Health Datapalooza IV: Shots Heard Around the World?

Optimized-GawandeThe fourth Health Datapalooza in Washington, DC this week was a big success with a fun, if ridiculous, game show that highlighted access to Medicare data, a genuinely funny speech by a guy named Bush, who praised the Obama Administration, and health policy seers Uwe Reinhardt and Atul Gawande, who suggested that data transparency provides hope for system transformation. It also featured another funny guy who happened to be a senior conservative from Oxford praising universal socialized health care. Albeit he came from Oxford, England rather than Oxford, Mississippi, and happens to be the British Minister of Health.

The real action was around the fringes, where more companies and presentations than anyone could reasonably take in showed that some, if not all, of the walls of the data castles have been holed, if not yet breached. For example, Kaiser Permanente released an API into some limited data sets, though it did not yet — CIO Phil Fasano stressed — grant access to patient data. Cleveland Clinic is one of many sharing its data with big data player Explorsys, and access to individual patient Blue Button data was demonstrated by Humetrix, Get Real Health, Microsoft HealthVault, and more.

So we’re getting close to being awash in data. But so far the techies are playing with mostly population and reference data sets being released by governments and big institutions. The next step is to make the data in those EMRs, which the taxpayer is funding for more than 50% of US doctors, easily accessible to everyone. Direct is nearly universal and Blue Button is establishing itself as a brand with 1.5 million downloads and 8% of Americans having heard of it.

Twenty-five percent of Americans have accessed their health data online, but most can’t get that data out. If the Health Datapalooza movement can force fit Blue Button into the mandatory patient data sharing demanded as part of Meaningful Use Stage 2, it should jumpstart the consumer health application market. The same thing is sort of happening in the UK, where their long-computerized primary care data silos are also primed to be breached.

When access to this data and to the transactions it represents becomes even a touch easier, it’s clear by the sheer number of first adopters and entrepreneurs waiting to serve them that something has to crumble. Let’s hope that what falls are the walls of the castle, rather than the spears of the tech firms and the hordes of patients whose access to data they represent.

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