Why Todd Park wants to set data free

Todd Park, chief technology officer of the United States, urged an audience at the Commonwealth Club of California recently to think about data in new ways, and suggested that to do so would first require setting that data free.

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The value of data is something Park speaks about passionately. Open data and open innovation have the power to improve healthcare in America, he said, making his case before the Commonwealth Club audience on June 18 – where he also discussed who is the bigger geek, himself or President Obama. (Answer: the president.)

"There's no problem America has we can't invent our way out of, if we really try," said Park.

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Recently, many PBS stations have reprised Park’s talk. It is available to watch at HealthcareITNews.com.

Here are three questions from the audience that Michael Blum, MD, posed to Park after the speech.

Q. Traditionally we’ve been expanding our EHR presence, but without the ability to really extract that data in meaningful ways. Do you see that changing from the vendors themselves exposing that, or do you see that coming from innovation on the outside?

Park: “I think it's probably a mix of both. Another area of tremendous innovation is where we’re seeing more and more companies come in to medical home networks or healthcare systems and say ‘you’ve got a bunch of different software applications. You’ve got lab systems, and your physician network uses seven different EHRs. We'll provide a layer that basically sucks data out of all of them, integrates them, concatenates them, runs them through taxonomy and creates a longitudinal patient record that is understandable to a patient and a doctor. Advances in data extraction and analytics transformation, even in the last three years, have advanced to the point to where that’s a very, very doable thing. It’s proven in early tests to be phenomenally valuable in lots of different ways.

“If a patient and a physician have a truly comprehensive understanding of what’s actually happening then better things tend to happen. Similarly we’re seeing EHR companies actually open up the data themselves, but I think it’s actually kind of a combination of the two that will where magic happens.”

Q. A lot of our information is unstructured. Talk about specific initiatives to make more structured health data, and what have you seen that’s been successful so far?