'There is no turning back from the healthcare data agenda'

CMS launches chief data officer position

By Mike Miliard
10:48 AM
Niall Brennan

Earlier this month, we reported how healthcare is increasingly embracing a new C-suite position: chief data officer. Now, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services is getting in on the act, with the appointment of its first CDO, Niall Brennan.

[See also: Chief data officers come to healthcare]

As it launches the new Office of Enterprise Data and Analytics, or OEDA, to be led by Brennan and tasked with overseeing improvements in data collection and dissemination, CMS aims to make the enormous agency more transparent.

OEDA will help CMS make better use of its data resources, officials say, helping to develop frameworks or open access wherever appropriate, and to put data to work driving higher quality, more patient-centered care at a lower cost.

[See also: CMS adds infection data to Hospital Compare website]

"It's clear how much data transparency will help the country improve outcomes, control costs and aid consumer decision making," said CMS Principal Deputy Administrator Andy Slavitt, in a press statement. "This appointment signals to the industry that there is no turning back from the healthcare data agenda. Niall Brennan will help make sure CMS leads the way."

Prior to being appointed chief data officer, Brennan served as acting director of CMS' Offices of Enterprise Management, in charge of efforts related to data, information technology and business operations. He directed research and analysis and helped develop the agency's privacy and confidentiality policies.

With a trove of information critical to decision-making for various healthcare stakeholders – data related to Medicare, Medicaid, the EHR Incentive Programs, quality measurement, health insurance exchanges and more – CMS has more raw data at its disposal than ever, officials pointed out.

As the agency works to shift toward value-based care, the need for CMS to analyze data across its multiple programs – and provide more public access to this data, in granular or aggregate form – will increase.

The creation of the CDO position is another step toward better harnessing CMS' data resources both internally and externally, officials say. The agency is now routinely analyzing claims data in real time and applying predictive analytics to proactively identify fraud and abuse and track key metrics such as hospital readmissions.

Accountable care organizations and state Medicaid agencies, meanwhile, get monthly near real-time feeds of Medicare data to support care coordination. CMS has launched the Virtual Research Data Center to facilitate lower cost access to CMS data for researchers and federal grantees.

CMS has also put out several big datasets for public use – most notably, data on hospital charges and physician utilization in 2013 and 2014.

Still, in making this announcement, CMS emphasized the need for continued vigilance when it comes to the privacy protections of patient data.

"Our commitment to transparency is matched by our commitment to keeping personal information safeguarded," said Slavitt in a statement. "We can't expect to advance health outcomes unless we also ensure that our policies and practices around data privacy are leading the way."