Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The Growing 'Open Data' Movement in Healthcare

Open Data can be defined as 'selected data' that should be made freely available to everyone to use and republish as they wish, without restrictions from copyright, patents or other excessive control mechanisms.

The concept of open data is not new. Advocates argue that access to scientific data, especially data gathered or created by a government institution and funded by public money, should be 'open' or free of any restrictions. These advocates also argue that restrictions on access to certain types of data are against the communal good and that these data should be made available without restriction or fee.

Even as the Open Data and Open Access movements gain momentum, there are still many organizations fighting to reverse the process, e.g. for-profit publishing houses and certain not-for-profit education and research organizations that depend on fees charged to access the data to fund their operations.  

Open Data Resources – Healthcare Examples

The following are links to selected 'Open Data' resources on population health and healthcare around the world:

  • CDC Data & Statistics – The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) have opened access to a wide range of data for public health purposes.
  • Google Public Data Explorer - Making large public data sets on healthcare, economics, and other subjects readily accessible and easy to explore & visualize.
  • HCUP Databases - Databases on healthcare cost & utilization in the U.S. available from the Agency for Healthcare Research & Quality (AHRQ).
  • Health.Data.Gov – The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) has provided open access to a wide range of health information & data sets that are generated and/or held by the U.S. Government.
  • NationMaster - Compilation of health information & statistics from such sources as the UN, WHO, UNESCO, UNICEF, World Bank, etc.
  • WHO Global Health Observatory – The World Health Organization (WHO) Global Health Observatory provides data and analyses on global health priorities.
  • World Bank Health Data - Data collected by the World Bank on national health systems, disease prevention, reproductive health, nutrition, population, and more.


Bottom line - What we are seeing is the emergence of a whole new industry 'Open Data' built around the innovative re-use of public sector data. This involves finding ways to add value by combining information from different sources, creating new tools or software applications, analyzing the data and generating useful new reports or products for commercial and non-commercial purposes. Access to 'Open Data' generated by the public sector has great economic potential to provide citizens and organizations with information they need or want, while creating many new jobs and companies along the way.

Other Key 'Open Data' Sites

Have you accessed any of these 'Open Data' health resources? Do you know of other free and 'open' health data sets we should all know about?

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