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HHS CTO Todd Park on Being ‘Entrepreneur-in-Residence’

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HHS CTO Todd Park, Photo: HHS.gov

Before being named the Health and Human Services Department’s chief technology officer two years ago, Todd Park was considering retirement. In his 20s, he helped launch health IT startup, Athenahealth, and cashed in a decade later when the company went public.

By his mid-30s, Park was on track to retire, focus on his family and be a “passive investor,” as The Atlantic put it on a feature story on the health agency’s CTO.

So how did HHS sell Park on the idea of pulling a government wage?

It turns out Park was wooed by the promise of being HHS’ “entrepreneur-in-residence.”

Rather than consumed by the minutiae of HHS IT networks, Park’s focus is on harnessing the mountains of health data the agency collects into something usable, similar to the way the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration began releasing its streams of data, eventually paving the way for useful commercial applications, such as Weather.com

Park became fascinated by the conundrum of public health in a Harvard economics classroom.

“I was very attracted to it because it’s a very important problem, and a very fundamental problem,” he told The Atlantic. “How do you deliver the best possible and affordable health care to maximize health?”

Those challenges have translated to his current job. But Park is running on ideas, not huge budgets and bureaucratic mechanisms.

“I have no budget. I have no formal team. I don’t control any government contracts. I don’t control any grants,” he said. “It’s perfect, because it actually gives you the kind of freedom to maneuver, to really be a change agent.”

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