Open FDA project releases millions of reports

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The Food and Drug Administration has publicly released a huge amount of data on drug side effects that it hopes will lead to new applications and research.

Under its open FDA project, the agency has released more than 3 million reports on adverse drug events and medication errors recorded between 2004 and 2013. These kinds of reports were only available before through lengthy Freedom of Information Act requests. 

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“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, the FDA’s chief health informatics officer.

Before releasing the information, the agency removed patient identification and other sensitive information. It has also been formatted to let researchers, mobile applications and Web developers easily analyze the data and present it in a way that can help improve how people take drugs.

“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,” explained the FDA. “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.”

Eventually the agency plans to release more reports on recalls and labeling, as well as other information it thinks can be useful to developers and researchers.

The move to make medical data more transparent isn’t limited to the FDA. Several drug makers working with the National Institutes of Health have begun releasing clinical trial data in a limited fashion to help find new uses for old drugs.