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Data Management Will Advance Open Source Software, Public Health Services

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services is working to build an open source software office that will facilitate data-sharing across the public health ecosystem.

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Open-source software is proving to be a reliable and valuable tool for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services as the agency works to refine health care design and optimize websites to improve service delivery.

Andrea Fletcher, executive director of digital service at CMS, said open-source software improves efficiency of service delivery and transparency and also results in cost savings.

“I personally think that the key to interoperability and making sure systems can talk to each other is open source,” Fletcher said during FCW’s Innovations in Health IT event this week. “I’ve seen it done elsewhere in the world. I’ve seen it done really well and when it works, it’s an incredible tool in our tool kit for interoperability. Making sure that the code that we’re using across different states and government programs can all link up because they’re all being developed in the open.”

Open source has allowed CMS to keep abreast of technology improvements and be an “early adopter” of new solutions.

“That’s one of the joys of open source, we don’t know what the next technology that comes down the pipeline that we need to adapt to might be, we don’t know what the future holds, but we can basically stay ahead of the game by leveraging it as it reaches the market and then move really quickly,” Fletcher said.

CMS is working to grow its open-source software community and strategy by creating a special office.

“We’re thinking about the culture and education, what does it look like when we onboard new developers at CMS,” Fletcher said. “What tools do we need and what processes should we have in place to make sure the code that we’re wiring is the best code that we can?”

Fletcher also outlined some of the things that CMS is doing to build out the new open-source program office, such as new data governance models.

“There are lots of templates and bug bounties, conferences, guidelines and best practices, We’re doing inventory on our code repositories and coming up with different governance models,” Fletcher said. “So that’s what we’re planning on doing for the next couple of years, is really standing up all of the education tools, policies, practices and communications that we need.”

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Chief Data Officer Alan Sim said the agency launched the Data Modernization Initiative (DMI) to solve data flow complexity.

The effort assisted the CDC in moving from siloed and brittle public health data systems to more connected, resilient, adaptable and sustainable response-ready systems.

“Response-ready systems that can help us solve problems before they happen and reduce the harm caused by the problems that do happen,” Sim said during the FCW event. “So, there’s the prevention aspect of CDC what information can we gather to forecast and predict things and then there’s the information that’s needed if there is an emergency response and we need to address issues real time.”

The CDC learned many lessons during the pandemic. Sims believes if there is another public health emergency and CDC has achieved the goals of DMI, the agency will have a better foundation for data-sharing across all levels of public health administration.

“There’s a lot of complications with data sharing that people don’t recognize. Much of that data resides within their state, tribal and territorial partners,” Sim said. “We have to work through data policies and data use agreements so we’re trying to find ways not only during the emergency response, but even afterward to be able to have a common operating picture before something occurs.”

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