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Why is there a Datapalooza? As a catalyst for change, Health Datapalooza is an engaging, interactive forum that features discussions and demonstrations on policies and inspiring innovations centered on the use of health and health care data. The event serves as a popular springboard for open debate about key social issues relevant to patients, tech innovators, entrepreneurs, policymakers, and researchers. For nearly 15 years, Health Datapalooza has served as the village square for discourse on important laws, regulations, and practices, as well as a showcase for brilliant ideas and applications of new data resources to achieve social good.   

Putting Health Data to Work

Prior to 2009, access to federal data about medical claims, public health, population health, quality and health systems performance was limited to a select few approved users. Other barriers to data use included the lack of secured infrastructure, insufficient community knowledge about the nature of the data, and underpowered tools to conduct analysis of massive datasets. Despite these impediments, there was a high degree of interest in using the immense data resources across the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and other federal agencies, including medical cost and quality data, inspection data, registries, research databases, and a wide array of public health and provider level data. 

In response to this, HHS undertook an initiative, led by Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and Chief Technology Officer Todd Park to see how data could be made more accessible and put to work to help overcome barriers experienced by a broad range of users, including journalists, researchers, policy makers, economists, and many others. From a wide array of community discussions, they learned that there were solutions to the widespread concerns about costs of health care, lack of access to affordable services, wasteful spending on low value care, and wide disparities in the quality of care and outcomes – if only the data were available for use. 

Framing the backdrop for the emergence of this new health data era was the enactment of legislation including the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 and the HiTech Act that paved the way for the incentives and requirements for most health care transactions to be conducted with digital platforms or electronic health records. The combination of technology advances in health care, and policy and regulatory changes to make payment and quality data more accessible were key drivers for the flow of health data throughout the health care enterprise that exists today.

The HHS Health Data activities also aligned with a key initiative of the Obama Administration to promote open government policies that featured transparency in federal spending and administrative data about a wide array of programs. In its first years, the first public convenings on open health data provided purpose to the promise of data and thus underpinned the investments and policies needed to make it freely available under appropriate safeguards.  

Innovating for the Public Good

A key element to drive the uses of data was to provide demonstrations or pilot solutions that leveraged health data and fueled competition, and innovation in the marketplace.  At the time, health policy leaders were frustrated with many aspects of a health system that was underperforming, inefficient, and showed few signs of modernization. Harvard economist Dr. David Cutler identified that the systemic lack of health care innovation could be attributed to two factors:  the lack of transparency about cost and quality, and misplaced incentives that paid for the volume of services, rather than the value.

In 2010, the year Cutler’s paper published, a small group of data advocates met at the National Academies of Science and constructed a plan to make certain new federal datasets available and challenged innovators to create new tools, dashboards, and data services to showcase as solutions to key health policy problems. Convened initially as the Community Health Data Initiative, this first annual public event featured leaders from government, health care, industry, and entertainment to showcase the achievements created using newly available federal health data resources. Each subsequent year featured new data resources and infrastructure investments that further catalyzed the data movement.  

Beginning in 2012, the annual forum was branded as Health Datapalooza to signal the interest in attracting out-of-the-box ideas, exciting new concepts, powerful technologies, and highly specialized talent from the fields of arts, sciences, engineering, and business to lend a hand in sparking new applications of data to improve health care.

Moving from Data Liberation to Inspiring Data Application

Soon, the message caught fire and the focus pivoted from data liberation to inspiring applications that addressed important problems across the spectrum of health care – from patient level to health systems applications. A catalytic effect soon followed that spurred large interests in private businesses, non-profit organizations, and international groups to examine how accessible health care data could lead to innovation. This early era of Health Datapalooza coincided with major health insurance reforms and massive investments in technology solutions to improve access quality care. As a result, the race was on to find the best approaches to harness data for value.

Beginning in 2016, AcademyHealth became the host of Health Datapalooza and to this day works in close partnership with HHS to promote a continuum of featured needs for innovation and uses of data to address challenges in health and health care. The forum has featured many global leaders who have led transforming initiatives of their own to further propel the uses of data for common good.  Among them, then Vice-President Joe Biden announced the Cancer Moonshot to leverage data resources and technology to remove barriers to innovative care for patients with cancer.

This year’s Health Datapalooza will be held February 23-24, 2023, and remains true to its core values of promoting public dialogue and innovation focused on a data-enabled future. We hope you’ll join us for this event that has as its hallmark unprecedented achievements in overcoming important barriers in health and health care.  

Greg Downing
Committee Member

Gregory Downing, D.O., Ph.D.

Founder - Innovation Horizons, LLC

Gregory Downing, D.O., Ph.D. is the Founder of Innovation Horizons, LLC, a consulting practice with an emphasi... Read Bio

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