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Open Data Portal Expands, Now More State Agencies Likely To Contribute

On Monday, the state’s largest health care agency announced a system-wide effort to “free the data” — opening up non-confidential health data for use by entrepreneurs, researchers and reporters.

The idea of the web portal launch by the California Health and Human Services agency is to serve the public good and hopefully improve public health through research or innovations that might be generated by the data.

“This is the beginning of a very ambitious effort to open information portals that people want and need,” said CHHS Secretary Diana Dooley in a written statement. “This is an important step toward our goal of making California the healthiest state.”

The California Department of Public Health first made the portal for datasets public in August. They were joined by the Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development (OSHPD), which has a long history of releasing datasets.

Last week, for instance, OSHPD released a dataset of utilization at primary care clinics that included broad demographic data on patients as well as the number of patient visits, services provided, revenue by payer source, expenses, net income and staffing numbers.

State officials hope all of that information can be combined with other datasets to create useful health apps or can identify trends or gaps in the health care system.

Dooley said she expects other health departments to follow suit.

Datasets currently available through the portal include birth profiles, poverty rates, reports on asthma and West Nile virus and areas with shortages of health professionals.

As an example of the kinds of applications state officials are hoping to see, combining the dataset on emergency department visits by asthma patients with a dataset on geographic poverty rates could produce a snapshot that shows correlations between ED use for asthma patients and income. That kind of snapshot might help inform public policy decisions about reaching and helping a greater number of asthma patients.

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