OpenFDA Backstory: Breaking The Paperwork Backlog

David F. Carr | Information Week | June 5, 2014

The startup Captricity uses a combination of crowdsourcing and OCR to digitize mountains of paper records, particularly for government agencies and healthcare.

Kuang Chen can't claim credit for the OpenFDA cloud API announced this week, but his company, Captricity, played a role in making it more interesting.  "The thing about an open data set is, if it's not totally complete, it's not as useful," the Captricity CEO and founder said in an interview. To make it complete, the FDA needed to be able to provide structured access to data, regardless of whether it was submitted online in a structured format such as XML.

The backlog of paper records and scanned forms is a common problem in government and healthcare, Chen said, particularly where IT budgets are tight. The FDA can put demands on drug companies to submit data online, but the adverse drug event reporting database that OpenFDA is starting with includes data from sources at all economic levels and degrees of technical sophistication, including physicians and physician assistants.  Captricity also contributed to a recent project digitizing campaign finance reports for the state of Georgia.

OpenFDA is one of several open data initiatives announced this week by branches of the US Department of Health and Human Services, including updated and expanded Medicaid data. The innovative cloud service, which makes widely available data previously accessible only to select contractors, is already attracting the attention of mobile app and other developers...