Unlocking Value by Freeing the Data

Joel Riphagen, Health Data Ambassador — Sacramento

The California Health and Human Services (CHHS) Agency has taken the forward-thinking step of releasing a number of datasets on its Open Data Portal. As of this writing, the portal contains 73 datasets, along with 43 associated charts and 14 maps, for over 100 pieces of interesting health care information available to Californians. The data released so far includes information on population health indicators, health care facility performance, the availability of healthcare in communities, environmental chemicals, social indicators, and societal behaviors. And much more is coming, with encouragement from the California HealthCare Foundation’s Free the Data Initiative.

This undertaking represents hundreds of hours of concerted effort by a diverse team within the Agency and its Departments. Given the undeniable expense of all this work, it’s reasonable to ask: is it worth it? What value is added by taking this public data from its various existing documents — PDFs, Excel files, and the like, some of which are already sitting on one website or another — and putting them in a single format in a single searchable location?

Well, the McKinsey Global Institute contends in its report Open Data: Unlocking Innovation and Performance with Liquid Information that publishing open data can unlock $3 to $5 trillion in global economic value annually across seven domains, including education, transportation, consumer products, electricity, oil and gas, health care, and consumer finance. They estimate $300 to $450 billion of value annually from opening health care data alone. And the majority of this value accrues to consumers, in their estimation.

How does this value get unlocked specifically?

One great example is provided by the UK National Health Services (NHS), which publishes MRSA infection rates in UK hospitals on the UK’s open data portal. Publishing this data, along with tables that rank hospitals by their MRSA infection rates, has led to an open exchange of best practices among hospitals. This in turn has reduced total MRSA infections from about 5,000 to fewer than 1,200 annually. Never mind that the open data initiative contributed to government savings of £34 million; the increased well-being of British hospital patients is a huge economic value accruing primarily to UK citizens. Incidentally, California’s MRSA infection data is available right here.

In another example out of the UK, a startup company used open prescription data from NHS to analyze prescription patterns for a class of drugs called statins, which are used to prevent cardiovascular problems. Current evidence suggests that, for most patients, all classes of these drugs are equally effective, so the primary distinguishing characteristic among the available drugs is their price. Yet after 8 weeks of analysis, the company discovered that the NHS was spending an additional £27 million per month due to doctors prescribing the proprietary versions of the drugs. While the company is clear that it cannot state for certain that all of this additional expenditure was unnecessary, the map of prescription rates the company produced suggests geographic patterns in prescription of proprietary statins. Further investigation by NHS may reveal changes in common practice in certain areas of the country that can result in cost savings.

Where else could value be unlocked by the CHHS data? Imagine how Californians could benefit from analysis of:

Infant Mortality Rates

Surgical-Site Infections

Chemicals in Cosmetics

Hospital Profitability

Hospital Seismic Ratings

These and literally a hundred other possibilities are just waiting on the CHHS Open Data Portal. We’re working in CHCF’s Health Data Pilot Project to identify some of those possibilities in Sacramento and unlock their value for all Californians. Want to join us? Tweet us @CAHealthData and let’s talk!