HHS harnesses the power of health data to improve health

June 5, 2012

The Health Data Initiative Forum III: The Health Datapalooza cohosted by the Institute of Medicine and the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is convening this week in Washington, DC, focusing on innovative applications and services that harness the power of open data from HHS and other sources to help improve health and healthcare.

The Health Data Initiative Forum III: The Health Datapalooza cohosted by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) and the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is convening this week in Washington, DC, focusing on innovative applications and services that harness the power of open data from HHS and other sources to help improve health and healthcare.

“HHS collects a huge amount of information annually on a wide variety of healthcare topics, issues, and demographics,” according to Formulary advisor James M. Wooten, PharmD, associate professor, department of medicine, University of Missouri-Kansas City. “Having open access to this data for use by the public means that researchers can use the data to study various patterns of disease in a wide range of populations. It may be easier to collaborate on different studies as information about various populations is accessible. This may save researchers quite a bit of time as data from particular population bases can easily be mined for information from the HHS.”

The third annual event, which originally began in 2010 as the Health Data Initiative (HDI), is featuring more than 100 new or updated solutions, up from 45 solutions last year, that help serve the needs of consumers, healthcare providers, employers, public health leaders, and policy-makers.

Announcements made at the Forum today include:

• Data found in the Healthcare.gov Insurance Options Finder is now available through an application programming interface (API), enabling the data to be machine readable and downloaded by third-party developers. The Insurance Options Finder allows users to compare different plans, showing important information, such as the percentage of people who applied for coverage and were denied. Healthcare.gov collects and displays public options, private insurance plans for individuals and families, as well as the small group markets.

• The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) launched an initiative to transform the agency’s approach to data and analytics. The initiative will help guide the agency’s evolution from a fee-for-service based payer to a “value-based purchaser of care” that links payments to quality and efficiency of care, rather than sheer volume of services. To lead the initiative, CMS created a new Office of Information Products and Data Analysis, which will strive to make development, management, use, and dissemination of data and information resources a core function of CMS. This effort also enhances data analytics and management strategies that are being widely promoted through programs by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. The announcement builds upon many of the recent advances in data transparency and accessibility achieved by CMS in the past 12 months.

Over time, the initiative will modernize CMS’ intricate data systems and policies, and help the agency to achieve the greatest improvements in healthcare delivery. Data and information resources available under CMS’ initiative include:

• Medicare Geographic Variation Trend Data: A unique data set that leverages nearly 5 billion Medicare claims in an easy-to-use data format that provides key metrics at the state and hospital referral region levels.

• Medicare Enrollment Dashboard: An online dashboard that provides a single location with comprehensive statistics on Medicare enrollment (Parts A, B, and D and Medicare Advantage).

• Medicare & Medicaid Research Review: A peer-reviewed online journal on current and future directions of the Medicare, Medicaid, and Children’s Health Insurance.

• CMS Data Navigator: A web-based search tool that rapidly connects researchers, policy makers, and the general public to the CMS data resources they need.

A CMS fact sheet may be viewed here.

The Office for the National Coordinator for Health IT has led national competitions toward the creation of easy-to-use, web-based tools that help patients schedule follow-up appointments after being discharged from a hospital stay. In collaboration with the Partnership for Patients, the “Discharge Follow-Up Appointment Challenge” winners were announced:

• First place: MyHealthDIRECT, a web-based solution that enables patients and caregivers to search for, book, and confirm appointments and includes reminder and transportation reservation functionality.

• Second place: HePak, a tool that integrates appointment-making and reminder functions into its hospital, provider, and patient portals.

• Third place: mHealthCoach, a tool that provides calendar syncing and incorporates educational content and HHS data feeds.

Also announced was the Blue Button Mash-Up Challenge (submission period ends Sept. 5, 2012). In conjunction with the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and the HHS Office of the National Coordinator announced the Challenge that builds on the VA’s existing Blue Button feature to allow patients to download their health information and share it with healthcare providers, caregivers, and others. The challenge requires the development of a tool that will help individuals to use their health information, combined with other types of information, such as cost data or comparative health data, to better understand their own health status and make more informed decisions regarding their healthcare.

“[Datapalooza] . . . will feature vendors offering various solutions to improve health but its not clear what the innovation or solutions are versus what is already being utilized in the market,” F. Randy Vogenberg, PhD, told Drug Topics. Vogenberg is principal at the Institute for Integrated Healthcare in Sharon, Mass., and cofounder, Bentelligence in Connecticut.

“For Medicare beneficiaries and the VA system, each has unique needs and program requirements that are dissimilar to commercial insurance offerings,” Vogenberg said. “While general healthcare solutions are always welcome, its not clear what the traditional bureaucracies in Washington are uncovering as improving health through data.”