NHS England has been working with the US Department of Health and Human Services on using data to tackle obesity, according to an American health technology leader.

Bryan Sivak, the chief technology officer at the Department of Health and Human Services, told the Healthcare Efficency Through Technology expo in London that the two organisations have been developing a shared set of work to “join up some of our efforts” on data and innovation.

Sivak said the partnership was finalised late last year, with a focus on addressing obesity by using data from the two countries’ systems and designing new quality metrics.

There is also an intention to “prime the marketplace” for applications developers to encourage innovation. Sivak said his department has already started working with entrepreneurs to encourage them to “fundamentally disrupt the status quo.”

“The most encouraging thing to me is that we’re seeing entrepreneurs jump into the market with no healthcare experience,” he said.

“When you look at the most significant disruptions in other markets [such as Skype and Amazon], they came from people who had no experience of the industry whatsoever.”

Sivak said the main challenge facing the healthcare sector when it comes to improving its use of technology is changing the attitudes of clinicians and other staff.

“I believe that a lot of the technological advances we need to solve the problems we have in healthcare are already there – the problem is the culture.”

He said some US states have made it illegal to use telemedicine to protect “vested interests”, while plans to implement the American equivalent of the NHS Number as a national identifier for patients have been blocked by politicians due to privacy fears.

“Given the disjointed nature of the health system… and given the problems that we have when we try to share data, it [a national identification number] should be a no-brainer.”

Sivak said the transactional nature of the US healthcare system encourages “a very backwards set of incentives” for healthcare providers trying to make money.“They’re not paid to keep you healthy; they’re paid to treat you when you’re sick.”

Sivak said the department is now “liberating” data sets it has been collecting for decades, such as the costs of inpatient and outpatient areas at hospitals, so researchers can analyse them and look for possible solutions.

“The first question people ask now when they’re putting data together is, ‘Where can I put it so people can get access to it’, and the fact they’re even asking that question is a fundamental change.”

Healthcare professionals must work out how to better communicate the benefits of technology to win public support and ensure their work is a success, he said.

“We’re literally at the tip of the iceberg here – there is so much opportunity in this space and we have to take advantage of it.”