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California HHS Open Data Portal Paves Way for State Health Data

California officially releases a health portal to display high value data sets for residents and developers.

Estella Geraghty says the birth of California’s first Health and Human Services (HHS) open data portal is much like the birth of a child: It took about nine months to create and is the object of great affection.

Geraghty, the deputy director for California’s Department of Public Health and the portal’s project leader, met with public officials Thursday, Aug. 7, to announce the official launch of the site at and to elaborate on next steps. She was joined by ranking officials that included California Department of Public Health (CDPH) Director Ron Chapman, California HHS Secretary Diana Dooley, and Google’s consultant and fix-it man Mickey Dickerson, among other supporters.

At launch, Geraghty said the initial sets of data tables will include birth profiles, popular baby names, poverty rates, and locations of vendors who accept vouchers from the CDPH’s Women, Infants and Children program (WIC). It will also contain health-care facilities data, a mapped timeline of West Nile virus incidents and asthma statistics. Though all initial data stems from the CDPH, eventually the portal will serve as a hub for open data from other California HHS departments.

“Here, we’re talking about wealth in the value of data,” Geraghty said. “We know that the value of data is directly related to its availability and accessibility. Open data promotes government efficiency and effectiveness, and supports entrepreneurship, innovation and discovery.”

To aid citizens in these ambitions, the site is equipped with a subscriber email list for data set updates, user tutorials and developer tools to help civic hackers in linking apps to the portal’s API -- or application programming interface, a system that processes data requests from apps online.

Long term, the state hopes the portal will be a public single point of entry for all state health data. It will be used for reportage, reference information, and Web and mobile applications that provide additional data tools for  residents. In coming weeks,  Geraghty said the portal will be fed with more data sets, listing statistics for disorders in newborns, the locales of licensed medical device retailers, smoking information, and data highlights for leading causes of death in California.

“Happily, [open data] encourages a growing ecosystem where public, private, non-profit agencies and citizens all work together to solve problems,” Geraghty said.

Estimated to arrive late September or early October, the next department to add data to the portal will be California’s Office of Statewide Planning and Development, which will add an estimated five new data sets. These are still in the process of being identified; however, three were confirmed as health-care construction and financing, data on health care’s workforce and a data set illuminating health-care costs against quality of care. By year’s end, the portal will be translated into Spanish to accommodate access to California’s 38.4 percent of Latino residents.  

For more information and to see a gallery of data visualizations, visitors can go to

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