Kathleen Sebelius: Data liberation works

Federal data liberation efforts, including those at the Department of Health and Human Services, represent reforms that are bigger than one administration, according to Kathleen Sebelius.

In a keynote speech Tuesday at Health Datapalooza in Washington, the outgoing HHS secretary touted those efforts, calling them a catalyst for innovation. To date, she said, HHS has released more than 1,000 data sets.

"We've seen more healthcare startups emerge in the past five years than we had seen in the previous 20," Sebelius said, citing statistics HHS Chief Technology Officer Bryan Sivak shared at the conference on Monday.

Sebelius also highlighted the launch of openFDA, which she said will finally make adverse event data available in usable formats for developers.

"This continues to work," she said.

Data liberation has been a priority of HHS and the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT. At a June 2012 meeting at the White House, officials from the Obama administration, ONC and other agencies met with a number of health IT enthusiasts and advocates with a focus on improving patient access to data.

And current U.S. Chief Technology Officer Todd Park, who also frequently touts the benefits of free-flowing data, told FierceHealthIT back in 2011 that market incentives would continue to shift to reward innovators.

Prior to its release, Sebelius said, the agency's data was "lazy." Although the information was valuable to patients and providers, accessing it was difficult.

"It was scattered across hundreds of websites or publications," she said. "It was published in formats that were hard to use. Sometimes it was hidden behind pay walls. In most cases, it was unknown to the public."

Now, however, that lazy data is being converted into "active" data that can "change the face of humanity," Sebelius said.

"They can help us tackle some of our greatest public health challenges," she said. "And they just might allow us to solve some of our economic challenges, as well."

To learn more:
- here's Sebelius' speech

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