The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced on June 2, 2014, an initiative designed to make it easier for web developers, researchers, and others to access public health datasets collected by the agency. The initiative, OpenFDA, utilizes a search-based Application Program Interface (API) to collect large amounts of existing publicly available data.
"In the past, these vast datasets could be difficult for industry to access and to use," explained Dr. Taha A. Kass-Hout, Chief Health Informatics Officer and Director of FDA's Office of Informatics and Technology Innovation, in FDA's blog. He added, "Pharmaceutical companies, for example, send hundreds of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests to FDA every year because that has been one of the ways they could get this data. Other methods called for downloading large amounts of files encoded in a variety of formats or not fully documented, or using a website to point-and-click and browse through a database – all slow and labor-intensive processes."
OpenFDA gives developers the ability to search through text within the available data and to build their own applications using that data. A developer then would have the flexibility to determine what types of data to make searchable in its own application, and how the data should be presented to end-users. For example, the initiative would enable a mobile developer to create a search app for a smart phone that a consumer could use to see if anyone else has experienced the same adverse event they did after taking a certain drug.
Initially, reports of adverse drug events and medication errors that have been submitted to FDA from 2004 to 2013 will be available through OpenFDA. FDA will identify additional public datasets to publish through the portal.