An energetic Todd Park, CTO, Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), opened the eHealth Initiative 2011 National Forum on Health Information Exchange at the Omni Shoreham Hotel in Washington, D.C. on July 14 by introducing what he called the information liberacíon, a movement to increase market transparency by freeing pertinent health information data.
Park presented many data sharing initiatives supported by HHS, including two main data sharing networks, the Direct Project and Blue Button. “We’re promoting a portfolio approach to this,” he said, referring to the department’s multi-faceted approach. HHS goals were three-fold, he said, to publicize new data for public access, make existing HHS data more accessible, and advertise that data to innovators.
Park said he was excited about the proliferation of Direct Project use cases, describing the program as a straightforward secure messaging platform that allows providers to send personal health information (PHI) via encrypted email. Another HHS program he showcased, Blue Button, allows veterans, Medicare beneficiaries, and military beneficiaries to have access to and download their own health data. “The goal of all this is not to liberate particular data sets,” he said. “It is to capitalize on a self-propelled open ecosystem of innovation using data to improve health and create jobs of the future.”
HHS is showcasing the data on two sites: healthdata.gov, a resource for innovators who are turning data into new applications, services, and insights that can help improve health; and healthindicators.gov, a data hub for the Community Health Data Initiative, a flagship open government initiative to release data like national, state, and community health indicators. Among the data being release are Medicare claim files that providers can use for quality metrics that are free for download, and in the future Park sees other data being made available like provider directories and government health spending metrics.
In order to publicize data for purposes of innovation, HHS has code-a-thons, meet-ups, and an annual health ‘datapalooza.’ At the second annual datapalooza in June, HHS showcased close to 50 of the best innovations American Idol-style in 10-minute demos to select the best ones, which included PatientsLikeMe, Healthline, Castlight, iTriage, and Asthmapolis.
“I’ve frankly never before been more optimistic about the prospect of health IT to change healthcare,” said Park. “I’ve spent a lot of time talking to 100s of innovators that are not just talking about change, they are changing healthcare.”
In a panel on transforming healthcare through analytics, social epidemiologist by trade Carladenise Edwards, Ph.D., CEO, Cal eConnect, an Emeryville-based non-profit designated by the California Health and Human Services (CHHS) to oversee the development of HIE policies and services in California, said information shared by HIEs could be used to create reports and briefs to inform political decision making and enact change. “Getting all those folks to talk to each other isn’t that simple,” said Edwards. “You need your eHIs, your Kaiser Foundations, you need all these folks to come together to have the bandwidth to write a brief to present it in such a way that you resolve the problem you’re trying to solve,” she said. “Data is no good unless it’s answering a fundamental question.”
Ahmed Ghouri, M.D., co-founder of Anvita Health, a healthcare analytics company based in San Diego (also named as one of last year’s HIT Up and Comers), said that healthcare analytics have to be real-time, solve semantic problems, and eventually enable new reimbursement models. He said HIEs should standardize both legacy data and comingle it with real-time data to analyze populations in a secure way. He also suggested that analytics can be used for care coordination to identify patients who haven’t filled medications or made follow-up appointments. An exchange can further identify which provider or specialist should follow up with the patient and when.
Edwards related that in her home state there was a huge gap between integrating public and private sector information. “We have a responsible to not only continue to push for the government to model the trajectory we should be on, but [think] how can we help them achieve interoperability,” said Edwards.
Edwards said the Direct Project was a succinct way to get health records from point A to B, but said HIEs must take the industry to the next level by populating electronic health records (EHRs) with structured data in a user friendly format to aid providers’ care decisions. “The Direct Project doesn’t get us to those end stages of meaningful use, but there’s a place for it in our trajectory of transformation,” she said. She emphasized that the real value is in the presentation of the information, rather than the information itself.