HHS API Gives Patients Power Over Their Data

Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) CTO Ed Simcox said at MeriTalk’s Cloud Connect 2019 event today that HHS has melded its IT principles with cloud and data analytics capabilities to develop an application program interface (API) that gives citizens power over their healthcare data.

The API is called CMS Blue Button 2.0.  It takes a variety of Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) data – including beneficiaries’ Medicare coverage, drug prescriptions, primary care treatment, and cost – from 53 million Medicare beneficiaries and gives those individuals “full control over how their data can be used and by who,” Blue Button’s website states.

“CMS has all this data about their patients,” Simcox said. “They have data about 60 percent of the American population in some form or fashion. Patients have never really had access to their own data. And if they don’t, how are they going to really care for themselves? How are they going to get any insights to what’s working in their healthcare and whether or not they’re getting a good deal?”

Blue Button has been made possible, Simcox said, because CMS is shifting its data enclave into the cloud for the first time.

CMS created a developer environment – an application development shop – with the tools HHS had available in the cloud. And then it had 1,100 app developers sign up to create applications individuals can download to use and control their healthcare data.

“We now have 800 applications under development, and we have in production – certified by CMS, we have 23 applications,” Simcox said. “These applications are available in the app stores today. This is the first time that people have been able to access their patient data in the palm of their hand and begin to make better decisions about their healthcare.”

The strides HHS has made with Blue Button’s development align with IT principles that Simcox highlighted at the beginning of his remarks today. He said that the techniques and technologies that HHS fosters are backed by three principles:

  • Open data fueling insight and change;
  • Partnerships with industry and agencies to accelerate HHS’s mission; and
  • A citizen consumer-focus to drive better healthcare.

“It all goes back to the consumer and the patient – putting the patient in charge of their data,” Simcox said. “And we couldn’t do that without the cloud. They couldn’t do that without using modern technologies. Letting developers and app producers, as well as patients, through the enclave into CMS was untenable. There was no way to do that in a secure way. But we figured out how to do it using modern technologies.”

Simcox’s remarks on management and leveraging data and mission echoed throughout the comments of other government and industry speakers who presented at Cloud Connect today. They explained that data analytics, adoption of hybrid, multi-cloud environments, and developing robust data strategies are among the paths forward for their organizations.

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