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U.S. government healthcare IT plans hinge on Open Data

Kenneth Corbin | Sept. 24, 2013
Health and Human Services CTO sees big future in big health data as the government looks to expand its repository of publicly available, machine-readable data sets.

Instead, in the spirit of Obama's directive on machine-readable data, Sivak and his team are encouraging healthcare workers and researchers both within and outside the federal government to adopt common, developer-friendly formats for the new data sets they create. Additionally, the tech team at HHS behind HealthData.gov is working to convert older data sets into a machine-readable format as they come online and are available for download.

"The problem is that it's not really useful if it's not in a usable format, so one of the things that we're also focused on is what we call data liquidity. What we want to do is we want to increase the connectibility and the use of health data, and I think this is where technology can help us out quite a bit," he said.

"What we want to do is we want to encourage people to build data in formats such as XML or machine-readable formats. Maybe even better put application programming interfaces on top of those data sets so developers, when they write applications, they don't even have to suck that data in," Sivak said.

"All they have to do is make a functional call to a server or to an application that already exists out there and get the data in real time. That way they don't have to worry about updating it. They don't have to worry about what format it's in. It's just very, very simple to use."

Going Beyond Feds for Data
In its bid to expand HealthData.gov into a centralized hub of health data, HHS is hoping to attract data sets from outside the federal government. Already, the site includes 61 data sets from New York State, but Sivak sees that only as a start.

Last Thursday, he put out an open call for health data from other state agencies and members of the private sector, noting that the submission of a data set to the HHS catalog only expands its visibility, and does not entail any transfer of ownership.

"We don't ingest them. We just basically create a pointer to them, right, so people will always get pointed back that original location of where the data is," Sivak said. "But think of that — if we could have a massive catalog of all of the health data that's available out there in one place, that's a great resource for anybody who's trying to do anything with this ecosystem."

 

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