I recently attended the Health Datapalooza in Washington, DC. The Datapalooza concept represents a government-wide effort (Health, Education, Energy, Transportation, etc.) to unleash the power of data that has been locked away in government archives for years, virtually unused. Think for a moment about the impact of the federal government releasing National Weather Service data in the early 70s, or GPS satellite tracking data in the 90s. Those actions spurred the development of multibillion dollar industries and conveniences that we as consumers rely on every day.
Now, imagine how much data is gathered on a daily basis in healthcare, the largest sector of the United States economy and 18% of our gross domestic product. Under the bold leadership of HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, CTO of the US Todd Park, and the National Coordinator for Health IT Farzad Mostashari, HHS is beginning to release mountains of anonymized healthcare data to unleash innovation and entrepreneurship in healthcare.
This has massive implications, because as we know, healthcare is quite likely the most data-opaque industry on the planet. So much so that Steven Brill's extraordinary exposé on healthcare costs was surprising to many outside the industry (though not to insiders) and the release of hospital chargemaster information by HHS was big news. And a company like Castlight, which simply allows consumers to compare pricing when choosing healthcare providers, is a true innovator.
Due to lack of data transparency about costs and outcomes, healthcare is a perfect example of an industry with rampant information asymmetry (circumstances where one party has better information than another, creating situations where the lacking party may be taken advantage of). Information asymmetry frequently exists between payors and providers and also between providers and patients. As you move down the healthcare food chain from payor to patient, the asymmetry gets worse as you go. Payors have comprehensive data on costs and perhaps even rudimentary performance metrics, providers are likely to have this only within their system, and patients have virtually no basis to make an informed decision. This is one reason the HHS release of healthcare data is so important, it can begin to level the playing field for payors and providers to work together intelligently, and for patients to make informed choices.