The federales' open data policy and the Medicare hospital chargemaster data dump ... Please don't inundate us with junk.

By David Harlow posted Tue May 21,2013 04:51 PM


The federales' open data policy and the Medicare hospital chargemaster data dump ... Please don't inundate us with junk.

So just about everyone is pretty pumped about the White House announcement of its new open data policy.

Todd Park gives us the skinny on the latest in Open Government -- The Executive Order and related Open Data Policy -- in 60 seconds. (Gotta love that guy.)

In general, when it comes to data, the more the merrier, right? Data shared by the government to date -- including GPS data and weather data from satellites -- have spawned whole ecosystems of products and services. Tim O'Reilly sees this initiative as creating a new platform -- and sees tech development as keyed to introduction of new platforms (e.g., the PC). I look forward to more cool stuff that we can't yet imagine coming down the pike as a result of this initiative.

On the health care front --      

the Administration’s current Health Data Initiative, which has opened government-held data on hospitals, drugs, insurance products, healthcare costs, and more in machine-readable form, has already contributed to hundreds of new products and companies that are transforming health care delivery and improving patient health.  Just yesterday [5/8/2013], Medicare published data that for the first time gives consumers information on what hospitals charge for common inpatient procedures, signaling a major step forward for hospital price transparency and accountability.

They had me until "just yesterday." I'm down with the Health Data Initiative, and look forward to seeing some interesting uses of de-identified government data streams at the Health Datapalooza next month in DC, but the feds need to remember that while there is great value to pumping out data and seeing what folks can do with it, there is the risk that some of the data is, well, garbage, and that for it to have value it must be refined up the pyramid into information and knowledge -- yielding, we hope, some wisdom.

The data on hospital charges for the one hundred most common codes on the Medicare hospital claims database released to great fanfare this week is just that -- data. Since neither Medicare nor any other payor actually pays hospitals based on those charges, the many many news stories (here's one or two f''rinstance) about the differences in charges from one hospital to another (the hospital responses to the accusatory questions about high charges are all of the Lake Wobegone variety ... their patients are all, well, above average) gloss over the fact that what we have here is data, but no useful information. Payment amounts are included as well, but Medicare fee schedules with local modifiers are published annually, so this is new presentation of data that's already out there.

That's not to say that there can be no knowledge gleaned from Medicare data -- check out the Dartmouth Atlas, folks -- just that this time out there is, in the words of the poet, too much of nothing.

David Harlow
The Harlow Group LLC
Health Care Law and Consulting