HHS emphasizes dashboards, new datasets in transparency plan

The Health and Human Services Department is launching two new performance management dashboards and releasing new Medicare patient data as part of its transparency effort.

The Health and Human Services Department is unveiling two new performance management dashboards and publishing de-identified Medicare patient claims data for the public for the first time as part of 17 initiatives detailed in its Open Government Plan.

The Food and Drug Administration and HHS' Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONCHIT) are each developing performance management online dashboard systems to track their activities and programs, according to the plan published April 7.

The FDA-TRACK (Transparency, Results, Accountability, Credibility and Knowledge-sharing) dashboard was launched in beta mode April 7 to allow visitors to view performance data at the program office level.

Once completely implemented, the FDA-TRACK dashboard will offer monthly data about more than 300 performance measures on more than 80 FDA programs. The measures include the timeliness of reviews, the number of high-risk inspections completed, and the completion of key research projects. The site allows visitors to submit comments on both the general features of the program as well as specific performance measures. Web site hits and feedback will be monitored on a daily basis.

ONCHIT, which is developing the policies for distribution of $20 billion in economic stimulus law funding for health information technology, expects to introduce its online performance management dashboard in beta mode by the end of 2010, the plan said.

ONCHIT will use information generated by its programs, its internal processes and formal evaluations to address the needs of various stakeholders.

Also in the plan, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) is releasing to the public for the first time Medicare patient claims data. “This will represent the first time these kinds of data have been made available to the public,” the plan said.

The data will be culled from a random sample of 5 percent of the Medicare population in 2008. To protect privacy, the data will be scrubbed of all identifiers and limited to certain variables. Starting in September, the de-identified Medicare claim “basic files” will be released on Data.gov for inpatient and outpatient hospital care, skilled nursing facilities and several other types of care.

“To date, access to these claims has been very restricted. CMS is initiating a project to improve access to its data by creating 'basic files' from claims data for public use,” the plan stated. “This work will be executed through a rigorous and intensive process, consulting closely with privacy experts, re-identification experts, researchers, and key stakeholders, to ensure that beneficiary confidentiality is entirely protected.”

Overall, the plan highlights 14 new datasets, including the Medicare basic files as well as a CMS dashboard for displaying Medicare inpatient hospital data and a new online data set of community health information.

The plan refers to CMS and the FDA as agencies “emerging as leaders of the next generation of transparency at HHS.” The plan also touts FDA transparency initiatives overall and HHS efforts to reduce the Freedom of Information Act backlog.