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Open Data - The Global Health Data Imperative

This year’s 3rd International Open Data Conference in Ottawa was a call to action and an amazing opportunity to witness the innovation that is enabling a global data revolution. According to the Office of Science and Technology Policy at the White House, “Freely available data from the U.S. Government is an important national resource, serving as fuel for entrepreneurship, innovation, scientific discovery, and other public benefits. According to a recent report, open data can generate more than $3 trillion a year in additional value in key sectors of the global economy, including education, health, transportation, and electricity.” Online resources like the Open Data Impact Map provide a searchable, centralized database of open data use cases not just from the United States, but from around the world. The Map is made possible by the open data community and was developed to demonstrate the value of open government data in a range of applications, identify key trends and best practices in open data use, and provide a basis for further analysis of the impact of open data globally.

While much has been written about the social impact of open data initiatives in the public sector, the potential global economic impact is equally compelling in emerging markets, enabling public health services, private sector innovation, and prosperity in developing countries. The open data community, through industry analysis, has put the annual potential economic value of open data as high as $3-5 trillion. Data is being leveraged in innovative ways, including creating new opportunities for sharing information and developing health policy.

Though the average person unknowingly engages with shared, open data every day, there is much hype around technology themes like “Big Data,” “Data Analytics,” and “Data Visualization.” There is also a lack of awareness beyond the open data community, and the average citizen doesn’t understand the reach and impact of open data on global health data initiatives– or on their everyday lives.

According to a recent article entitled “Sorry, open data: Americans just aren't that into you” in FCW, whether they know it or not, Americans are using government data. Many of us leverage location services and mapping data on our mobile devices, as well as weather data, power applications, and GIS based social data driven apps. The FCW article mentions a Pew survey conducted in late 2014 that found there is only a dim awareness of policies at the federal, state, and local levels to open and release troves of government data for use by entrepreneurs, researchers, and government watchdogs.

In this report, only 31 percent of respondents could identify any example of their local government's data policy. Although public awareness is limited, there are several great examples of open data initiatives afoot that have the potential to shape public policy and innovation well into the future, and it’s time to take notice.

Something that is important to all citizens is healthcare and better access to related services. Economic investments, both public and private, are made based on data. This month’s beta re-launch of Healthdata.gov by the US Department of Health and Human Services on an open source platform is a great use case of harnessing a wealth of health data and providing transparent access to be leveraged by both the public and private sector. This site is widely known as a reliable catalog of health, social services, and research data that is accessible by the public for reuse in a variety of different innovative projects aimed at improving the nation’s health and well-being. The Healthdata.gov project is an example to global government health agencies of what can be accomplished when open data policy, open source innovation, and government transparency come together to benefit public health initiatives.

The European Commission publishes its Health at a Glance report annually, leveraging European Core Health Indicators to provide insight into data from 35 European countries. The 88 core health indicators are used as quantitative or qualitative measures on progress towards achieving policy goals in the EU. Data sets are available on demography and socio-economic situations, health status, determinants of health, health services, and health promotions across 35 countries in Europe. From quality of health to urban health indicators, open data is driving policy development decisions that will have a material impact on public health service delivery, private sector healthcare innovation. and economic investment in Europe.

Open data initiatives are global and are affecting many aspects of our lives. Now we need to harness that data, make use of it, and learn from the stories it tells. Organizations like NuCivic have open source software-as-a-service (SaaS) offerings for public sector organizations around the world. Their Drupal-based, open source data platform, DKAN, has a full-service cloud offering called NuCivic Data. Initiatives like these, and others, are laying the groundwork for the future of open data in government, and within that movement, healthcare is a great place to start. Open source, open data solutions are having an impact on our everyday lives, and are likely to help benefit future generations to come.

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