Move Over, Richard Kiley. Here’s Why We Want to Combine Public Health Data with Health Care Data

Aug 19, 2013, 9:00 AM, Posted by Paul Tarini

Visualizations of health data at Calit2

We’re announcing today a new $100,000 prize as part of the Knight Foundation’s latest News Challenge, which seeks innovative ideas to harness information and data for the health of communities. The RWJF award is for those entrants who combine public health data with data from health care to improve the health of communities. The Knight Foundation itself has committed $2 million to the contest, as well.

The reason we want to combine public health data with health care data is because of the potential the combined data has to drive real improvements and innovation. When we were discussing this, one of my colleagues broke out with “To dream the impossible dream.” While he couldn’t match Kiley’s sonorous baritone, he did capture the ambition in the song.

On reflection, we think this goal isn’t so quixotic. We’ve been thinking more and more about bridging the worlds of health care delivery and public health—how those two systems relate to each other and can reinforce each other in ways that improve health outcomes for populations and for individuals. And we see harnessing data as part of the path to that goal. 

Currently, we’re seeing an explosion of data production from all sectors in health and health care and an increasing interest in harnessing that data for all sorts of purposes. The recent Health Datapalooza conference—which is hosted by another collaborator on this News Challenge, the Health Data Consortium—saw 2200 people gather to explore health and health care data and its uses. 

There’s a long way to go. We have a lot of operational issues to address if we are to make full use of the data resources that exist, whether they be at the local, state or national level. We need to understand more about the data that are available and we need to get more comfortable using it and deploying it. We think that by mashing up public health and health care data, we can get a broader and clearer, though perhaps more complex, picture of what’s going on with health and care. We can think in a more informed way about the role our health care delivery system plays in improving community health and about what goals the delivery system should set for itself. And we can set goals for health as a community and for ourselves as members in that community.

We have to start exploring what we can learn when we start combining this data, which is why we were so interested in collaborating with Knight. Our companion award offers prizes for 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place of $50,000, $30,000 and $20,000, respectively. Entries will be judged on the following equally weighted criteria:

  • Innovative and creative use of public health data and health care data;
  • Likelihood that insights produced by combining data will lead to improved health of communities;
  • Potential and realistic plans for adoption;
  • Accessibility of the data; and
  • Potential for idea to spread to multiple communities.

In addition, approaches that use data visualization techniques to make insights accessible and understandable by a lay audience will be given extra credit. The Knight Foundation will also be holding brainstorming sessions around the country to answer questions about the challenge and stimulate discussion about it.

We’ll choose the winners of the RWJF award from among the semifinalists chosen for Knight News Challenge: Health, which will accept entries Sept. 3–Sept. 17 at newschallenge.org. You can see the official rules for the RWJF award here.

Thanks to my RWJF colleagues Hilary Heishman, Paul Kuehnert and Anne Weiss for their contributions to this challenge and this blog.