In early June, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) launched openFDA, a new initiative designed to make it easier for web developers, researchers, and the public to access large, important public health datasets collected by the agency. The initiative is part of a broader trend as government health administrators see the benefits of working with developers to make health data more accessible.
According to the FDA, in alignment with the recent Presidential Executive Order on Open Data and the Department of Health and Human Services Health Data Initiative, openFDA will make the FDA's publicly available data accessible in a structured, computer readable format that will make it possible for technology specialists, such as mobile application creators, web developers, data visualization artists and researchers to quickly search, query, or pull massive amounts of public information instantaneously and directly from FDA datasets on an as needed basis.
OpenFDA utilizes a search-based Application Program Interface (API) to collect large amounts of existing publicly available data, offering developers the ability to search through text within that data, ranking results much like a search using Google would do. This method then allows them to build their own applications on top of openFDA, giving them a large amount of flexibility to determine what types of data they would like to search and how they would like to present that data to end-users. This enables a wide variety of applications to be built on one common platform.
"The openFDA initiative leverages new technologies and methods to unlock the tremendous public data and resources available from the FDA in a user-friendly way," said Walter S. Harris, the FDA's chief operating officer and acting chief information officer. "OpenFDA is a valuable resource that will help those in the private and public sectors use FDA public data to spur innovation, advance academic research, educate the public, and protect public health."
"Through this new and novel approach to data organization, these reports will be available in their entirety so that software developers can build tools to help signal potential safety information, derive meaningful insights, and get information to consumers and health care professionals in a timely manner," said Taha Kass-Hout, M.D., the FDA's chief health informatics officer. "OpenFDA offers a scalable platform that can be easily searched and queried across many distinct datasets, and can be easily redeployed or altered to fit a variety of purposes, and provides an innovative public data search and analytics solution."
The Open FDA initiative also includes the creation of the Office of Informatics and Technology Innovation at the FDA along with Kass-Hout's chief health informatics officer post. The plan is to expand the pilot to include the FDA's databases on product recalls and product labeling.