The scope and scale of HHS’ data is enormous. The efforts undertaken at the Department every day by front line staff to ensure that the right information is being connected to address some of the most critical public health issues and to anticipate emerging threats are Herculean. It is not overstating to say that connecting disparate information and deploying it through partnerships with public and private entities, is saving lives. This is only achievable when data can be translated into actionable information.
It is knowing the tremendous potential of connected data that has fueled our efforts to make HHS an interoperable health care organization. Imagine what’s possible when information collected and stored in siloes at CMS, CDC, NIH, FDA, HRSA and others can be brought together and leveraged in near real time to understand the effectiveness of a program or to track the emergence of the next public health crisis. Or, simply, to understand how to spend limited resources in the most effective way possible. And, to be able to have outcome metrics for those efforts to determine whether our underlying assumptions were correct or whether we need to shift our approach. For the last 2.5 years, we’ve been working towards this vision.
The report being released, “Leveraging Data for the Nation’s Health”, – PDF outlines the holistic approach we are taking at the Department: the governance of data at the enterprise level, the facilitation of data sharing through a common platform in accordance with applicable law and the development of a workforce with data science and AI training are each essential elements.
Earlier this year, we released our minimum viable product for the internal HHS Data Hub, a platform that will enable safe and secure data sharing, analysis, code sharing, reproducibility of results, data use agreements and work flow management. It will also allow us, for the first time, to understand what data gaps exist and what novel data partnerships the Department should explore. We will have a view into requests for data linkages that may have no clear regulatory framework and to begin to develop this with transparency, balancing privacy with the need to inform policy. Launching our Data Sharing Steering Committee comprised of leaders from across the different divisions of HHS has been an enormously important step in developing these principles of data governance at the enterprise level, to operationalize the use of data and to address a new world where the use of our collective health information should first and foremost be seen through the lens of preserving trust and protecting those most vulnerable.
Although not mentioned in the report, one of the most important components in which we are investing significant resources is a data science training program for the Department, the Data Science CoLab. Recently, for 30 spaces, we had more than 550 employees apply. Investing in our workforce and developing the internal capacity to use what we are building and to enable individuals to collaborate to solve problems is essential to addressing long standing data and programmatic siloes.
While each of these components (governance, platform, and training) is key to building a more data-driven organization, this foundation for the actionable use of data should not be seen as a singular initiative but core to the improved performance and management of all programs for the largest civilian agency on the planet. In our quest to reverse troubling national healthcare trends, the appropriate use of data is now a national economic imperative, fundamental to remaining competitive and essential to improving the health and wellbeing of our country.
This article was originally published on HHS Office of the CTO blog and is republished here with permission.