Skip Navigation
  • Text Size: A A A
  • Print
  • Email
  • Facebook
  • Tweet
  • Share

One Thousand Data Sets and Counting

February 26, 2014

The program managers, researchers, scientists and analysts at the Department of Health and Human Services have been collecting data for decades on the nation’s health, demographics, social services, and scientific research. But what’s the value of all that data if it isn’t used?

That’s why we launched the HHS Health Data Initiative three years ago, a department-wide effort to gather up and make our vast troves of data available – in one place online -- to private sector innovators, researchers, and the public. In addition to publishing new and existing data at HealthData.gov, we’ve also focused on making the data easier to use -- while rigorously protecting privacy. This is part of the President’s government-wide Open Data initiative to promote efficiency, effectiveness, and transparency. I’m pleased to announce that the initiative recently hit a major milestone: cataloging the one-thousandth data set on HealthData.gov.

These 1,000-plus data sets include data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, the National Institutes of Health, the Administration for Children and Families, and other agencies. Additionally, nine states have made their own data available, with more the come.  

Our goal has been to unleash the power of private-sector innovators and entrepreneurs to use HealthData.gov data to create applications, products, and services that help consumers, care providers, employers, local policymakers, and communities in ways that no one organization could possibly imagine. We’ve already seen some exciting examples of how innovators can put accessible government data to use in their efforts to improve health care quality, guide individuals to available health care and social services, and inform health policy:

  • Project Tycho, a University of Pittsburgh initiative, has unlocked the data in CDC weekly reports on contagious diseases going back to 1888. One analysis of the data on eight diseases allowed researchers to estimate that about 100 million cases of illnesses had been prevented by immunization efforts.
  • Aidin, a small startup, is using data from CMS on quality health facilities and nursing homes to help provide patients with specific discharge guidance about their options for post-acute care.
  • iTriage, a mobile and web platform, uses HHS health facility locator databases to help patients make informed health decisions and find nearby care providers.

Along with President Obama's Open Government initiative, the Affordable Care Act authorizes HHS to release new data resources that advance transparency in the health care provider and insurance markets in significant ways. The law authorizes CMS to evolve how it pays care providers, shifting from quantity to quality of care.  This shift is creating strong incentives for health care providers to leverage data and technology to help reduce errors, cut avoidable hospital readmissions, improve care coordination, and engage patients in new ways, while helping to restrain health care cost growth.

The Affordable Care Act is also investing in data collection and research that will help us better understand and find solutions for health disparities in different communities across the country.

By encouraging transparency and market-based innovation around health data, we are playing to America’s strength to solve our most pressing problems.

On February 27, we had the opportunity to talk more about Big Data and its role in exciting health innovation at the Aspen Institute Care Innovations Summit.