Below is the latest in a series of guest posts from Nirav R. Shah, MD, MPH, the commissioner of health for the state of New York. Look for more of his blogs in the Intel Health & Life Sciences Community in the coming months.


Prices. Features. Warranties. For the savvy consumer, shopping for big-ticket items like a car or home appliance often involves some meticulous research. After all, you want assurance that you’re getting a quality product from a reputable dealer -- and the biggest bang for your buck.


If you’re like most people, you probably don’t do the same exhaustive research when you’re having a medical procedure like a knee replacement, cardiac bypass surgery or chemotherapy. Instead, you simply rely on your primary care doctor’s recommendation and hand over your insurance card. Then you hope for the best when the bill arrives weeks later.


But, doesn’t your health care rank as high as your car or dishwasher?


New York State is committed to giving New Yorkers the data and tools they need to help inform their health care decisions. Knowing what you’re getting for your money has multiple advantages, not the least being the creation of a competitive marketplace that will drive down the costs of health care while simultaneously improving the quality of that care.


That’s why New York’s Department of Health released comprehensive patient-level data for all hospital discharges on the Department’s open health data portal, Health Data NY last fall. The department is also working on a redesigned hospital quality website that will enable consumers to compare hospital charges and costs for the treatment of many common conditions as well as information about the quality of care patients receive at each facility.


New York is taking a major step toward helping New Yorkers compare and contrast health services by sponsoring the first-ever Innovation Challenge, a four-month project being held in collaboration with the New York State Health Foundation. The Innovation Challenge, which kicked off last week, is part of Governor Andrew M.  Cuomo’s OPEN NY initiative, which strives to make state government more open, innovative and cost-effective. Judges will review the projects in August, and winning teams will receive cash awards at a ceremony in September.


During the Challenge, multidisciplinary teams of coders and developers will put this valuable health data to good use by creating technology around it that helps consumer assess the quality, cost and efficiency of health care services. Health care data is also valuable to employers and purchasers, as well as state and local governments, who can use the data to better understand the cost and quality of the services being provided. Providers can use the information to better assess where they stand compared to regional and statewide benchmarks. Insurers will find the information useful when building physician and facility networks, and promoting improvement efforts.


The Innovation Challenge is the latest in a series of events around the release of health data, which kicked off in March 2013 with the debut of HealthData NY. In December, the state Health Department, with support from the NYS Health Foundation and Socrata, held its inaugural code-a-thon, where teams of coders created technology to combat diabetes and obesity. A texting app called Vera won top prize for helping people with prediabetes stave off diabetes with regular text message reminders to exercise and eat right.


For those who wonder why health data is so vital to health care, look no farther than these events. Open health data holds the power to transform our health care system.


What questions do you have?