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FCW : June 30, 2015
14 June 30, 2015 FCW.COM HOW IT WORKS ticable and appropriate dissemination of information concerning its activities and the results thereof.” That mandate forced NASA to be open in a unique way. “We were going to show you our suc- cesses and our failures,” Jacobs said, cit- ing the televised triumph of the Apollo moon landing and the tragedy of the space shuttle Challenger explosion. “NASA is practicing pure public affairs,” said Richard Jurek, marketing executive and coauthor of “Marketing the Moon: The Selling of the Apollo Lunar Program.” Jurek’s obsession with space was fueled by watching rocket launches onTVasakid,andhesaidpartofthe tremendous value of NASA’s successful outreach is that it inspires young people to pursue careers as engineers, scien- tists and astronauts. Jacobs was quick to say NASA’s out- reach isn’t meant to lobby for cash or even recruit talent. The agency is just following the mission to widely dissemi- nate information about space work. It’s much like a romantic paradox — your ex only wants you back when you stop trying so hard to win her back — and it’s a valuable lesson for other agencies. “Every government agency is doing something for an audience,” Jurek said, and he urged agencies to find those audiences and engage dynamically with the public instead of merely promoting pre-approved messages. “Yes, there’s a coolness factor to space, but there’s also a hell of a lot of wonkiness,” he said, noting that during NASA’s initial marketing push it didn’t benefit from space’s cachet, but rather had to convince a skeptical public. Jacobs and Jurek said other agencies could find success by adopting open, engaging communication strategies and not being afraid to have a little fun. “Audiences respond to stories and they respond to content,” Jurek said. At NASA, “we have exciting, compel- ling stories to tell,” Jacobs said. Still, social media success hasn’t been handed to NASA, he added. “A lot of it is elbow grease.” n BY ADAM MAZMANIAN Government data is changing what we know about the work doctors do and helping developers transform that data into useful tools. For the second year in a row, the government has released information on how doctors and other providers are charging Medicare. Physician utilization data from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services covers $90 billion in payments to 950,000 providers, which gives developers the raw material to build tools that allow users to compare doctors on a number of crite- ria, such as ser- vices delivered and charges submitted. Niall Bren- nan, chief data officer and director of the Office of Enter- prise Data and Analytics at CMS, said the data consists of 10 million distinct observations and builds on data released in 2014 to allow for comparisons over time. In addi- tion, CMS released a dataset in April on prescriptions written by providers under Medicare Part D that allows for the comparison of health care providers by prescribing patterns. “Now you can actually see every piece of care and every drug they pre- scribe,” Brennan said during the sixth annual Health Datapalooza conference earlier this month. “Is it perfect? No. Is it better than where we’ve been before? Absolutely.” The push for price and prescription transparency is part of a larger Obama administration open-data policy and is designed to show consumers what health care delivery really costs. “I’m ready to declare progress but not victory,” Brennan said. “I think a lot of people think transparency is easy. You just kind of push the big ‘Release Data’ button and it gushes forth and it’s done.” CMS was only “gingerly dipping its toes” into the open-data world when the first Health Datapalooza took place. That changed in 2013 with the release of the “chargemaster” list that revealed what hospitals were charging for com- mon inpatient procedures and the rates at which Medicare paid claims. The data revealed wide disparities in charges for procedures, even within the same metropolitan areas, and garnered pop-culture currency with a promi- nent mention on “The Daily Show.” Brennan said he encountered some skepticism and fear at CMS as the agency moved to release more and more data. “We’ve deliberately adopted an incremental strategy where the initial data releases were pretty modest, but we had to almost reassure people that the world wasn’t going to end if dataset x-y-z came out,” he said. He added that although some data releases made big news, others flew under the radar. “It’s a very market-driven process,” Brennan said. “We’ve released data that we thought was going to have a wow factor, and people have yawned, and we’ve released data where we thought people would yawn, and they’ve gone ‘Wow.’” Those unpredictable responses have spurred even more releases. “You almost have to err on the side of openness because we don’t neces- sarily know the value that others may derive from the datasets, especially when they’re combined with other data,” Brennan said. n Better health care by way of open data 0630fcw_012-025.indd 14 6/10/15 12:57 PM
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