Praise for NY Innovates – NYS Rocking Open Health Data

Photo via @dave_cohn

Photo via @dave_cohn

Hats off to New York’s health and technology agencies, who joined the governor’s OpenNY initiative for this week’s successful NY Innovates app-building code-a-thon and forum on open health data. The well-attended event at RPI, in Troy, New York, brought together some of the top open data and technology innovators in government along with health professionals and apps developers to “explore the creative use of technology and data to solve the challenges of tomorrow.” Luminaries included open data gurus like Jim Hendler of RPI, pioneering health data leader Nirav Shah, M.D. (Commissioner of NYS DOH), and Andrew Nicklin, the Director of Open NY.

$10,000 in prize money was put up by the event’s main sponsors, the NYS Health Foundation and a number of private sponsors; overall, nearly a dozen separate teams of apps developers showed up to compete.

The big topics at the discussion forums included patient privacy, making open data easier to find and use, and better measuring the specific benefits New Yorkers can expect to see from open health data.

Tania Allard, Health Data NY’s Director,  encouraged other agencies to not overthink their open data efforts, saying that the most important part of any open data initiative is getting data out. She acknowledged that there may be mistakes in the data, but the public can help find and correct those mistakes much faster than an agency alone. (We think this is essentially the definition of success for a government open data initiatives. So congrats to NYS DOH and Open NY for this data release.)

Allard’s remarks probably alluded to the previous week’s NY Times article about a tenfold variation in the costs of hip replacements at New York hospitals. The first Times article was followed the next day by a correction, as the Times called hospitals to confirm, and then the hospitals acknowledged misrepresenting the costs of their procedures to the Department of Health.

This is a very exciting time for open data in New York, especially health open data, where Nirav Shah and his team, seem to really understand the potential of open data. In this season of the Moreland Commission, Albany can be in a dreadful state of mind, but this unusual and creative event was hugely encouraging to anyone who wants more open and innovative government. We hope word gets back to Governor Cuomo about how this open data event and the kind of work NYSDOH in particular is doing, are helping to foster a new culture in state government that values trying new things and taking intelligent risks – in a word, a culture of innovation.

(One small bit of advice for NY Innovates 2014: please webcast it next year!)