The Power of Open Data and Health Care

October 23, 2015

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Damon L. Davis, director of the HHS Ideas Lab, discusses the efforts by government to make health data sets more publicly available at the 4th Annual Health Care Summit.

Takeaways

4th Annual Health Care Summit explores the power of open data.

We’re producing more data than ever before, and the world of health care may be the source of the largest data explosion.Access to data has the potential to allow for major advancements in the treatment and prevention of disease, and there is a clamor in the private sector for more access to government data sets on health.

This was a major topic on Oct. 20 as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation hosted its 4th Annual Health Care Summit.

Damon L. Davis, head of the HHS Ideas Lab with the Department of Health and Human Services, offered insight into the government’s efforts to makedata sets more available.“Access to larger and larger amounts of data is changing many things in our healthcare system,” Davis said. “It’s inspiring a lot of work in research,we’re doing a lot of work in connecting social services to healthcare, and data is really foundational to driving all of those activities.”

In 2010, HHS leaders spearheaded a Health Data Initiative, resulting the website healthdata.gov, designed to make data more accessible to entrepreneurs, researchers, and policy makers.

Of course, it’s not quite as simple as making all data openly available. In addition to addressing privacy concerns, agencies have also learned that they must anticipate what data researchers may need, so that the most-needed data sets are easiest to find and analyze.

“The challenge is, how do I know the data you want?” Davis said. “How can we come up with a demand-driven approach? And how do we share the knowledge, and how to we develop a platform where that can be discovered?”

“The challenge is, how do I know the data you want?” Davis said. “How can we come up with a demand-driven approach? And how do we share the knowledge, and how to we develop a platform where that can be discovered?”

Davis said the Food and Drug Administration is one example of an agency working to make public the most frequently requested data sets.

 “They were constantly gettting requests for certain data sets, and now they’ve simply made this available,” he said. “Now it’s very easy to make analysis.”

 

A Change in Mindset

Researchers are instinctively protective of the data and findings they collect. But there’s been a gradual shift in mindset, as the health community has learned that an opening of data can help bring about innovations and insight.

Davis said that for too long, research data has been “locked behind closed doors.”

“It’s hard for [researchers] to let that data go,” Davis said. “We’re trying to change the default setting on data from closed to open. What we’re trying to do is release the data and spark innovation.”

 

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The U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation has been exploring the impact of open data and health as part of its data-driven innovation initiative.

The following blog posts and articles examine the relationship between data and health.

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