Data.CDC.gov: Energizing Data to Better Tell the Story

Prevalence of tobacco use, flu vaccination coverage, leading causes of death, access to health care and even web site traffic – data on these and other topics has recently been released in “energized form” with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s launch of Data.CDC.gov.  Data.CDC.gov is the new data repository that hosts some of the CDC’s most popular data sets. In addition to increased access to data, Data.CDC.gov is powered by the Socrata platform that allows users to filter, syndicate and create easy visualizations with the data.  These newly Application Programming Interface (APIs)-enabled data can be displayed using visualization tools including bar charts, trend lines, maps, and filtered views. Making data available in human-readable form, allowing API-access to data for public reuse, and working with programs to release data for mobile apps and other innovations, helps HHS meet the requirements of the Digital Government Strategy, but it’s not the real story.

The real story is how data can be used to help people create new ways to use CDC data – in new products, in new content, within existing content or data –  to help tell the story  or solve a specific problem. As a technologist, I love this API and data stuff.  As a health communication technologist at CDC, my clear directive is using technology to fulfill our public health mission: to protect America from health, safety and security threats, both foreign and in the U.S..  The cool API technology remains subservient to communicating our health messages and encouraging people to make safe, sound and evidence-based health decisions.  Systems like Data.CDC.gov  and CDC’s Content Syndication platform allow communication products to use the best content produced by the government, regardless of the agency or type. This includes textual content, video, audio, infographics, eCards, data, and data visualizations.

Now this is where it becomes exciting for the technologist and the health communicator in me!   As a communicator, data is only useful if it can convey a specific actionable message. Content is only useful if it is accurate and delivered to the target audience.  The more a person relates to the message, the more likely that person is to remember and act upon it, thus improving health outcomes.  Through Data.CDC.gov we can deliver the appropriate messages about health, wellness, surveillance and prevention, based on the current data, just in time and at the right location, making the  Winnable Battles of eliminating tobacco use, healthcare-associated infections, and motor vehicle injuries, improving food safety and immunization coverage and reducing teen pregnancy become even more winnable.

We call this energizing data – to allow them to go where they are needed, combine with content, and do things that it couldn’t do on its own…bringing data to life!

Imagine a state or local health department being able to take federally-produced infographics and customize them for that area. In this proposed example, the Indian Health Services (IHS) could take an infographic produced by Food and Drug Administration (FDA) based on numbers from CDC’s Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System and through Data.CDC.gov substitute national aggregate estimates with the state-level estimates. (Images and infographics have not been cleared or approved by their respective programs and are used here merely for illustrative purposes.)

Using these platforms and APIs, the Indian Health Service could build a vaccination mobile application that uses CDC infographics and schedules, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services provider location data services, National Institutes of Health (NIH) videos, and FDA recalls that substitutes culturally relevant images for divergent audiences in Alaska and Arizona.  Working together, we can put actionable content in the hands of the public and health care providers without requiring them to search for information from agency to agency, and without adding layers of cross-clearance or bureaucracy.

We’re building capacity in state and local health departments by providing free, evidence based health content for reuse and allowing the federal government to do the maintenance. We will soon give these partners the capacity to localize materials for their audiences, either by combining with additional local messaging or controlled adaptation based on CDC data. We’re working with the Ohio Department of Health (ODH) giving them capacity to syndicate their content to their local health departments or share with other states.  Further ODH can include content produced on the local level to share from one local health department to another.  Since there are no geographic boundaries on the internet, the Maricopa County Department of Public Health in Arizona could use material produced by Union County, Ohio.

Open government/open data also allows our commercial health care stakeholders to take this to the next level by sending our science based health messages and content directly to patients and consumers through electronic health records (EHR) and personal health records (PHR) systems, or through health monitoring applications and devices.

CDC will continue to build technologies that allow content in all its forms to go where it is needed, regardless of source, and we are excited to be leading a cross-HHS effort to implement these systems across the Department.  The very close collaboration we have with the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs, the Center for Tobacco Products at FDA, NIH and other agencies in and out of HHS, is testament to the value of this technology for health communication.

Though CDC’s been sharing syndicated content and releasing data to the public for years, Data.CDC.gov is our first step in the “open data through RESTful API” arena on a consolidated, agency-wide level. The value to the public health system is the efficient reuse of quality, evidence-based health messaging irrespective of type or source to be delivered to the public and tailored by data.  The more data, content and partners we have, the greater the value to us all.

Contact me for more information on these projects and join us in exploring the possibilities of energizing data, bringing it to life, and using it to better tell the story and improve health.