How HHS can improve data infrastructure

About Andrew Van Dam

Andrew Van Dam of The Wall Street Journal previously worked at the AHCJ offices while earning his master’s degree at the Missouri School of Journalism.

Better data means better public health. That’s the message put forth in a new commentary piece in the Journal of the American Medical Association, and one which we can all get behind. The authors praise HHS for the progress it has made toward data access thus far, and then push it to make its data even more useful and available. They’re writing from the perspective of researchers who use the data in their work but much of what they say is applicable to journalists as well.

For the record, HHS’ 63-page open government plan can be found here. The authors argue that the Federal Coordinating Council for Comparative Effectiveness Research has mentioned that a better data infrastructure will be crucial to the success of its mission, and that the best way to achieve that infrastructure will be to follow their three-part strategy:

  • Expansion of Data AccessThe Research Data Assistance Center is in the midst of a 5-year exclusive contract to provide CMS claims data to researchers. Ending that exclusivity, the authors write, would simultaneously drive down prices and improve access to data.
  • Leverage Nongovernmental Partners and ApplicationsIf data is made more accessible, the authors argue, then the private sector will add all sorts of value with innovative data and geospatial applications. Journalism would seem to be a big component of this added value.
  • Improve Data Iteratively and Create Awareness“The DHHS must view its data as a strategic asset and expand data quality, completeness, and access iteratively over time, influenced by data users. The data should be released in standardized formats without intellectual property constraints. Also, the DHHS and the private sector need to communicate and create awareness of data availability to ensure use.”

Access to the Journal of the American Medical Association is, of course, one of the many benefits of being an AHCJ member.

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