What HHS’s Todd Park Wants You to Know

For the past month or so, we’ve been talking about last week’s DC to VC event which gave health information technology startups the chance to pitch their ideas to entrepreneurs and venture capitalists. But DC to VC didn’t start or end with that day. It’s part of a larger movement by Health and Human Services to get the word out to innovators that there is a mine of data, largely untapped, waiting to be converted into something useful. Especially something that can provide some insight into where the U.S. health care systems goes wrong, with billions of dollars wasted each year.

Todd Park, HHS Chief Technology Officer has been behind the Community Health Data Initiative for two years. Not only have he and others been working to free up data that can safely and legally be made public, but they’re trying to market the data that’s already available as well as the data that’s on the way.

During a small roundtable meeting with reporters Friday in San Francisco, Park joked that an unscientific but definitive survey found that 98% of innovators capable of doing beneficial things with government data didn’t even know they could. Park ran through several categories of information that is or will be made available, including data about provider directories, Blue Button data, consumer product data, government spending data and more. To find some of the latest health information available click here.

Not surprisingly though, people are hesitant to use certain health data because they’ve always been perceived to be so untouchable. For researchers, innovators and reporters, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act has always seemed to be a padlock on all things useful. Even health consumers are scared off by the barrier that they interpret HIPAA to be. “The number one Freedom of Information Act request that Medicare gets by far is Medicare beneficiaries asking for their own claims!” Park said.

However, a lot of concerns about using health data are valid, so, also not surprisingly, Medicare data isn’t available to everyone. But what’s alarming to some is that soon Medicare claims data might not just be available to providers and patients. A new provision could make it available to third parties as well.

According to a proposed regulation, starting in 2012 the government is for the first time going to make Medicare claims data available to qualified private and public entities that are capable of taking that data and analyzing it to produce quality reports about doctors and medical facilities. (The regulation, which is in the proposal stage, will define what a qualified entity is.) The entity can obtain the data at a cost and then crunch it with other numbers, only to be used to generate performance reports. Prior to publication, the entity is required to show it to the involved providers and suppliers so they can vet the report and correct any errors. Then that information will be made available to everyone. The government hopes that in the end, this will result in a reliable way to measure the quality of care.

Those that object to this already controversial proposal include doctors and medical facilities. The American Academy of Dermatology Association and 81 other state and national organizations wrote a letter to Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services Administrator Donald M. Berwick, M.D., pointing out what they disapprove of, according to modernmedicine.com. These groups are concerned about the amount of time doctors and facilities will have to review the reports before publication. Under the proposed regulation, entities must share the documents with providers and suppliers 30 days before making results public. The AAD and others urged CMS to instead allow them a review time of at least 90 business days. In addition, the physician groups said the entities shouldn’t be allowed to publish reports that deal with information that is being appealed. They also raised concerns about how the government will determine which entities are actually qualified and experienced enough to handle the data.

The Medicare claims data issue is just one example of a roadblock the government will run into as it works to free up data. This example might not turn out to be a problem for Park, however, in the future he will probably lose some attempts to unlock more vaults. But the more data he can safely and securely liberate, the better; there’s too much useful data out there for the government to handle on its own.

“The fundamental precept that drives the whole thing is one of our favorite laws of the universe which is Joy’s law,” Park said, referring to Co-Founder of Sun Microsystems Bill Joy. “You have to remember that most of the smart people in the world work for someone else.”

  • http://www.thehealthcareblog.com Matthew Holt

    This is only telling one side of the story. Most consumer and open data advocacy groups are saying that the proposed rules on access to Medicare data are far, far too restrictive, make it far too expensive to get access to the data and give hospitals and doctors far too much power to approve and review. That’s the complete opposite of what Todd’s trying to do. He’s not allowed to say that but it’s clear where his intentions lie. After all, as a tax payer, this is MY data not that of the (usually overpriced and under performing) vendor I’m paying to provide the service the data is about. One consumer advocate called the results of these regs, “Advertising with a white coat on”