Our experience gathering and utilizing public data from Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to build a more robust product
One of our core goals at Repisodic is to collect information about post-acute care and other community providers to share with people trying to make informed decisions about their post-hospital care at hospital discharge. So recently, when we became aware there was reliable COVID-19 vaccination information for skilled nursing facilities available from the government, it became an immediate priority to get this data to our users. We launched the vaccine information feature on our platform last week, in large part due to our experience with getting data from sometimes difficult to parse government sources. It struck me that others might benefit from some insight into what we’ve learned in the process and how we are able to make such rapid changes to our platform.
What data does Medicare make available to the public?
There is a wealth of knowledge available through the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) about pretty much all things related to certified healthcare providers across the country. Because of the large role Medicare and Medicaid play in follow-up (especially post-acute) care, Repisodic has been able to source a lot of valuable data publicly available from CMS including quality ratings and patient outcome data and display it in a way that helps patients make more informed care decisions.
How to utilize data from CMS
For individuals looking to make decisions around follow-up care providers, CMS offers Care Compare, a tool that allows you to search for a list of providers near a location and view information about each individual provider. However this tool is limited in comparing providers and does not include information beyond quality data. Repisodic combines this data with other sources of information, such as clinical services offered and insurances accepted, along with more patient-friendly information such as photos, testimonials, and virtual tours to provide a holistic look at the post-acute care provider. This view is only available through our Repisodic Choice platform.
However, if you’re an organization also looking to make use of data from CMS, Care Compare is generally not going to be good fit. Instead, the datasets underlying this user-friendly presentation are available. Medical service provider data, the area that Repisodic is interested in, is a primary focus for CMS and there is a dedicated subsection for it on their website.
The material here is broken up into discrete datasets. You can explore and access the sets related to your interests, either through the search bar or cards below the search area. The providers section is even easier to use, as each type of provider has its own card. Going into a dataset will give you a paged table of the data, a sidebar with links to download the data, generally data dictionaries, and, below the main area, a section for API access to the dataset.
Depending on your use case, you may find that downloading the data works. In some cases, I’ve imported the .CSV or Excel download to a database. It’s a manual step, but relatively fast and any errors are generally front and center. For most long-term, repeated uses, though, I think you will find accessing the datasets through the API to work better for you.
This should give you the basics on how to find and use the data provided to the public by CMS. The process to access this data seems straightforward, but we have found ourselves running into some issues in our long-term efforts to incorporate it into our system. Some are the result of dealing with any sort of large distinct collection of datasets, and some are more idiosyncratic to the way the data and access is handled here. I’ll get into those problems and how we addressed them in my next post.