San Francisco Leading the Way in Health Data Applications

The city of San Francisco is leading the way in using health data in innovative ways and it’s paying off in a big way, according to several city officials who spoke yesterday at the Healthy Communities Data Summit.

The summit was held in San Francisco and that meant a number of success stories were local, but the conference  cast a wide net in its approach to innovation prompted by public release of health data.

“We have so many compelling examples of how free data can help health practices,” said summit panelist Cheryl Wold, owner of Wold and Associates, a community health consulting firm based in Pasadena. “More and more people are using that data to create health solutions.”

Several of those solutions have come from San Francisco, according to Jay Nath, the city’s chief information officer.

“When we launched DataSF, we didn’t know what to expect,” Nath said. “We were hoping for some kind of economic development, and that has happened. But there has been so much more than that.”

For instance, he said, San Francisco’s public health department regulates and gives restaurants a cleanliness rating — but few people knew anything about that rating. Then city officials made that data set available to the public. An agreement was struck with the Yelp website and now health-inspection data is posted with Yelp restaurant reviews.

Public awareness puts pressure on restaurants to have higher inspection scores, which results in a reduction of food-borne illnesses and better overall public health, city officials said.

“We want to get that information out there. We’re making public health data public,” Nath said. “We see ourselves as data factories, and we need someone else to distribute that information.”

Cyndy Comerford, manager of planning and fiscal policy for San Francisco, said the possibilities are limitless for making public health public.

“Now we’re looking at housing health code violations,” Comerford said. By making those public, she said, “you’re making healthier housing. Not all data has a consumer function, but the use of some data can change people’s lives.”

The day-long summit at UC-San Francisco’s Mission Bay campus was hosted by Health 2.0 and the Foundation for Healthcare Innovation. California HealthCare Foundation, which publishes California Healthline, sponsored the event.

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