Posted 12 months ago

fail whale

Some people say California state government can’t be fixed. I totally get where they are coming from. Indeed, when I’m at work and things don’t add up for me and my colleagues, all too often someone will say, “It’s just what happens at the State.” And most of us shrug and carry on.

But I reject that statement and I’m okay with doing so publicly because to each person who has stated the above excuse in my presence I’ve responded, “I beg to differ.”

Those of us who believe our state government can work better and smarter aren’t that much of a minority… but we should take care to remind ourselves of the challenges we face.

We are a whale! In California, we have more people in our state than Canada. Very few, if any, of my peers in other states who do what I do (coordinate collection & analysis of emergency medical services data) are charged with handling record volumes comparable to mine. In your state you have 25 different ambulance organizations to keep track of? Well I have around 500. Add in 911 first responders and it’s well over 1000. 

The good news is that we have lots of coastline in California. All kinds of whales are surviving and thriving just off our shores! Sure, some haven’t made it, but I bet you California is home to more “Save the Whales” activists (literally) than anywhere else in the world. It’s a fun metaphor.

We can’t keep shrugging off government failure as this thing that just happens and will keep happening. California has amazingly diverse lands and glorious demographic diversity, All of the stuff our entire country is made of. Not only do we have what it takes to turn things around, but we could inspire real change across the country! We got the smartest technologists on the planet and our digital tools have changed the world. Is it so farfetched to believe we could inspire the same level of change in our state and local governments?

Posted 1 year ago

radio silence

It’s been a while since I’ve blogged… had my head down in the data sand!

BUT… National Day of Civic Hacking is coming up. So I’ll have lots to say soon enough!

Posted 1 year ago
Posted 1 year ago

I’m watching a webinar: “How Will We Know if Health Care Reform is Working?”

This webinar is offering practical advice on using data to assess the impact of the Affordable Care Act on healthcare in California. 

Really great webinar because it:

  • identifies available health data resources in California (i.e. OSHPD data sets),
  • describes what makes an ideal health data resource,
  • suggests specific questions that could be asked of the data to learn about the impact of healthcare reform in CA, and
  • gives examples of specific measures to use - knowing the measures tells a person how to manipulate the data to get answers to the questions

I felt all of it was really relevant. 

This info sesh was sponsored by the California Health Care Foundation, produced by Dr. Carmen Nevarez from the Public Health Institute, and moderated by Karen Shore from the Center for Health Improvement. The State of California’s Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development (OSHPD) was very involved and gave three presentations. Impressive meeting of the minds =)

One thing I learned: There is an organization at the University of Minnesota which helps states understand and make use of their health data assets. It’s called shadac. Really cool stuff and their publications are accessible online at

Today’s webinar slides are located at

Posted 2 years ago

Next topics for discussion

Before I forget:

- how to plan your EMS data system to meet your business needs
- why regional data standards are insufficient to meet hospital level data needs
- hospital data systems are our information lifelines… we must set them up for success
- first responders have the first opportunity to collect high-value information upon arrival to a 911 scene… we need their data!
- legal considerations for health data exchange

Posted 2 years ago

A helpful paper on Creative Commons licensing for public sector information

Extremely insightful! Answered many of my questions and gave me ideas for developing an open data strategy. Written by Timothy Vollmer and Diane Peters.

Posted 2 years ago

how to help me open gov health data

It’s easy to find information about why we should make government data more open and readable. But it’s been a lot harder for me to find the how-to guide.

When it comes to researching “how to do things” online, I used to think of myself as pretty resourceful… but learning about how to open up gov data has been a challenge. And my program is especially difficult because the raw data I work with is personal to both patients and providers, which means it must first be rendered into a non-personal format before it can be shared.

Liability is the first thing most government people think about. This is especially true when personal health data is the topic. So I need a way to clearly explain open data and personal health data concepts to non-tech people. Here are some of the questions we’ve had:

  • How do we take personal health data and make it non-personal?
  • We have tons of personal health information that describes where and how people get sick/injured. This data could save lives. How can we make some of this information available without compromising privacy?
  • What kinds of policies do we need to make sure our department understands what and how to share?
  • Are there ever restrictions on using public data?
  • Is public data the same thing as public domain?
  • Do we need to publish any statements along with our public data to describe its intent and appropriate use, like private sector folks do with things like Creative Commons licensing?
  • How should we keep track of what we’ve shared and with whom?

These are questions that I can’t answer on my own. But if I don’t have an action plan for getting answers, there’s no way I’ll be able to convince my colleagues or local agencies to do more sharing. Many of us have some sort of access to attorneys, but this is often quite limited.

Then there are the nuts and bolts of actual sharing. To give you tech industry people an idea of how us common folk think about this stuff, here are some highlights from my own journey:

  • In the beginning, working with Excel pivot tables was a great way for someone like me (a computer lover with no programming background) to understand how computers count and sort data. This helps me set up my rows and columns in way that gives end users the most options for asking their questions and getting answers.
  • Google Fusion Tables provided a very hands-on way for me to experiment with the concept of joins. Because it only lets you do one join at a time, I got to play around with the process and view the results after each step. This also made me more mindful about setting up rows and columns in published data sets.
  • Tooling around on sites like GeoCommons showed me, in a very visual way, where metadata fits in to my workflow. It gave me clear examples of how to identify my data sources, describe any processing I applied, and basically take some reasonable steps to avoid looking like I stole someone’s work.

I know it’s a tall order and it’s not feasible to teach everyone how to manipulate data… but lots of us government folks need some guidelines. 

I just discovered this resource wiki at Civic Commons, which is incredible: I haven’t seen anything nearly this helpful to date. If anyone knows of any similar “plain English” resources for health-specific data guidelines, please let me know!!

Posted 2 years ago

a little EMS history trivia

Validation and widespread adoption of CPR didn’t start until the 50s. The earliest prehospital medical care systems didn’t start until around 1970. Look how far we’ve come in EMS in such short time!

Here’s the best part: We’ve only had decent Internet since the 90s. From here on out, EMS system development is sure to snowballI. With so much data and insight at our fingertips (via the web), our industry may very well be facing a renaissance period. Exciting times!

Posted 2 years ago
Our fears are like dragons guarding our most precious treasures.
Rainer Maria Rilke
Posted 2 years ago
[Jobs said] ‘It’s not the consumers’ job to know what they want.’ In other words, while Mr. Jobs tried to understand the problems that technology could solve for his buyer, he wasn’t going to rely on the buyer to demand specific solutions, just so he could avoid ever having to take a risk. This is what’s commonly known as leading.
 - Matt Bai,