News | Information Technology | June 05, 2015

CMS Announces New Policy Opening Access to Medicare Data

For the first time, innovators and entrepreneurs will be able to work with data to develop new products and services to improve healthcare offerings

June 5, 2015 - At Health Datapalooza, the Acting Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) Administrator Andy Slavitt announced a new policy that will allow innovators and entrepreneurs to access CMS data, such as Medicare claims. Under the policy, those interested may conduct approved research that will ultimately improve care and provide better tools that should benefit healthcare consumers through a greater understanding of what the data says works best in healthcare. The data will not allow the patient's identity to be determined, but will provide the identity of the providers of care. CMS will begin accepting innovator research requests in September 2015. 

Innovators and entrepreneurs will access data via the CMS Virtual Research Data Center (VRDC), which provides access to granular CMS program data, including Medicare fee-for-service claims data, in an efficient and cost-effective manner. Researchers working in the CMS VRDC have direct access to approved privacy-protected data files and are able to conduct their analysis within a secure CMS environment.

"Historically, CMS has prohibited researchers from accessing detailed CMS data if they intended to use it to develop products or tools to sell," said Niall Brennan, CMS chief data officer and director of the Office of Enterprise and Data Analytics. "However, as the delivery system transforms from rewarding volume to value, data will play a key role. We hope that this new policy will lead to additional innovation and insights from the CMS data."

Examples of tools or products that innovators and entrepreneurs might develop include care management or predictive modeling tools, which could greatly benefit the healthcare system, in the form of healthier people, better quality or lower cost of care. Even though all data is privacy-protected, researchers also will not be allowed to remove patient-level data from the VRDC. They will only be able to download aggregated, privacy-protected reports and results to their own personal workstation. 

CMS also announced that all researchers will be allowed to request data on a quarterly basis rather than the annual updates that were available in the past. Technological advancements such as the VRDC have facilitated access to more current data without higher data costs. This change in data access will allow researchers to conduct more rapid analysis of the delivery system.  

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