The US Food and Drug Administration has started the process of opening up its huge health databases to the public with a new initiative called openFDA. Members of the public are now able to search through nine years of drug adverse events and medication errors, submitted to the FDA between 2004 and 2013, where previously they had to submit Freedom of Information Act requests or complicated reports to access the data. The administration says the new project will help "spur innovation, advance academic research, educate the public, and protect public health."

Anyone can sift through 3.6 million openFDA records, using its API to sort the information by a huge range of parameters including reported reactions in different age groups, the origin of the report, and the severity of reaction. The structure means developers can build their own applications on top of openFDA that can search and represent results in flexible ways. Taha Kass-Hout, the administration's chief health informatics officer, said the ability to use the API in such ways would "help signal potential safety information, derive meaningful insights, and get information to consumers and health care professionals in a timely manner."

The FDA says the project will help protect public health

Drug adverse events are classified as such when a patient has "any undesirable experience" while using the drug. They're submitted voluntarily by healthcare professionals, consumers, and manufacturers, but the administration says its records do not contain any personal data that could link the report to the reporter. The FDA says it will expand the openFDA pilot soon, adding databases of product recalls — which it already tracks on Flickr — and product labels for public perusal.