Open government in health IT

ONC uses analytics to inform public on the health care system modernization

How do you tell the story of a major government initiative that is modernizing the health care system and has the potential to save billions of dollars? With a business analytics platform that quickly analyzes the most current data and shares straightforward results on a public website. That's what the US Department of Health and Human Services' (HHS) Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT (ONC) is doing with its Health IT Dashboard.

ONC's Health IT Dashboard website shows that the agency is serious about business intelligence and open government. The website concisely depicts ONC's program performance and research data for monitoring technology trends in health system modernization and the health care economy.

Putting a face and a story on data ... that's what we needed.

Victor T. Lazzaro
Chief, Performance and Data Analytics Branch

Presented through performance reports – including maps, charts and tables – the Health IT Dashboard shows hundreds of measures depicting how certain federal policies, programs and research activities are related to health IT and the modernization of the US health care system. The dashboard has particularly rich data on emerging trends in electronic health record (EHR) adoption and health information exchange activity.

This is all a part of ONC's central role in coordinating the federal government's portfolio of health care technology programs, as well as implementing $2 billion in grant programs connected to the 2009 Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act (HITECH).

Creating a foundation for success

To support its policy and program missions, ONC needed an analytical and business intelligence tool that was universally recognized and widely adaptable for making data work in multiple ways. First, the ONC needed to integrate and analyze troves of data to make sure that all of its efforts were informed and accountable – thus the need for a BI tool that could quickly analyze varied data sets and sources and update the website. ONC used SAS Business Analytics to help create a community among its program analysts, who were exploring the new data and defining the key measures to enable and evaluate success.

ONC also needed to easily manage the distribution of results from its research and performance analysis of HITECH programs. So alongside using SAS to explore the new data, identify key measures, and calculate the results over time the agency also established the Health IT Dashboard as a public facing website. The website was initially used for describing the ONC's Federal Health IT Strategic Plan, tracking community efforts to train health care IT workers, and for analyzing the effectiveness of a grants program that provides technical assistance to health care providers implementing technology like EHRs.

Data in action: quick analytic successes

Among its coordination, policy, and program roles ONC is implementing the Health IT Regional Extension Center (REC) program, which has 62 nationwide centers offering training and technical advice to health care providers who begin using EHRs. To support and accelerate this important effort, ONC needed to give the REC grantees a set of data and geospatial dashboards that lets users look at data in at least five ways: by grantee, by state, by county, by provider specialty, and by EHR adoption status.

"We primarily use the data for making the grantees more informed and effective at the important work they're doing," says Victor Lazzaro, Chief of the ONC Performance and Data Analytics Branch, "and in the process we sought to establish a public website that shows how government research and grant program performance management activities can be implemented together to advance open government principles."

In further support of its policy agenda and grantee needs, ONC also uses SAS and the Health IT Dashboard to aggregate and present data from surveys the office commissions with other agencies (like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), organizations such as the American Hospital Association, and e-prescribing vendors to monitor trends in the health system.

Thanks to SAS, this work can be done without pulling the data into a database – a key feature that ONC sought. The result is that ONC is a one-stop shop for integrating health system data sets.

Much of ONC's data science and analytics work is evident on the public website, which is rich in detail, easy to navigate, and anything but static. Click on a state inside the Health IT Dashboard for Meaningful Use, and you'll quickly find out how many providers are enrolled and how many have reached the "meaningful use" stage – with charts showing the progress by year, countywide EHR adoption data, and more. Users can drill down into the data and customize maps and other charts based on the view they seek.

"We're proud that the Health IT Dashboard gives our stakeholders such detailed access to our valuable health system datasets," Lazzaro says. "We are encouraging health care providers to use the Health IT Dashboards to understand the technology adoption trends of their peers; ONC grantees to see how they're performing and improve upon; businesses to identify areas that are underserved and serve them; and researchers to mine the data to uncover patterns and propose explanations."


Ramp up quickly and demonstrate ability to analyze data and provide the public with the most up-to-date program results. Automate processes to optimize limited resources.



ONC provides its stakeholders and the public with the results of its most current data science and geospatial reporting of health system and public program results in a straightforward way.

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