The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services is endeavoring to put reins around data assets across all HHS agencies in order to improve America’s health outcomes. Led by Dr. Mona Siddiqui, the chief data officer at HHS, open and transparent federal data work could empower municipalities to address the nation’s most critical public health challenges.
The primary goal of HHS is to make health services effective, as well as foster advances in medicine, public health and social services. Recently, more than 1,500 data sets collected by HHS were released to the public for access by researchers and entrepreneurs aiming to address the Opioid Crisis on the local level.
Siddiqui joined us this month for a special CTO Download to share insights from the overall Data Insights Initiative work, including the groundbreaking state and local govtech/civic tech initiatives that inspire the path forward, the tech work behind promising data solutions for opioid interventions and the importance of local health data going forward.
Of the four key areas of focus for the Data Insights Initiative, is there an area that is more challenging compared to the others?
Dr. Siddiqui: Lack of governance and consistent legal interpretations pose some of the greatest challenges. As we work toward data sharing frameworks that enable transparency, accountability and consistency, the legal foundations for data sharing must also be addressed.
Currently, if an individual in one agency approaches another individual in another agency, the process can be long and uncertain. If a data request is denied — that’s often the end of the road. There is also no enterprise wide established protocol for transferring data between agency silos. So, governance entails the entire chain — the people, processes and technology needed to have in place to enable institutional capacity for data sharing.
Realizing that HHS is at the Federal level, could you still share any insights on how you have engaged with local governments on any data initiatives?
Dr. Siddiqui: Some states are actually ahead of where HHS is right now, so we’ve looked to them for inspiration. Indiana built a performance management hub with a data use agreement across 16 agencies as part of an accountable and transparent process. We’re looking at what aspects of their model as well as models from other states we can learn from as we develop an enterprise data strategy.
Governors and leaders in some states acknowledge that data is a centerpiece to building efficient and effective policy decisions. Either through executive orders or with legislation they have placed a huge emphasis on data sharing.
Are there examples of local governments utilizing said data to make more informed decisions or develop more effective initiatives for the betterment of their municipality?
Dr. Siddiqui: A great example is the city of Cincinnati, which launched a data portal called Cincy Insights. I’m impressed with their efforts to democratize data and display it in a way that is easily digestible by citizens and data analysts alike. With opioid overdoses specifically, they were able to analyze location data to more strategically deploy emergency health services.
The HHS Opioid-Code-a-Thon saw some phenomenal apps for use at the municipal level be proposed, how do you envision these apps being put into practice? Are there any success stories or notable achievements that came out of the Opioid-Code-a-Thon that can be discussed?
Dr. Siddiqui: Some really great ideas surfaced at the Opioid Code-a-Thon. It was exactly the type of entrepreneurial creativity we seek to support at HHS. We want to propel ingenuity that leverages data and modern technology to build health solutions, which is why we seeded the winning teams with funding.
Those teams continue to develop their products, and in July we will re-convene those teams along with community stakeholders. We’re looking to learn exactly how data access aided their process, as well as where insufficient data access was a hindrance. I’m excited to see how the winning teams are progressing.
Any final comments or thoughts you would like to leave with our readers?
Dr. Siddiqui: HHS is on a long-term journey to incorporate data as a centerpiece of the way in which it operates. Local leaders should know that as a part of our HealthData.gov 2.0 revision, we’ll be looking to incorporate more local health data, which should bring more granular data for data analyses.
It is so important that moving forward we continue to ensure privacy and security while still being able to fully leverage data to make an impact on health outcomes. I’m grateful for the incredible alignment from leadership and staff at HHS. We know that this will take time. But, I am excited about the path we are laying out.
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