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Are You Taking Advantage Of Free Healthcare Data?


Not even a decade ago, the healthcare technology and data landscape was much different than today. Can you remember a time before you could look up your symptoms online and spend the evening panicking that you may have a life threatening condition? There were no electronic scripts or health records (that mattered), no appointment scheduling or reminder services, no way to quickly research a medical condition, a drug, or the physician you are seeing next week, and there was certainly no way for the public to access data on how healthcare professionals refer patients, prescribe medication, or the adverse events reported for any given drug. While we are still in the very early stages of a healthcare data revolution, the recent advances have made a significant impact in how we understand and consume healthcare, whether we realize it or not.

Show me the data!

After a decade of groundbreaking technological innovations in storing and accessing large quantities of data, the world is a much different and more open place. Many companies have capitalized on the firehose of healthcare data being made available by professional associations, private enterprises, and government organizations. Healthcare datasets that once cost hundreds of thousands of dollars and could only be available to large enterprises (or not at all) are now available to small businesses and individuals at a fraction of the price, or free of charge. Take for example the National Plan & Provider Enumeration System (NPPES) database made available for free by the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). This dataset includes all of the licensed and practicing healthcare professionals in the US. Additionally, CMS also released all of the medicare referral and prescription data in compliance with a request made by several groups and individuals under the Freedom of Information Act. In a similar move, the Federal Drug Administration had recently made adverse events data available through an API, allowing developers to build a variety of new products and services that allow consumers and other interested parties to understand the potential dangers of any drug and medical device. For example, within 24 hours of the data being made available, a team of healthcare researchers published a web tool ( allowing for easy access to years of FDA adverse event reports.

Lots of data…now what?

Combine the unprecedented availability of all this data with a more engaged generation of technology enthusiasts, and the environment is ripe for innovation and disruption in ways that could not be imagined before. Healthcare hackers (the good kind) like Fred Trotter (@fredtrotter) have done crowdfunding campaigns to collaborate with other researchers on opening new health data to the public. Journalist organizations such as ProPublica have expanded their ability to introduce thought provoking questions to the public health discussions, and even entire companies such as Social Health Insights ( have based their ability to thrive on open data or connecting multiple sources of open and public data. The newly available data not only improves the landscape of healthcare products and service available to the public, but also creates an unprecedented environment of transparency with regard to healthcare economics and practices.

What does all of this have to do with medical market research?

There are many ways all of this newly available data can be used, but I’d love to share what we’re doing with it here at Ricca Group. Being a market research data collection firm focused on conducting surveys with healthcare professionals and patients has its set of unique challenges. We are constantly trying to find more effective ways of identifying healthcare professionals who fit the criteria of a particular survey. Often times, this means they need to be a prescriber of a certain drug. Having CMS datasets with prescription data allows us to append these data points to prescriber profiles and use this for more precise survey targeting. We can even use the information available to create our own segmentation of low, medium, and high prescribers. Although prescription data from the non-CMS world has been available through healthcare data behemoths like IMS, the cost of acquiring such data and using it for this purpose has been highly prohibitive. Although CMS provides only a limited snapshot of the entire prescription landscape, we found the data to be reliable and useful. While this is a more concrete example of what we are currently doing, our team has been busy working on other innovative ways to use the available data - everything from relationship mapping among healthcare stakeholders and facilities to identification of key opinion leaders in therapeutic areas and markets. We are truly excited about all of the possibilities for innovation in our industry and countless others during this new and more open era of data and technology.

Greg Slawek

Greg is a passionate data and technology enthusiast with an Associates Degree in Specialized Technology. He is currently a Senior Project Manager at Ricca Group with a focus on quantitative research projects. Greg is a musician, enjoys working with database technology, and loves to read and learn about physics.

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