The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services will make its data available to the private sector for the first time, the agency’s acting administrator announced Tuesday in Washington.

Previously, CMS data has only been available to researchers not intending to develop commercial products. It now will be available to innovators and entrepreneurs, CMS Acting Administrator Andy Slavitt said at the Health Datapalooza conference. “We do this with the clear expectation that you will create new streams of tools to improve care.”

CMS will further allow companies to combine the agency’s data with private data. “In taking this step, we challenge others with proprietary data to follow our lead and remove barriers to getting better care faster,” Slavitt said. “It will be good for everybody.”

In a statement, CMS noted that the data would not permit identification of patients, but would provide the identity of providers of care. The agency in September 2015 will start accepting research requests.

Data will be accessed via CMS’s Virtual Research Data Center, which offers granular program data for Medicare fee-for-service claims and other programs. Researchers will have direct access to approved data files and will conduct analysis within a secure CMS environment, according to the agency.

Researchers will not be permitted to remove patient-level data from the Virtual Research Data Center, but will be able to download aggregated, privacy-protected reports and results to their own person workstation.

Also See: CMS Releases 2013 Hospital, Physician Data

Slavitt also announced that CMS will change the sharing of its data from annual to quarterly updates. In this current information age, it is not acceptable that the most recent data available is from 2013, he added.

Further, CMS will now require data submitted to the agency be in machine readable format to drive a new level of consumer engagement. “These changes are intended to spur your creativity and drive the innovation we need,” Slavitt said.

What CMS Wants

Slavitt asked those at the conference to focus on secure data and not to “just build cool factor gizmos.” Instead, he encouraged them to “build products and service that help us take care of the sickest and most difficult to treat people.”

“That is our greatest challenge,” he added. “Two million people account for half of costs of the Medicare program. Often basic barriers – housing, nutrition, transportation, child care – combine” to impact health. Slavitt said the health care system needs “better support information, better insight …. to enable this change.”

Fight Information Blocking

Following up an announcement that Slavitt made at the HIMSS conference in Chicago earlier this year, he reiterated that he wants to be informed of any information blocking that people experience. CMS opened an e-mail inbox today, noinformationblocking@cms.hhs.gov, where stakeholders can send information. “We want to hear, I want to hear and understand information blocking practices you experience,” he said. “We will address those issues as they arise. … Data blocking will not be tolerated. We don’t experience care in silos and our data can’t live in silos.”

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