Health data innovation 'at a crawl'

The health care data community should step up its efforts to innovate to help improve the nation’s health outcomes and reduce costs, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said at the department’s second Health Data Initiative Forum on June 9.

“Use tools and use data,” Sebelius said at the forum held at the National Institute of Medicine campus in Bethesda, Md. “Do it more, do it better and do it faster.”

The goal of the conference was to present 45 winning health care IT applications developed with HHS’ newly-available data sets within the last several months. HHS CTO Todd Park called the event a “Health Data Palooza” that would showcase innovation in health IT.


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New health-related application development contests were announced by HHS’ National Coordinator for Health IT, the National Cancer Institute and the Environmental Protection Agency

Sebelius said Americans experience a “triple loss” due to having the highest public health care costs, highest private health care costs, and only mediocre health outcomes.

The key to changing the situation is innovation, but the pace of innovation in health IT has been “at a crawl” for the last three decades, despite rapid advances in medicines and devices, Sebelius said.

“We are still in the same situation as 30 years ago,” Sebelius said. “When innovation is slow, improvements do not happen.”

HHS and Park spearheaded the Health Data Initiative to distribute and publicize HHS data more broadly to developers, who responded by creating new applications for consumers and providers. A panel chose 45 winners from the 75 new applications submitted.

For example, the iTriage mobile application developed by Healthagen, gives consumers an easy way to locate and contact medical and mental health facilities in their communities or when traveling.

Health insurer Aetna and its Medicity unit presented information about several applications they developed to assist case managers servicing Aetna patients. The applications include data on the patient’s local demographics, clinical information on diseases and comparisons of local nursing homes.

Another application, Oziema, aggregates several data sets of information on cancer, diabetes, heart disease and strokes and presents it in a searchable format online that is designed for journalists and health writers.

Also, several upcoming development and innovation initiatives were highlighted or announced:

  • The Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT is sponsoring the Investing in Innovations (i2) Initiative designed to spur innovation in health IT with prizes and challenges for research and development. As part of the rollout, the office awarded nearly $5 million to the Capital Consulting Corporation and Health 2.0 LLC to fund projects supporting innovations in research.
  • The NCI will hold an innovation contest for using public data for cancer prevention and control. Some $40,000 in prizes will be awarded in the first phase, which involves applications that integrate new technologies into applications that advance cancer prevention, detection, diagnosis, treatment and survival.
  • EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson announced the Apps for the Environment Challenge, in which developers will compete to develop applications that support the EPA’s community goals, including improving air and water quality and dealing with climate change.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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