HHS and the Institute of Medicine launched the Health Data Initiative (also known as the Open Data Initiative) in 2010. The purpose of the Health Data Initiative is to encourage “innovators to utilize health data to develop applications to raise awareness of health and health system performance and spark community action to improve health.” 10
The HHS Open Data Initiative is part of a broader federal government movement to make datasets available to the public. President Obama issued an executive order on May 9, 2013 that directed OMB to issue the Open Data Policy throughout the federal government. The objectives of the executive order are to advance the management of government information as an asset throughout its life cycle, to promote interoperability and openness, and to make the data accessible to and usable for the public.
These data are made accessible in machine-readable form, and innovators are encouraged to use the data to create new products and services, and thereby to create jobs. In addition to health care, open data efforts have been implemented in the fields of energy, education, finance, public safety, and global development. The executive order was refined by OMB memorandum M-13-13 (discussed above), which gave federal agencies guidance on definitions, scope, policy requirements, and implementation guidelines.
HHS alone has made an enormous amount of data available. As of June 2014 there were 1,530 datasets accessible at www.healthdata.gov, up from 428 one year earlier. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services offers the most data, with 625 datasets, 515 of which are related to Medicare. The HHS agency with the next largest number of datasets is the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, with 118. One reason for the large growth in the offerings of healthdata.gov since 2013 is the addition of state-specific databases, which totaled 425, including 111 from New York.
10 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Healthdata.gov, Washington, DC. Available at [http://www.hhs.gov/open/initiatives/hdi/index.html].