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New HHS Web Site Aims to Help Entrepreneurs and Patients Alike

By Rebecca Adams, CQ HealthBeat Associate Editor

November 8, 2010 -- The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is planning a soft launch in December of a Web site——that will offer government health information that entrepreneurs can use to create new mobile applications, software, Web sites, analytical tools, and other ventures.

HHS officials hope to emulate the model of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which provides weather information for free to the public. Companies such as the Weather Channel then package the information in different ways—and make money doing so.

Developers can turn the information "into super-cool applications to make better decisions," said HHS Chief Technology Officer Todd Park.

Companies would be able to use the data to create online educational games, community health Web sites, and online resources to supplement personal health records.

The project builds on President Obama's Open Government Initiative, which requires agencies to make information more interactive and easily accessible to the public.

As part of the project, HHS officials last month also launched their Blue Button Initiative, which allows Medicare beneficiaries and veterans to access and print their personal health records and claims data. HHS officials also have started to provide mobile phone text messages to patients with certain conditions who sign up for the service. For instance, more than 100,000 soon-to-be or new mothers have signed up to get HHS messages reminding them of ways to take care of themselves during pregnancy.

HHS officials are putting more information online and are organizing data better. Some of the data that is or will soon be linked from the agency's open government page include detailed Medicaid documents; HHS Community Health Data Initiative information on the prevalence of disease, quality, costs and service use among Medicare patients; an interactive tool that allows the public to browse Medicare fee-for-service expenses and volumes by state and procedure; clinical trial information; and Food and Drug Administration performance measurements.

In December, that information will be supplemented with several new features as the website becomes public. One new aspect will be an online community in which people can ask federal officials to make new data available and discuss the resources that are online. The new domain will also include a list of the growing number of public and private applications that use HHS data.

Already, some companies and public health agencies have begun using HHS information to create online health-related programs. In a game called Community Clash by the Boston-based company MeYou Health, players can compare statistics about their community's health on issues such as obesity, smoking rates or high blood pressure, with rates from other communities. In a mobile application called Asthmapolis, asthma patients can track their asthma symptoms, triggers and use of medicine. Community health departments can also use HHS information.

The new HHS Web site will build on those efforts. Park said he and other HHS officials are "super-enthusiastic about the power" of mobile technology to improve patients' health care. Many company executives may be just as excited about the potential to improve their businesses' profits, too.

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