CMS gives IT entrepreneurs access to Medicare data

'Historically, CMS has prohibited researchers from accessing detailed CMS data if they intended to use it to develop products or tools to sell'
By Mike Miliard
02:27 PM
Digital data

For the first time, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services will allow innovators and entrepreneurs to access Medicare claims and other CMS data, Acting Administrator Andy Slavitt announced Tuesday at Health Datapalooza in Washington.

These entrepreneurs will be allowed to conduct approved research aimed at developing tools and technologies to improve care and benefit consumers, say CMS officials. The data will be deidentified, but will be connected with specific providers. CMS will begin accepting innovator research requests in September 2015.

"Historically, CMS has prohibited researchers from accessing detailed CMS data if they intended to use it to develop products or tools to sell," said Niall Brennan, CMS chief data officer and director of its Office of Enterprise and Data Analytics, in a press statement announcing the move.

[See also: Q&A: CMS Chief Data Officer Niall Brennan]

"However, as the delivery system transforms from rewarding volume to value, data will play a key role," Brennan added. "We hope that this new policy will lead to additional innovation and insights from the CMS data."

The data will be accessed via the CMS Virtual Research Data Center, which provides access to granular data such as Medicare fee-for-service claims. Researchers working in the VRDC have direct access to approved privacy-protected data files and are able to conduct their analysis within a secure CMS environment, officials say.

The hope is that these data sources will help inform the development of transformative technologies, such as care management or predictive modeling tools.

Even though all data is privacy-protected, CMS emphasizes, researchers will not be allowed to remove patient-level data from the VRDC. They will only be able to download aggregated, privacy-protected reports and results to their own personal workstation.

CMS also announced Tuesday that researchers will be allowed to request data on a quarterly basis rather than the annual updates offered in the past. Platforms such as the VRDC have facilitated access to more current data without higher data costs, enabling researchers to conduct more rapid analysis of the delivery system.

[See also: Andy Slavitt at HIMSS15: 'Modernize the healthcare infrastructure']

"Data is the essential ingredient to building a better, smarter, healthier system," said Slavitt in a statement. "Today's announcement is aimed directly at shaking up health care innovation and setting a new standard for data transparency. We expect a stream of new tools for beneficiaries and care providers that improve care and personalize decision-making."