Opening the Spigots of Health Data in the U.S. and UK

by Susannah Fox, Chief Technology Officer, HHS

Susannah Fox of HHS, Beverley Bryant of the NHS, and Fred Trotter of DocGraph at the “Bonfire of the Faxes” art installation.

I never feel so American as when I’m traveling abroad. And my most recent trip was the pinnacle of this experience since I was representing the U.S. government at the Health and Care Innovation Expo organized by the UK’s National Health System (NHS) in Manchester, England.

When I told my husband and kids that I would be traveling with an official diplomatic passport, they immediately started re-enacting the scene from Star Wars when Princess Leia insists to Darth Vader that she is on a diplomatic mission to Alderaan.

In case you need a refresher, Emma Stone’s re-enactment for a Stand Up to Cancer tribute is pretty awesome:

I am happy to say that I encountered no resistance to my mission to share the following message with my colleagues in the UK:

At the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, we use technology to empower people at every level of health care with data — policy makers, journalists, entrepreneurs, researchers, clinicians, and individuals — because data drive decisions.

Our efforts to open every spigot on every data pipeline has created a wellspring of public and private innovation that gives value and meaning to the pursuit of health that we in government had never imagined.

HHS has targeted three levels of health data:

  1. Population level: Our Health Data Initiative opens up the government data warehouse, allowing companies like Rowdmap to look at the past performance of health care delivery at a regional level so health plans can design, for example, ambulatory care services for a community with higher-than-average levels of need among people living with diabetes.
  2. Practice level: Our work on electronic health record adoption enables clinicians and health systems to look across their patient population for patterns, hopefully to provide clues about how to improve the quality and safety of health care delivery.
  3. Individual level: The Blue Button initiative gives military veterans and Medicare beneficiaries a chance to download copies of their own health data — to keep for their own records, to share with family members, or to take with them to a new provider.

By opening up access to data at all levels, we allow it to flow where it needs to go. We can follow its trail and map the hills and valleys of health and health care. In this way we can see our population — or ourselves — as we really are and therefore make better decisions.

The NHS and HHS share many of the same challenges, so it makes sense for us to share solutions, too.

For example, we collaborated on the Obesity Data Challenge which resulted in a fantastic array of data tools, visualizations, and apps, including the winning entry: HealthData+Obesity.

HHS and NHS experts have also leveraged data resources in their respective countries to develop quantitative measures of post-operative rehabilitation for patients recovering from knee and hip surgery. By working to align standards in quality assessment, both the US and UK can now use a common measure to report outcomes in evaluating postoperative care.

The innovation that I most want to bring back from the UK, however, has little to do with data, but a lot to do with service and mission, which undergirds all that we do at HHS. It was an honor to be part of the standing-room-only crowd as Kate Granger, a doctor living with terminal cancer, presented the second annual Kate Granger Compassionate Care Awards to NHS clinicians who go above and beyond for their patients. May we all take a moment, every day, to see our work through the eyes of a patient, as Kate has challenged her colleagues to do.

Learn more about the panel I appeared on at the Expo and how the U.S. and UK are collaborating around health data.


Originally published at www.hhs.gov on September 22, 2015.