CMS unveils new data sharing tool

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services on Tuesday announced a new data sharing tool to aid researchers access CMS data.

The tool--the CMS Virtual Data Center (VRDC)--is part of president Obama's Big Data Research and Development Initiative, and was introduced at a White House event.

The VRDC is a secure means for researchers to virtually access and analyze CMS data. It allows researchers to look at Medicare data at a lower cost, to use a secure virtual desktop to do so, and to refresh data analyses routinely instead of waiting for physical data delivery.

"We're acutely aware of the huge potential that CMS data holds for creating a more efficient, higher quality healthcare system, and researchers play a large part in this transformation," CMS Administrator Marilyn Tavenner said, according to the announcement. "By providing researchers with secure, timely, and affordable access to CMS data, the agency is making it easier to do the important research that will lay the foundation for better quality and lower costs in the health care system."

Data, according to the announcement, will be secure in the VRDC, with "sensitive individually identifiable information about beneficiaries" set to remain in the CMS data environment, safeguarded against breaches.

Starting with the right kind of data is critical to the success of an accountable care organization (ACO), Naveen Srabu, product management director for Liaison Healthcare Technologies, told an audience at the AHIMA Convention in Atlanta last month.

Naveen outlined three building blocks he said are necessary to develop the analytics component of an ACO from the ground up:

  1. Start with practice-level information, including standardized lab results and detailed patient information, if available.
  2. Develop a repository of "longitudinal" patient records including claims data, information from electronic health records and practice management systems, and data from related forms.
  3. Harmonize information coming in from different practices, all of which have different interfaces, and determine what analytics you want to run to produce meaningful results.

To learn more:
-  read the announcement from CMS

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