Can Todd Park Revolutionize the Health Care Industry?

Simon Owens | The Atlantic | June 2, 2011

His title is chief technology officer, but at HHS, Park is the entrepreneur-in-residence, inspiring others to make government data accessible

...But Corr was what Park described as a "cordial and lethal sales person," and at his office, he began to lay out the framework of this brand new position opening at HHS. First and foremost, Corr explained, this position wouldn't be heading the IT of all of HHS; the agency already had people for that task. Instead, the CTO position would focus entirely on being an "entrepreneur in residence." Earlier that year, President Obama, on his first day in office, had signed the Memorandum on Transparency and Open Government, which would usher in "a new era of open and accountable government meant to bridge the gap between the American people and their government." The idea was to force government agencies to engage in radical transparency, a move that would include opening up its vast treasure troves of data and funneling it through APIs so that private citizens and businesses could build apps and tools that could leverage the data.

The potential benefits of such open government initiatives are immense. In my interviews with Park, he repeatedly brought up the example of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. In the 1970s, NOAA began releasing its daily weather data to the public, and today that data is used by hundreds of companies, from to a variety of smartphone apps. The government also opened up its GPS data in the '80s, a move that gave birth to an entire industry of companies that use the data across millions of devices. A recent report from the McKinsey Global Institute found that, as the New York Times put it, "the value [of open data] to the health care system in the United States could be $300 billion a year, and that American retailers could increase their operating profit margins by 60 percent." Given that U.S. health care costs billions of dollars a year and makes up 17 percent of GDP, companies have more than enough incentive to create applications and tools that can cut costs and drive economic activity within this sector...