Getting to Know Todd Park

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Jonathan Bush admits that working with Todd Park at first was, well, awkward.

It’s not that the two Booz Allen Hamilton consultants didn’t get along, but Bush was assigned as Park’s mentor, and he jokes his protégé was already better at just about everything.

“I got a ton of value for just being associated with the great consulting work Todd did,” said Bush. “I would go home and tell my wife that I now know why I’m suffering through this miserable job – it’s so I can meet Todd Park.”

Bush and Park broke away from Booz Allen in 1997 to found athenahealth that provides physician practices with online practice management and electronic medical record software, combined with medical billing and other healthcare business services in Bush’s backyard. The company is now publicly-traded on the NASDAQ stock exchange and has more than 1,200 employees and $240 million in reported revenue.

Park worked at the company for 11 years along with investing in other start-up ventures, most notably Healthpoint Services and Castlight Health, named by the Wall Street Journal as the number one venture-backed company in America for 2011.

Park planned to retire in 2008 when he left athenahealth and focus more on his home life – he has two small children – when the call for public service came from Department of Health and Human Services Deputy Secretary Bill Corr requesting his services as the agency’s chief technology officer.

And Bush, the CEO at the Watertown, Mass.-based athenahealth, where Park’s brother, Ed, still works as chief operating officer and executive vice president, said that service hasn’t come without a price. As part of joining the government, Park had to sell his stock in athenahealth which has seen its stock price nearly double since he left. The move, Bush said, could have cost him in excess of $20 million in personal earnings.

“I’m not surprised at this path he’s taken,” Bush said. “He’s always had a passionate public servant-type personality and he always wanted to take part in some patriotic act like he had to check that box in his life.”

Park took to his role at HHS like the CEO of a Silicon Valley-based start-up in an effort to bring the government’s mounds of health information data to the masses who could then use it to create new innovations, similar to how National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration released weather data more than two decades ago.

That approach was relevant in the development of HealthCare.gov, the first government website that provides consumers with a searchable database of public and private health insurance plans available across the United States by zip code.

The initial version of HealthCare.gov, deployed on July 1, 2010, was built in 90 days and was cited by the Kaiser Family Foundation as one of the early highlights in the implementation of the healthcare reform implementation progress.

Park also launched the Community Health Data Initiative now called Health Datapalooza, a developer conference and showcase to encourage the development of innovative healthcare applications using open government data.

“As our ‘entrepreneur-in-residence,’ Todd has lit a fire of innovation across HHS,” said HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius of his appointment. “Notably, Todd led the team that, in ninety days, developed and launched HealthCare.gov, the first website to provide consumers with a comprehensive inventory of available public and private health insurance plans in a single, easy-to-use tool. I know he’ll bring the same energy and boundless creativity to his efforts across the entire Federal Government as the next CTO of the United States.”

Now Park heads to the White House, where he’ll surely focus on ways to continue the big data movement in healthcare and everywhere else throughout government.

“Todd Park has demonstrated a remarkable talent for enlisting innovative technologies to modernize government, reduce waste, and make government information more accessible to the public,” President Obama said. “In his new position he will bring those skills to the entire Federal enterprise, ensuring that government will serve all Americans fairly, effectively, and efficiently.”

Park, who has been unavailable for media interviews, said this past weekend at the SXSW Conference in Austin while speaking on a panel said the past two years at HHS have been the most entrepreneurial experience in his life.

“I basically apply with my teams the lean startup principles I used in the private sector — go into Silicon Valley mode, work at startup speed and attack, doing things in short amounts of time with extremely limited resources,” he said. “Not only is it possible to do lean startup in federal government, but it’s the most effective way to drive change in the federal government.”

Change in the government isn’t easy, but Bush believes his old friend can do it. A gift Park gave him just before leaving athenahealth drives this point home. It was a metal box filled with different cards that included the inscription “todo es possible,” which is Spanish for “anything is possible.”

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Aneesh Chopra, Bill Corr, Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Jonathan Bush, Kathleen Sebelius, NOAA, Todd Park
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