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Federal CTO Todd Park Announces FDA Open Data Portal

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration launches openFDA, a pilot open data portal that will publish product recalls and adverse event reports for consumers.

Washington, D.C. — On Monday U.S. Chief Technology Officer Todd Park announced the launch of openFDA, a beta open data portal for the FDA that will provide millions of data records to the public.

Park disclosed the information in front of more than 2,000 health-care and IT officials at the Health Datapalooza 2014, an event promoting tech innovation in health care. The portal, he said, is the latest manifestation of a federal department complying with the Obama administration’s open data by default executive order. Issued in May of 2013, the order mandates that all federal agencies make data open to the public whenever possible.

Park hailed the advent of the portal as the next of many open data innovations to come in health care. Under the direction of Taha Kass-Hout, the FDA’s chief health informatics officer, the platform is expected to alleviate delays to Freedom of Information requests for researchers and simplify disparate FDA reporting methods.

“Today I’m extremely excited to share that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is launching the public beta [version] of openFDA, an ambitious new public access platform focused on offering high value public data sets to software developers and researchers through an API (application programming interface),” Park said.

The first phase of openFDA will publish data sets highlighting public drug adverse events and medication error reports submitted to the FDA since 2004. Extensive research from internal officials and the outside developer community identified this information as highly sought after and at the same time difficult to interpret.

In an FDA statement released in conjunction with Park’s announcement, Kass-Hout said all of the reports will be available in their entirety so developers can fashion tools to notify citizens of potential safety information, meaningful insights and get information to consumers and health-care professionals. Officials hope the initial launch, and especially the platform’s long-term development, will hold companies more accountable to the public while enabling more meaningful collaboration with the private sector.

Offering an example of one possible use, Kass-Hout said mobile developers could create search apps for smartphones that allow consumers who are affected negatively by a drug to see whether others have experienced similar adverse effects.

“OpenFDA offers a scalable platform that can be easily searched and queried across many distinct data sets, and can be easily redeployed or altered to fit a variety of purposes, and provides an innovative public data search and analytics solution,” Kass-Hout said.

In the coming months, the FDA’s Office of Health Informatics will continue to feed the site with greater data while it gathers feedback from users.

“This is only the beginning for openFDA. Throughout the summer, the openFDA initiative will be adding APIs for product recalls and product labels as well. We can’t wait to see what [developers] will build using this information as fuel,” Park said.


Jason Shueh is a former staff writer for Government Technology magazine.