HHS to developers: Data must be more useful

The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services needs to find better ways to make its troves of health data useful for technology innovators, Bryan Sivak (right), HHS chief technology officer, told developers at the recent Health: Refactored conference in Mountain View, Calif. HHS is looking for ways to bring value to little-used assets, some which are locked away in bureaucratic silos, reports Computerworld.

The HHS efforts are part of a larger "open data" project throughout the federal government to make information the government collects more available to the public. The Office of Management and Budget unveiled a new policy last week requiring all federal agencies "to collect or create information in a way that supports downstream information processing … including using machine-readable and open formats, data standards, and common core and extensible metadata for all new information creation and collection efforts."

HHS already has been at work on that. Last week, it also released data on the average hospital charges for the 100 most common Medicare claims.

Other data sets are less than useful in their current state, Sivak said. The National Plan and Provider Enumeration system, which lists all U.S. doctors and their specialties, for instance, contains too much jargon to be useful to the layperson.

HHS wants to expand the data on its HealthData.gov site into a one-stop shop for all health data within the federal government, Sivak said. So far, that site features data on obesity and heart disease, hospital Medicare costs, and cancer and flu incidence rates.

Sivak pointed to Blue Button as an example of putting government data to work in an easy-to-use format. Incorporating a similar solution "could be the basis of a killer app," he said.

More than 1 million patients have signed up to use Blue Button, which has added expanded features and also has been designed as an iPhone and iPad app. It is used by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, the Department of Defense, Medicare, and private companies including Kaiser Permanente, Aetna and UnitedHealth Group.

HHS wants to put more information into patients' hands and to modernize its back-end systems to enable real-time updates. It also plans to partner with New York City-based online coding tutor Code Academy to provide lessons on building products with its data sets.

To learn more:
- find the Computerworld article

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