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Community Health Data Initiative Launched

On June 2, 2010, a forum was held at the Institute of Medicine in Washington, D.C., introducing the Community Health Data Initiative (CDHI). The forum’s opening two-hour plenary session featured remarks by Harvey Fineberg, President of the Institute of Medicine, and Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services. Following that were demonstrations by eight organizations, showcasing new, cutting-edge examples of how the government’s raw health data could be transformed into freely available applications for health professionals, policy makers, and the general community. The entire plenary session was recorded and is available for viewing.

The overall goal of the Initiative is to share the voluminous amount of data held by the federal government and make it transparent for every American who wants to engage and participate in the improvement of the nation’s health. It is a major investment in health information technology, prevention, and wellness, “to put public health data to work” and provide the American people with better health information. To accomplish this goal, the public and private sectors will work together to unlock the data reservoir and organize it into free and user friendly tools that will allow all Americans to take better control of their health status.

The process leading to the CDHI began with an exploratory meeting on March 11, 2010, to gauge the interest of technology developers in working with community health data and the feasibility of initiating this kind of data project. The response was overwhelmingly positive, and the products demonstrated at the June 2 forum were largely developed or refined since the March 11 meeting. By the end of 2010, a new Health Indicators Warehouse will be available, providing federal health data in useful formats that can be integrated into technological applications. Data will be broken down to the county and community level as much as possible, since it is at this level where crucial health policy decisions are made. Public groups and private organizations can then use this data to build new applications.

The showcase of applications included new web sites, online games, and social networking tools, featuring presentations from Microsoft Bing, Google, Healthways, the Silicon Valley company Palantir, and the Healthy Communities Institute project for Sonoma County, CA, among others. The Palantir representative demonstrated the new data web site, AnalyzeThe.US, designed to allow users of any skill level to utilize government data sets. He showed an example search to locate county level data on child poverty, specifically where child poverty is high in relation to overall poverty. He zoomed in on an area outside San Antonio, TX, and then integrated the child poverty data with federal assistance grant data, to examine the agencies spending on child poverty health services in the area.

The Microsoft Bing representative showed how CDHI data has been integrated into the search engine. He demonstrated how searching on the name of a hospital provided links to quality of care information, thus empowering patients with meaningful data. He also demonstrated the new Bing Health Maps, which provides statistical information for the entire United States by county, enabling the overlaying of health data onto maps. The representative demonstrated the feature as a way to relate health data to information about local goods and services, using the example of food deserts in Baltimore County. He located health indicator data showing that the majority of the population in Baltimore County eats too few fruits and vegetables, and then he identified areas in the county that are underserved by competitive supermarket pricing, to establish a correlation between the two factors.

The Healthy Communities Institute, in conjunction with Trilogy Integrated Resources, has created a Network of Care for Healthy Communities, a web portal with county level data, designed for policy makers. Currently, the portal for Sonoma County is operational and freely accessible. The goal of the project, as described by a faculty member from the UC Berkeley School of Public Health, is to link to evidence-based practices and policies throughout the U.S., so that policy makers can utilize the best information available when making local health care decisions. The web site for Sonoma County includes the “Community Dashboard” feature, providing granular information at the community level. This data is designed to give a sense of how the county is doing in comparison to other entities, e.g., other California counties or the state of California. The data comparison also includes actionable content, with links to promising evidence-based practices and the associated contact information. The data comparison also scores county data against Healthy People 2010 (soon to be 2020) targets, to see at a glance the areas where the county is faring poorly and action is most needed.

The Google presenter explained how they are working with Hospital Compare data, produced by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, to provide data related to quality of care, patient satisfaction, etc. The particular example related to the best place to be in the U.S. when having chest pain. He showed how the data was uploaded to Google Fusion Tables, a cloud-based application, and then customized for analysis with Google Maps. He then zoomed in on the New York-New Jersey area to locate the hospital with the best record of reducing mortality from heart attacks associated with chest pain, thus showing the importance of technology in the future of health care.

The Healthways presentation showed how to make health data into something fun, the online card game Community Clash. The game relies on various data sources to create profiles of health indicators at the community level. Participants go head-to-head in competition for their respective communities, and then Twitter about the results, to start an online conversation about the value of community health data. His example pitted Boston against Topeka, KS. You might be surprised to see which community won the contest!

The products previewed at the session were not specifically endorsed by the Initiative, but their development is supported by easier access to expanded, free data. Health professionals, policy makers, and consumers can then choose the application(s) they find most useful and best meet their needs. To learn more about the Community Health Data Initiative, visit

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