openFDA

Picture of Sophia Petrillo's frowning face from The Golden Girls.
Picture it! Washington, D.C., 2014
Governments were just starting to adopt modern technologies, and yes, we still had to support Internet Explorer.

How to make open data more accessible? Organize and document it, speed it up, make it useful for developers, and be seen by the public.

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Shepherded by FDA’s first Chief Health Informatics Officer, Taha Kass-Hout, openFDA is an open-source, search-based suite of fast, contemporary APIs for important drug, medical device, and food datasets. The entire project is online on GitHub, the data are open (CC0) worldwide, and it provides unprecedented open access to health data about drug and medical device adverse reactions, pharmaceutical product labeling, and product recall information.

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The design reasonably serves a challenging dual purpose: Interactively teach people how to use the API, and communicate and allow non-experts to learn from the data themselves. Indeed, this is in many ways the only place that this important public health data have been published in a way that highlights insights. Thus while openFDA’s audience is developers, the design extends an olive branch to the general public. This project set a new standard for government open data, thanks to the hard work of Taha, Sean Herron (a Presidential Innovation Fellow), and the elegant work of our FDA and Iodine team members.

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As part of the Iodine team who built openFDA under contract to FDA, I co-designed and documented the API endpoints themselves (again, the first time the data have been so thoroughly documented), and designed and built the website, including the interactive query explorer and other tools.

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