A big deal happened in Washington Wednesday – something I barely knew was happening: The Community Health Data Initiative (CHDI) was announced at the Institute of Medicine. It’s exciting to me, because at long last we’re getting the chance to let innovators get at vast amounts of government data.

The data already exists, but now it’ll be easily available through software interfaces, so any developer can get at it. Free.

I missed the event (I’d just returned from a long trip) but video of the two hour kickoff session is on YouTube.

Below is an informal index I jotted down, showing who spoke when.

Craig Newmark (the Craig in Craigslist) summarized CHDI nicely on Huffington Post.  He quotes the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation:

The bet here is that the thousands (and I do mean thousands) of data sets that HHS maintains could actually support some useful applications – applications we can’t even imagine yet – in the same vein that the weather data produced by the National Weather Service generates so many services and businesses.  To some extent, these data have been available before, but they’ve been hard to get to.  The difference here is that HHS is planning to make access to the data easy and beyond that, make them available in ways that most lend themselves to application development.  It’s a conscious strategy to enable others to add value to these government data.

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One of my mantras has been that innovation is fueled by information, and so much health data has been locked up in silos. Have I died and gone to heaven?? Perhaps: last summer Susannah Fox quoted a passing remark I’d made –

I want innovation at a rate that resembles the rate of improvement in cell phones and iPods: I want to think, in 2011, that the healthcare tool I started using in 2009 is, well, “that’s SO 2009,” just the way many people think about their cell phones.

Here’s the thing: as the video says, this initiative started March 11. In less than 12 weeks all these apps have been built on the data – with no government RFP process! Instead it’s based on the Obama administration’s approach of issuing challenges, awards and prizes – the way private enterprise incents itself to excel.

Have I gone to heaven? Perhaps: at the end of the video, there’s the spectacle of Aneesh Chopra (America’s CTO – Chief Technical Officer, aka Geek In Chief) telling his HHS colleague Todd Park to “Free it, brother!”
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Here’s my informal index –

Opening by HHS leaders
0:01 – Dr Harvey Fineberg, President of IOM
0:08 – HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius
0:19 – Bill Core, Deputy Secy of HHS on origins of the program and how innovators built the first set of apps using this data in just 12 weeks.

Demos of apps using this data
0:27 – Introduction
0:31 -Palantir (Alex Fishman) – “AnalyzeThe.US” freely available data analysis tool. (Not limited to health data)
0:43 – Alain Rappaport – Microsoft Bing has added CHDI data into its search results.
0:53 – [Bridge about customer service]
0:54 – Healthy Communities Institute, and Trilogy – public/private partnership that’s created a data dashboard. Valerie Brown of Sonoma Co. board of supervisors & pres. of National Assn of Counties; Trilogy’s Bruce Bronzan & Derek Van Brunt(?), creators of Network of Care for Counties
1:09 – Asthmapolis – improving asthma care by providing data to patients & providers
1:17 – IHI (Lindsay Martin) and Ingenix – mashing together healthcare quality data
1:30 – Roni Zeiger, Google – HHS’s Hospital Compare database, sliced & diced & presented using Google’s Fusion Tables cloud database app
1:41 – Chris Carter, HealthWays

Conclusions / observations
1:50 – Todd Park (HHS Chief Technical Officer): Release data, build apps, catalyze change
2:01 – Aneesh Chopra (Chief Technical Officer of the US), telling Todd “Free it, brother!”

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