HHS, IOM put health data to work with new initiative

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The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and Institute of Medicine (IOM) President Harvey Fineberg have launched a national initiative to share a wealth of new community health data to drive innovation and create new applications and tools to improve the health in the U.S.

The Community Health Data Initiative (CHDI) is enlisting web application developers and harnessing mobile phone applications, social media and other IT tools to put public health data to work to help citizens, clinicians and local leaders use data to improve health and the value of healthcare.

“Our national health data constitute a precious resource that we are paying billions to assemble, but then too often wasting,” Sebelius said. “When information sits on the shelves of government offices, it is underperforming. We need to bring these data alive. If made easily accessible by the public, our data can help raise awareness of health status and trigger efforts to improve it.”

The initiative was announced at a Community Health Data Forum yesterday at the National Academy of Sciences’ IOM. Federal and community leaders were joined by developers and technology leaders who demonstrated 16 applications that make use of publicly available health data.

A new HHS Health Indicators Warehouse will be deployed online, providing currently available and new HHS data on national, state, regional and county health performance on indicators such as rates of smoking, obesity, diabetes, access to healthy food, utilization of healthcare services, etc., in an “one-stop data shop,” according to Sebelius. Users will be able to explore this data on the warehouse website, download any of it for free and integrate it into their own web sites and applications.

The CHDI does not endorse particular applications, but rather enables their independent development through easier access to expanded, free data. Communities, professionals and consumers can choose the applications they find most useful, HHS stated.

An initial sampling of applications demonstrated at the forum included web tools that allow citizens to easily understand health performance in one county versus another, dashboards that allow civic leaders to get an understanding of their community’s health status and how they might improve it, an online game that enables players to learn local health status facts and an enhanced web search that integrates hospital performance data into hospital search results.

The HHS Health Indicators Warehouse web site will be online by the end of 2010, HHS stated.