min read
May 12, 2015

Health and Human Services (HHS) Opening Data for Healthcare Innovation in Government

Big Data Visualization

After years of publishing data to its Healthcare.gov website, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is opening the floor to America’s developers and programmers to see what sense — and what new products — they can make of it.According to Nextgov, the HHS hosted an event at the Washington startup incubator 1776 to gin up interest in tech entrepreneurship community about this available data, hoping that putting it in fresh, tech-savvy hands would lead to the innovative apps and insights targeting the nation’s health.

How Startups Can Help

Though this information has long been made available as a part of the Obama administration’s efforts to increase government transparency, large sets of data like those published by the HHS tend to be too vast and obscure to be of much use.By reaching out to the private sector — namely, the notoriously quick and innovative world of tech startups — the government hopes to create practical applications for that data.This is just one part of a larger initiative the President has undertaken to increase the accessibility of public services with the help of digital technology.Having recently hired Twitter executive Jason Goldman as the first-ever White House CDO, according to TechCrunch, Obama is demonstrating a clear belief in the potential for digital tech and big data to improve the way that American citizens utilize the information and services they need.Since the HHS is already dedicating vast amounts of time and research to the data available, however, the government is encouraging projects that don’t necessarily deal directly with the public health sector.For example, Nextgov tells us that the National Park Service alone has more than 1,000 data sets on file. Using these troves of available federal data, startups might be able combine the information into practical tools for American consumers.

Healthify Paves the Way

The New York-based startup Healthify, for instance, combines the HHS information with data sets curated by individual health centers to predict the scope of benefits and services for which its users might be eligible.The trick, it would seem, would be to think creatively — by determining what areas and demographics are in greatest need of healthcare services, for instance, a developer might be able to suggest places where information and support might be best distributed.If a region is experiencing particularly high rates of diabetes, for example, local governments could be alerted and initiate campaigns to spread awareness, as well as the implementation of preventative measures.“I think what would help is making case studies and success stories with the usage of that data more prominent in their view so that they can think creatively about how to use the data," Healthify CEO Manik Bhat wrote in an email to Nextgov. That’s surely the next step in the HHS’s initiative, but for now, we’ll have to wait and see what exciting new solutions to common problems today’s tech startups start coming up with.

Brian Manning