New York's health commissioner, Dr. Nirav Shah, wants to put the state at the forefront of a data revolution in health care that not only would improve medical treatment but empower consumers and entrepreneurs.
"If you can measure it, you can improve it," Shah said. "Data is the next national resource."
In March, the health department started an "open data" website, health.data.ny.gov, that for the first time made available in one place a vast array of health-related information, from the most popular baby names to the availability of beds in nearby nursing homes to which communities have the most overweight children.
The idea, Shah said earlier this month in an interview, was to make this information available to consumers and researchers -- and to entrepreneurs. Like other natural resources, Shah said, the massive amounts of health-related data being gathered can be mined and retooled for multiple purposes.
For instance, in three years, Shah predicts, before a patient goes into the hospital for knee replacement surgery, he will be able to download an app that will give, among other things, the hospital's infection rates, the average length of stay for that procedure and how patients rate their satisfaction with their care.
In June, Shah was awarded the first Health Data Liberator Award for the state's website at the fourth annual Health Datapalooza conference in Washington.
Dwayne Spradlin, chief executive of the Health Data Consortium, praised the state not just for the website but for creating "a health care innovation ecosystem."
"With this kind of forward thinking, it's no surprise New York is a force in fueling innovation from the use of health data," he said.
Tania Allard, who as director of intergovernmental affairs and special projects in the health department oversaw the launching of the website, said the state has gotten requests for help on similar websites from Illinois and Louisiana.
But Shah is looking beyond just the website. He wants New York to be a leader in connecting -- and ultimately using -- electronic health records to both track and improve quality of care -- and spur economic development.
Shah said New York is the first state to provide some health data to tech developers with security clearance through a health care "accelerator."
The $4.2-million accelerator -- or business incubator -- is funded by a public-private partnership between the state and the Partnership Fund of New York City, which invests in projects to spur local growth.
Jobs, investment predicted
Eight companies chosen from 250 applicants have already developed technologies, including software to help a medical team manage a patient's medication and an app that helps doctors coordinate care with text messaging. Shah predicts the program will create about 1,500 jobs over five years and attract up to $200 million in investments.
"What's exciting about this data isn't just the information itself, but also the many business opportunities that the data affords," he said in a speech in June to the Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington, a group founded by former Senate majority leaders from both sides of the aisle.
In New York State -- which has gotten about $94 million in federal grants -- 92.1 percent of hospitals have met federal standards for electronic health records, according to the federal Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology. Nationally, the average is 85.2 percent.
The percentage of doctors in the state with electronic health records is lower: 35 percent statewide, with 29 percent in Suffolk and 35 percent in Nassau, according to the federal office.
But David Whitlinger, executive director of the New York eHealth Collaborative, predicted that figure will be closer to 60 percent within 18 months.
Public utility of data
The New York eHealth Collaborative, a not-for-profit funded through state and federal grants, coordinates the Statewide Health Information Network of New York, called SHIN-NY. SHIN-NY is the mega-system that connects all that electronic health data, such as lab results, allergies and medications.
Whitlinger said the network should be seen as a public utility -- like electricity -- that can help produce the information technology version of heat or lights. "At the end of the day, the providers, they don't want SHIN-NY; it's what you can do with the SHIN-NY" that they want, he said.