Free the Data

Unlocking the Potential of Health Data in California

CHCF's Free the Data initiative seeks to develop new tools to access, analyze, and communicate health data in California.

August 2014

Through its Free the Data initiative, CHCF seeks to unlock the potential of government health data by catalyzing development of tools to better access, analyze, and communicate information. Audiences include journalists, entrepreneurs and developers, consumers, and state and local policymakers.

Examples of projects under this initiative include:

  • CDPH Open Data Portal: CHCF funded the California Health and Human Services Agency to create a data portal that improves access to the state's health data and provides tools to visualize and download datasets. The first sets of data, launched in August 2014, include local-level data from the California Department of Public Health — birth profiles, baby names, poverty rates, West Nile virus prevalence, ED asthma hospitalizations, and locations of health care facilities such as hospitals, clinics, and nursing homes. Eventually, data from other HHSA departments will be included. While much of the data from the initial launch is currently available on the California Department of Public Health website, the Open Data Portal enables improved access, so researchers, policymakers, technology experts, and others can, for example, use the data to create mobile applications (apps) to solve local challenges in effectively accessing and harnessing these data.

  • Health data for local policymaking: County supervisors and staff face related challenges — how to find relevant data among the numerous available sources and to summarize findings in succinct, visual ways to inform policy and budget decisions.

    Working extensively with potential users, CHCF commissioned the design and innovation firm Gravitytank to create a prototype tool that provides local policymakers with access to sophisticated displays of health data relevant to them and a system for integrating these data into summary briefs on key topics. For more on this project, read about Harnessing Health Data for Counties. Next steps are to investigate approaches for turning this prototype into a functioning product to meet the needs of counties across California.
  • Developers and users: Given the goal of open data to encourage those outside of government to create useful innovations from health data, CHCF also supports Code for America and other organizations that help government, journalists, consumers, nonprofits, and providers effectively leverage these data.
  • CalQualityCare.org: Relaunched in 2014, this CHCF website makes it easy for consumers to find providers and to compare the quality of hospitals, medical groups, and long term care facilities in California. Raw data files from the site's extensive nursing home offerings are available for journalists, researchers, and others interested in a deeper dive into variations in quality across the state.
  • Solutions Journalism Network: CHCF is funding a project to train news outlets in California and elsewhere on a journalism technique that employs data to highlight community solutions to health problems. Read more about the Knight News Challenge.
  • Events and convenings: CHCF is a proud sponsor of a number of open data–related events, including the national Health Datapalooza and the Healthy Communities Data Summit, which showcases work taking place across California to integrate data into health care decisionmaking.