"I don't know if people realize that when they turn on their TomTom that they should be grateful to their government for having released that data, but they sure as hell are grateful for the ability to figure out where they're going."
This kind of entrepreneurial corralling is evident in all the work Park has done so far since joining HHS. "I have no budget," he said. "I have no formal team. I don't control any government contracts. I don't control any grants. It's perfect, because it actually gives you the kind of freedom to maneuver, to really be a change agent." When he started the job, he created what he calls a virtual startup model. "The idea is you find a particular idea or initiative that you want to get going. And the first thing that I do is I find the three to five people at HHS who had that idea a long time ago, who have been obsessing about it, who know a lot more about it than I do, who have connections and data and resources and people that they can throw in the mix. And then I recruit them to join a virtual startup to do this thing."
Given his roots, it's not surprising Park is trying to run his department like a Silicon Valley company. The deadlines his teams set are no longer than 90 days out; in fact, they're often shorter. Each project moves at a rapid velocity, with him acting as the virtual startup's CEO. Once one reaches maturation, he hands it off and then moves onto the next virtual startup.
At the June 2 event, the people he'd met with 90 days prior came together and showcased 20 tools they'd either improved upon or built from scratch using the newly released data. The idea, Park said, was to maximize publicity for these tools by revealing them all at once. And then following this round of publicity, he hoped other companies he hadn't met with would catch wind of the data and begin creating tools of their own, spawning a self-perpetuating arms race that would generate new tools at a faster and faster rate. The end goal -- or the indicator of Park's success -- would be when he no longer needed to publicize the data at all.
Though the tools displayed for the forum had only been created in the span of 90 days, it wasn't difficult to immediately grasp their intrinsic worth. For its contribution, Microsoft began pulling information from an HHS site called Hospital Compare. The site contains detailed quality and patient satisfaction information from hospitals across the country, but a recent survey found that 94 percent of Americans don't even know it exists. Microsoft downloaded the information and then integrated it into Bing's search, so now when you perform a search for any particular hospital, in addition to Bing's normal Web results you'll also receive -- in a gray box -- the patient satisfaction for that particular hospital versus the state average, followed by a link to more information. That link sends users to hospitalcompare.hhs.gov. Park used Bing recently to determine which hospital will help in delivering his second child. "We're eating our own dog food, as it were," he said, laughing.
One of the many data points released by HHS is a directory of community health centers -- where the uninsured can go to get free or inexpensive health care -- available across the country. A tool called iTriage had already built iPhone and Android applications that allow a user to type in a medical treatment and then search for the closest providers offering those treatments. For the Health Day Initiative, the company simply added in the government's community health center data to its search. According to Park, tens of thousands of iTriage users have found community health centers since it integrated them into its results.
Surprisingly, the most popular tool -- indicated by the long line of people who gathered to try it at the event -- didn't have any direct, immediate benefit. A company named MeYou Health created a game called Community Clash, which acts as a kind of Black Jack for community health data. The game allows you to plug in your city and then pick a rival city with which to compete. Several health indicators are displayed on cards and you have to switch out the indicators in your city that you believe are weaker than the rival city's. "There's a burgeoning thread of activity happening that says maybe the way to educate people on health is not to tell them to eat their spinach," Park said. "In a world where Farmville goes from zero to 70 million users, I think the person who starts 'Healthville' and gets 50 million users, that person will be one of the most important health care figures in the 21st century, because they'll do more in that one stroke to advance health care education than all public health announcements combined."