One of the most important open government initiatives started over the past couple of years is the Health Data Initiative. Unlike many open government data initiatives, which throw open various datasets, and just hope they will become useful, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has done a great job of reaching out to developers to build great healthcare applications.
The idea is to make data from the vaults of HHS (and other sources) available in electronic, machine-readable, downloadable, easily accessible form, and promote its availability to entrepreneurs and innovators (via meetups, challenges, and codeathons) who can turn it into all kinds of applications and services that can help improve health and create jobs at the same time.
This is a great example of what I’ve called “Government as a platform,” in which government provides key capabilities that are then expanded upon by the private sector for delivery to the public in a variety of ways. We’re all familiar with this model for weather data. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) launches weather satellites, tracking buoys, and all kinds of other tools for measuring weather, and releases the data to be delivered by commercial companies via television, web applications, and smartphones. The goal of the Health Data Initiative is to be the NOAA of health data.
Machine-readable data resources available from HHS include health care provider quality information, health and human service provider directories, community health performance statistics, the latest and greatest medical knowledge from the National Library of Medicine, Medicare claims data in a variety of forms, and much more.
Many companies have built new or upgraded products and services using this data that are already helping millions of Americans.
Each year, the initiative hosts a conference (the “Health Datapalooza“) in June to feature the latest and best open health data applications. The deadline for applications for this year’s event is March 30. There’s more information here.