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Nation’s top technology official advocates putting health data in patients’ hands

Kevin Bennett | BDN
Kevin Bennett | BDN
The chief technology officer for the United States, Todd Park speaks to a packed house at Spectacular Events Center in Bangor on Tuesday, March 3, 2012.
By Jackie Farwell, BDN Staff

BANGOR, Maine — It’s not often that a senior White House official uses the word “awesomeness” in a speech, let alone to describe government health data, but U.S. Chief Technology Officer Todd Park believes in the power of information.

During an energetic presentation Tuesday at the Spectacular Event Center, Park expounded on the government’s recent efforts to put reams of health data into the hands of patients and providers.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is working to make health information — from public health trends to clinical trial results to individual medical records — more accessible, he said.

Park highlighted a program led by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, which allows veterans and members of the military to download their individual health records through a secure website. More than 750,000 people have accessed their records since the program launched in 2010, he said.

“It’s not our data; it’s your data. You should be able to get a copy of your own data,” Park said.

Personal medical records are just one piece of a wider effort to unlock health information across the country, he said.

By making information about product recalls, nutritious foods and other health issues available in user-friendly formats, the government opens the door to entrepreneurs and innovators who can turn the data into products and services that improve health care, Park said.

An application called Asthmapolis, for example, tracks when and where patients suffer asthma attacks through a GPS device attached to their asthma inhaler, he said. Another mobile and Web app, iTriage, helps consumers decode their symptoms and locate the best provider.

Park’s background in entrepreneurship includes co-founding electronic health records provider athenahealth in 1997. Before becoming CTO in March, he oversaw technology for the U.S. Health and Human Services, launching healthcare.gov, a site that helps consumers sort through health insurance options.

Park spoke in Bangor at the request of Eastern Maine Healthcare Systems.
EMHS is working to better coordinate patient care using health information technology under a new model known as an accountable care organization.

Ultimately, the government’s role is to not only publish health data, but also to pave the way toward improving the health of Americans, Park said.

“I can’t eat data and be healed,” he said. “I can’t pour data on a wound and heal it.”

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