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2nd Annual Health Data Initiative Forum

June 9, 2011
Bethesda, MD

Remarks as prepared for delivery

Good morning, and welcome to the second of what we hope will be many annual gatherings to talk about how we can make better use of health data to become a healthier country.

I want to thank Dr. Fineberg for being our partner in today’s event and in so many other efforts to improve care in America.

I also want to thank Dr. Collins for hosting us today and for his outstanding leadership at NIH.

And I want to give special thanks to the man who is more responsible for this event than anyone else, our tireless Chief Technology Officer, Todd Park.

Finally, I want to thank all of the innovators who are with us today, both in this room and watching around the country. We’re grateful to be your partners in transforming health in America.

Over the last few decades, we’ve seen innovation lead to huge improvements in almost every area of our lives. We’ve gone from waiting until a bank opened to make a deposit to 24-hour ATMs. We’ve gone from computers the size of a room that were operated by trained experts to devices thousands of times more powerful that can fit your pocket.

But when it comes to health, the pace of innovation has been a crawl, not a sprint. Yes, we have many new medicines and medical devices. But thirty years ago, if you wanted to find a good heart specialist, you had to ask your friends. If you were a hospital and wanted to compare the quality and cost of care in your area to another area, you were out of luck. If you were a mayor trying to develop a health agenda, you often had little data to shape it. And today, thirty years later, not much has changed.

When innovation is slow, so is improvement. The result is that even though Americans pay more for health care than anyone in the world, we still live sicker and die younger than many of our peers.

We need to change that. So what we’ve done from the first days of this Administration is ask what steps we can take to spark innovation in health. And one of the first ideas we had was making better use of data.

Our department collects an incredible amount of data, from public health data about the prevalence of disease, to Medicare data about health care provider quality, to data about ongoing clinical trials and much, much more. But until recently, too much of this information was difficult or impossible to access, scattered across hundreds of websites or publications, published in formats that were hard to use, hidden behind pay walls, and in many cases, unknown to the public.

Our theory was that if we made this information much more accessible with full protections on privacy and confidentiality – and then helped put this information in the hands of innovators – you could turn it into tools that would help policy-makers improve public health programs, help doctors and nurses deliver better care, help employers promote health and wellness, and help consumers take control of their health care. And at the first Health Data Initiative forum last June, you proved us right by coming up with more than 20 new or improved tools just 90 days after we asked for them.

At that forum, I challenged you to go even further. And today, a year later, I’m glad to say that you’ve met that challenge and more.

In the last twelve months, our department has continued to rapidly unlock data, and we’ve made it all available in one central clearinghouse, HealthData.gov. But what’s even more impressive is what you’ve done with it.

This year, we’ve raised the stakes for presenters. In addition to having a useful tool, all presenters also had to have a sustainable business model – a realistic plan for how to put that tool in the hands of the people who needed it. That’s a lot harder than just coming up with an idea. To be honest, we weren’t sure what kind of response we’d get. So we were incredibly gratified when over 45 exciting innovations were selected by an IOM committee out of more than 75 applications.

Today, you’ll hear about each of these innovations. You’ll hear about innovations for consumers like Healthline, a health information search engine that uses Medicare and FDA data to help consumers research and make informed decisions about surgical procedures. You’ll hear about innovations for doctors like Doximity, an application that uses HHS data to help doctors find and communicate with nearby specialists so they can make the best referral. You’ll hear about innovations for employers like Castlight, which uses our data to help employees identify and select health care providers that provide the best value.

As the day goes on, you’ll hear more details about how the Health Data Initiative works – about the steps we’re taking to make data available, and the steps you can take to make the most of it.

But I also want to make three broader points. First, this data initiative works hand-in-hand with the rest of our agenda to promote innovation in health. For example, under the health care law passed last year, we’re working to change the incentives in our health care system so they reward quality not quantity. That gives hospitals, doctors, and nurses another reason to improve care. And the Health Data Initiative gives them new tools to do that.

The second point I want to make is that this initiative is tapping into the power of grassroots American ingenuity. No one organization, or even ten organizations, could have dreamed up the innovations you are going to see today, let alone executed them. We believe in the power of innovators across America to help invent our way to better health, and we see the Health Data Initiative as a vital way to support their work.

And that leads me to my third point, which is that this initiative is also about the jobs of the future. You’ll hear from major players in health like Aetna and Walgreens that are using our data. But part of what’s so exciting about this event is that so many of the companies harnessing our data are small, nimble, and growing fast. Any one of these companies could end up as the Facebook or Google of health.

For all these reasons, we’ve made the Health Data Initiative a top priority across our department. Going forward, each of our agencies will be required to update me twice a year on how they’re making their data more accessible. We’re also stepping up our outreach to innovators. When we talked to one group of entrepreneurs last year, many didn’t even know that a lot of this data existed, so we’re making sure people know what’s available. Finally, we’ll be providing more training and support to help people understand how best to use this data.

That’s our commitment to you. But as I did last year, I’m also asking for a commitment from you. We need you to take the tools you’ve developed and make them more widely available. We need you to use the data we’ve made available to help solve new problems. We need you to do more, do it bigger, and do it faster. Americans have waited long enough for these health innovations. Let’s not make them wait any longer.