WASHINGTON -- In an effort to expand the utility of government health data and improve care for the sickest Americans, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) Tuesday said it will open its datasets to the business community for the first time.
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The new policy looks to encourage "innovators and entrepreneurs" to conduct research and develop applications that could improve care using CMS data, such as Medicare claims, Andy Slavitt, acting administrator of the agency, said this week at a health IT conference.
"We are aiming directly at shaking up healthcare innovation, and setting a new standard for data transparency," Slavitt says.
"While this is a big departure, we do this with a clear expectation -- that you will create a new stream of tools that will improve care and personalized decision-making, and we are allowing companies to combine CMS data with other data so even what were small siloes of data can have enough credibility to have meaning," he adds. "In taking this step, we are challenging others with proprietary data to follow our lead -- remove the barriers to getting to better results faster, and it will be good for everyone."
Additionally, CMS will begin requiring certain consumer data to be submitted in machine-readable format, and is speeding the frequency with which it releases data for the research community. Researchers will now be able to request data from the agency on a quarterly basis, instead of annually.
"This will enable rapid-cycle feedback and provide an understanding of how the many interventions we are engaged in are working," Slavitt says. "In an information age, it is just not acceptable that the most recent Medicare data available to researchers is from 2013."
CMS has dramatically increased the rate and volume of its data releases in recent years, though some in the medical community would like to see it move faster.
CMS' move to open its datasets to the business community comes as an acknowledgement that data -- and the products, applications and delivery models that will be built on top of it -- is a crucial component of the macro shift from the fee-for-service model toward value-based billing and care that the industry is undertaking.
A call for developers to build tools to help improve patient care
Making the announcement at the Healthdatapalooza event, Slavitt urged an audience heavy with developers to focus their energy on building tools that will drive meaningful improvements in care for the most vulnerable segments of Americans, noting that around five percent of the population accounts for nearly half of all Medicare spending.
"Don't just build cool-factor gizmos for the healthiest and wealthiest," he says. "Build products and services that actually help us take care of our country's sickest and most difficult to treat people. This is our greatest challenge, and our greatest opportunity."
The tools Slavitt envisions would enable doctors and nurses to spend more time with patients, to better prepare ahead of an appointment, and to facilitate better patient tracking and follow-up care.
"Give them the information they need to see all the aspects of a patient's health," he says.
At the same time, Slavitt allows that the success of any health IT application is conditioned on the security of the product, and the perception that end users have about the safety of their information.
"We need to make healthcare the most private and the most secure data in any industry," he says. "Progress will simply not be possible without consumer trust, and we must continuously improve the state-of-the-art healthcare cybersecurity."