If you’re contemplating how technology is driving changes in society, few areas matter fundamentally to how we live as much as healthcare. That’s why I hopped on the Metro last week here in Washington, D.C. and traveled up to the Health Datapalooza, the annual health data conference that has grown by leaps and bounds since its founding in 2010. The conference, which began as a small gathering to feature new or existing health applications and services that used government data, is now a bigger stage than ever, moving from abstractions to applying data towards demonstrating care and outcomes to over 2,000 attendees.

As I’ve observed here in previous columns, personal data access opens new doors for patients, open recall and adverse events data protects consumers, and Medicare data releases enables more accountability and transparency into the healthcare system.

After the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) released another round of inpatient Medicare provider utilization and payment data during this year’s datapalooza, The New York Times reported that “Charges for some of the most common inpatient procedures surged at hospitals across the country in 2012 from a year earlier, some at more than four times the national rate of inflation.” The role that similar works of data journalism have played in delivering accountability and insight from such releases for the public was specifically honored at this year’s Health Datapalooza, where ProPublica received the Health Data Liberators Award.

The Health Datapalooza event brings together many more categories of people than it did in 2010, from top government officials from the US and the UK there to announce challenges or data releases, to developers competing in hackathons, to leading healthcare journalists, technologists, patient advocates, entrepreneurs, and physicians discussing what’s working (how, why, for whom, and where), and what isn’t working.

There’s a lot to be concerned about in today’s complicated healthcare technology world, from spiraling costs to data breaches to quality of care or access to it. There’s also a lot to be excited about: there are huge opportunities to help billions of people live longer, healthier lives. Advances in diagnosis, treatment, and pharmaceuticals are life and death issues. Improved access to information, medical devices, new procedures, data analysis, and mobile computing are all happening simultaneously, albeit at different rates for different parts of the population.

I dug into many of these issues with the two masters of ceremonies for the 2014 Health Datapalooza, Bryan Sivak and Susannah Fox (my interviews with Fox are in my next article).

Interviewing Bryan Sivak at the 2014 Health Datapalooza

Sivak, the CTO of the U.S.Department of Health and Human Services since July 2012, has been working to open up the agency’s vast stores of health data and ignite innovation throughout the immense agency. In the following four videos, Sivak and I talk about:

1) The history and growth of the Health Datapalooza, and what it means to the American people today, including the impact of health data releases.

2) How he’s helping more than 90,000 staff bring good ideas to light at HHS.

3) Why healthcare startup Purple Binder’s efforts to connect the poor to information in their communities is worth watching in Chicago.

4) The next generation of technologies he’ll tell the incoming HHS secretary to keep an eye on now that former White House budget director Sylvia Burwell has been sworn in. Sivak talked about nanotechnology and wearable computing for continuous monitoring and a new company in California that recently received FDA approval for a way to estimate blood loss during surgery using an iPad camera, software, and surgical sponges.

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