In the days when the sea was the best means of traveling long distances, the economic success of a country was heavily dependent on the geographical reach of their maritime trade and of their navy. Scurvy was one of the biggest killers aboard ship and limited the time a sailor could remain at sea. Finding a cure for scurvy would give a country a huge advantage economically and militarily. Captain James Lancaster found such a cure in 1601 when he experimentally gave sailors under his command two tablespoons of lemon juice daily. Yet it wasn’t until 1865 that citrus was incorporated as a scurvy preventative and treatment throughout the British maritime service. A 264-year lag.

This was the fascinating story that Wil Yu of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) told in his keynote address at the CONVERGE Summit for Healthcare Innovation.

Yu’s point was that it can take a long time before even critical innovation is diffused broadly throughout a system, especially if effective infrastructure is lacking. Many of the coming innovations in health care will be driven by the vast amounts of health data we will be generating. As yet, no infrastructure exists to foster the use of that data. HHS is working to build infrastructure so data-driven health innovation can be accelerated then quickly adopted and spread. Guided by the goals of better care, better health and lower cost through continuous quality improvement, HHS is paying particular attention to enabling patient access to medical data and to the monitoring of patient populations.

A healthcare data infrastructure will be the interstate highway system of the future.