Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Launches Initiative to Access How Data Can Be Used to Improve Health

    • October 16, 2014

Princeton, N.J.—The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation today announced the launch of Data for Health, an initiative that seeks to explore how information and data on health can be harnessed to help people lead healthier lives. The initiative is led by a high-profile advisory committee co-chaired by David Ross, ScD, director of the Public Health Informatics Institute, and Ivor Horn, MD, MPH, medical director of the Center for Diversity and Health Equity at Seattle Children’s Hospital.

The promise of improving health care through the digitization of patient information has drawn significant national attention and investment in health information technology in recent years, resulting in rapid implementation of electronic health records. At the same time, an explosion of apps and devices that track fitness, mood and sleep, and of technologies that passively capture information as people communicate with one another on social networks, shop, work, or do any number of activities that leave “digital footprints,” are creating new forms of data relevant to health. Secure, protected access to this wealth of information has the potential to help individuals, health care providers and communities make smarter, faster decisions that improve the health of the public and promote healthy lifestyles.

“The sheer volume and velocity of data at our fingertips today is unprecedented,” said RWJF President and CEO Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, MD, MBA “As we build a Culture of Health—a nation where everyone has the opportunity to live longer, healthier lives—it will be critical to ensure communities can effectively use and manage this information in ways that help people get healthy and stay healthy. The Data for Health initiative will be a starting point for identifying what infrastructure is needed to turn this information into an effective tool for improving health nationwide.”

The advisory committee will host a series of “Learning What Works” events in five cities across the country to hear from local leaders, residents, and professionals from a wide range of sectors on what information is important to them and how they might use it to help people lead healthier lives and improve health in their communities. Critical issues include how data should be collected, shared, used and protected in ways that are meaningful to individuals and help providers and communities make a measurable impact on improving health and well-being.

The Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) will participate in each of the listening sessions. Karen DeSalvo, MD, MPH, MSc, National Coordinator for Health Information Technology at HHS, said “We look forward to hearing and learning from communities about their vision of how health information technology beyond electronic health records can advance the public’s health beyond health care. We appreciate RWJF supporting this conversation and look forward to the findings as it will help shape meaningful health information technology policy for our nation.”

In the coming months, the advisory committee will travel to Philadelphia; Phoenix, Arizona; Des Moines, Iowa; San Francisco; and Charleston, South Carolina. The advisory committee will issue a report and recommendations in early 2015.

“Community developers, doctors, school districts, public health departments, consumers, and local businesses all need data for building and sustaining healthy communities,” said Dr. Ross. “Finding out what problems people want to solve and what health information they need to help solve these problems will help us better understand how to design the infrastructure for collecting, sharing, and protecting data in ways that work best for communities across the country.”

“Ultimately, we need an infrastructure in place to support ready access to information necessary for health decision-making. The data and the technology to build this infrastructure exist. But first we need to understand how communities are using and want to use the data, and what systems need to be in place so that it can be easily accessed and shared,” Dr. Horn added.

The Data for Health advisory committee is comprised of public health practitioners, physicians, health care researchers, health technology and informatics experts, consumers and representatives of local government and health care systems.

Advisory Committee


Ivor Braden Horn, MD, MPH, Medical Director, Center for Diversity and Health Equity, Seattle Children’s Hospital

David A. Ross, ScD, Director, Public Health Informatics Institute


James J. Augustine, MD, Associate Professor, Wright State University

David Blumenthal, MD, MPP, President and CEO, The Commonwealth Fund

Bechara Choucair, MD, Commissioner, Chicago Department of Public Health

Larry A. Green, MD, Professor and Epperson-Zorn Endowed Chair for Innovation in Family Medicine, Department of Family Medicine at the University of Colorado School of Medicine

Karen S. Martin, RN, MSN, FAAN, Health Care Consultant, Martin Associates

David McCallie Jr., MD, Senior Vice President for Medical Informatics, Cerner

Deven McGraw, JD, MPH, LLM, Partner, Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, LLP

Erin Moore, Family Partner, Cincinnati Children's Hospital

Gilberto Salinas, MPA, Chief Clinical Officer, Rancho Los Amigos National Rehabilitation Center

Ida Sim, MD, PhD, Professor of Medicine, University of California, San Francisco and Co-Founder, Open mHealth

Daniel Stein, MBA, President, Stewards of Change Institute

David Whitlinger, Executive Director, New York eHealth Collaborative


About the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

For more than 40 years the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has worked to improve the health and health care of all Americans. We are striving to build a national Culture of Health that will enable all Americans to live longer, healthier lives now and for generations to come. For more information, visit Follow the Foundation on Twitter at or on Facebook at

Media Contacts

Melissa Blair

Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (609) 627-5937

Blog Post

Data for Health—Coming to a Town Near You

RWJF's Senior Program Officer, Mike Painter, MD, JD, reflects on why having access to good information is an important part of the process toward building a Culture of Health.

Read the blog


Learning What Works

The Data for Health initiative explores how data can be collected, shared, protected, and translated in ways that are useful to individuals, organizations and communities. Learn about insights, concerns, and ideas on how to harness data to improve health.

Read more