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State agencies may merge data

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Michigan is using its centralized system to consolidate services, detect fraud and predict trends to save millions of dollars a year.

And South Carolina is widely viewed as a national model, with a data system that researchers for public and private entities tap regularly to analyze policy proposals and evaluate programs.

“There are a lot of opportunities where value can be derived … in our case, the projects essentially pay for the operations,” David Patterson, South Carolina’s chief of health and demographics, told members of Georgia’s Joint Study Committee on Transparency and Open Access in Government on Thursday.

Georgia’s agencies maintain separate files and can’t easily share information.

The committee — chaired by Rome Republicans Sen. Chuck Hufstetler and Rep. Katie Dempsey — plans to recommend a state data integration plan to the General Assembly in 2018.

“This is a very important path: Evidence-based policy-making,” Patterson said.

One example of the need came from Angela Snyder, an associate project director with the Georgia Health Policy Center. Snyder provides data support and analysis for an interagency team working on cost-effective interventions for children with behavioral problems.

The director’s team is under the oversight of the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities coordinating council. In addition to the DBHDD, it includes representatives from community health, education, juvenile justice, human services, public health and the governor’s office.

“How do policies, programs and system-changes in any of these agencies impact outcomes for our youth? You can’t get that answer without integrated data,” Snyder told the committee.

Currently, she needs data-sharing agreements and memorandums of understanding with each of the agencies before she can meld information from their offices. Once a specific study is done, the data must be deleted from her hub.

If the group has a similar question the following year, the process starts again.

“We’re going to work on making it better for you,” Hufstetler said.

The committee also heard from vendors Richard Andrews of Teradata and Eric Hunley of SAS Analytics about systems they’ve set up in Michigan, North Carolina and other states. The companies’ software works differently, but both provided concrete examples of how governments and private businesses have benefited from sharing data among departments.

“I could feel the light bulbs going off up here,” said Dempsey, who chairs the House human resources budget subcommittee.

Hufstetler, who serves on the Health Care Reform Task Force, homed in several times on how an integrated data system would benefit a revamp of state services.

He said he expects at least one more meeting of the joint open access committee before it files its final report.