secretary, for releasing 30 of 30 million things you need to release," he joked. "Data on 30 procedures? That is nearly NOTHING," Bush wrote in a June 7 blog post reflecting back on the conference.
In his keynote, Bush acknowledged the progress the administration has made in terms of data, but also highlighted  -  with fierce animation  -  the deficits of the administration, the healthcare system and current policies.
Big takeaway from his keynote? Hand over the paid claims data. He cited the landmark May 31 ruling that lifted a 33-year-old court order banning public access to the Medicare paid claims data.
Bush at one point directed his gaze toward ONC chief Farzad Mostashari, MD, and company. "Farzad, I love you, man. You're smarter than me. I love your bow ties. I love everything about you. I love what you've done," he said. "And I love Sebelius with the 30 procedures, awesome progress. There are like 30 million that we need. We need them every minute of every day."
And that's when Bush took his point home. "You must release CMS paid claims data to people who are covered under HIPAA . . . we're looking at 40 million patients every day. We look at their surgeries and their infections, and we can't look at the rest of their cost picture. We have plenty of information to embarrass them; we just don't have any information to save them any money." The audience, again, erupted in cheers.
The gregarious and warm UK Secretary of State for Health Jeremy Hunt was also a crowd favorite at the Health Datapalooza, where he spoke to the power of releasing health data  -  data that oftentimes doctors don't want released.
After collecting and publishing information on the risk adjusted survival rates for all of England's heart surgeons, the country has become one of the top performing heart surgery countries in Europe.
On account of the pilot's success, the UK will now roll out similar data collections throughout 10 other medical specialties.
All of the data "will be published so we can identify outliers and drive up standards in clinical practice," says Hunt. "This actually drives down cost if you do it right."