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Public Health Information Portal Opens

The state last week launched a new project — Open Data Portal — that could lead to a plethora of innovations such as mobile apps that help Californians find services for which they’re eligible or that locate the nearest services.

There really is no telling what applications people might come up with — and that’s the most exciting part of last week’s launch, said Este Geraghty, deputy director of the Center for Health Statistics and Informatics at the California Department of Public Health.

“It’s a huge moment, we are so excited,” Geraghty said. “It has been a long time coming and we think we’re going to see a lot more value through increased accessibility of the data.”

The datasets now are open to public use. Geraghty made a point of saying privacy protection has been paramount in this project, and that the highly aggregated data is general and not specific to patients.

The possibilities for innovation are far-reaching, Geraghty said. Two weeks ago, the department had a “soft launch” during which the data portal opened for 24 hours.

HackerLab in Sacramento, in 10 days, wrote an application using the datasets for the state’s Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program, a federally funded health and nutrition program for California families.

“It’s called WIC-IT (pronounced WICK-et) that does three things,” Geraghty said. “It allows the users to take a survey to see if they qualify for WIC, then it shows on a map all the nearby centers, then it shows the WIC vendor locations.”

That’s an innovation that might be invaluable for low-income families in California, she said.

“It’s a great app,” Geraghty said, “and if we had done it ourselves, it would’ve taken more than 10 days, I can tell you that.”

Combining datasets, whether done by government agencies or private innovators, is where the real breakthroughs likely will come, Geraghty said. For example, combining the dataset on poverty rates by census tract with another dataset that shows the rate of emergency department visits for asthma-related crises might help determine access needs, Geraghty said.

Individuals are encouraged to tour the site, join the department’s mailing list to get updates about possible uses of the data.

“People could tell us what datasets they’d like to see, or what possible applications they’re thinking about,” Geraghty said, “so we can continue this momentum.”

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