Dispatches from Datapalooza: Creating Change at Scale

Jun 2, 2013, 8:00 AM, Posted by Thomas Goetz

From: Thomas Goetz

To: Christine Nieves, Paul Tarini and Beth Toner

Date: June 2, 2013

Like you, Paul, this will be my third Datapalooza (I’m tempted to go all Woodstock and say I was there for the first, but… I wasn’t that cool).

I remember the second Datapalooza quite vividly. First, because I’d taken a red-eye from San Francisco and was fairly bleary, and second because I was completely unprepared for the passion and sense of potential that was on tap that day at the NIH auditorium. Frankly, I didn’t expect much; I figured a D.C. conference about data organized by the federal government wasn’t exactly going to be a hub of innovative ideas.

But my Bay Area provincialism was quickly scrubbed as Todd Park et al stunned me in the best possible way. In short, I remember that Datapalooza because it’s where I got a vibe that something was going on in D.C. around health care that was, if anything, more powerful and exciting than what was brewing in Silicon Valley.

It’s where I had the realization that tracking apps and tools are all well and good, but the real leverage comes when you combine personal data with the vast data sets that the government – at HHS, the FDA, CMS, CDC, and other health and health care agencies – compiles. Put the two together and you get real change, change at scale.

Last year I had the honor of serving as an M.C. for the event, and it was all I could do to set up all the exciting ideas and tools that were coming at the audience. It was a terrific show of evidence, with some real big players from both health care and technology there. Everyone from established players like SAS and David Eddy of Archimedes to startups like Castlight Health and Cake Health. And the progress with Blue Button was a standout as well. Even Jon Bon Jovi showed up!

I’ll be MC’ing this year, too (tag teaming with HHS CTO Bryan Sivak; as you note, Christine, he’s going to be very busy this week!), and I’ll be looking out for more evidence that the promise and opportunity that have been hatching since 2010 are turning into bona fide tools, products and companies.

This year, from what I can tell, there are going to be even more great companies on hand, as well as leaders from every level of government and industry. In my circles, Datapalooza is where to be, and it’s terrific that the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation is leading the charge. I’ll be thrilled to be flying the flag as the Foundation’s Entrepreneur in Residence, which has given me new insight into the very real stakes that health and health care innovation needs to be addressing.

Team members from the Pioneer Portfolio, as well as Entrepreneur in Residence Thomas Goetz, are among the RWJF staff attending this year's Health Datapalooza. Datapalooza is an RWJF-sponsored conference that features new and innovative uses of health data by companies, startups, government agencies and more.

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This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF Pioneering Ideas blog.