Health tech leaders ponder the future of digital health- POLITICO

MIAMI BEACH, Fla. — Plenty of eye-grabbing floral decorations, booming pop music and, most of all, hype were on display at the sprawling ViVE health tech conference in South Florida this week, with some clear themes emerging.

Digital health has seen an insurgence of cash and interest amid the Covid-19 pandemic, a wave that’s brought an expected 5,000-plus attendees to the new conference hosted by the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives and HLTH. The discussion from thought leaders about the push to take health care into the digital era — whether through telehealth, electronic health records or other tech — reflected several key themes.

Data: The health tech industry is acutely focused on using data to improve outcomes in a number of ways. Passive data collection — including data from wearable devices like smartwatches — is seen as crucial to helping patients not feel burdened by the process. Incorporating social determinants of health — factors and conditions that affect a person’s or a group’s health — into data to better target interventions is also an objective.

Artificial intelligence/automation: Artificial intelligence, which has long been hyped and is still in its early stages, is yet to revolutionize health care and has faced concerns about data privacy and bias.

But the industry is optimistic about the future of AI, with speakers saying it’s already making a difference in both automating time-intensive tasks that contribute to burnout and speeding up radiology image processing to deliver faster care. Chatbots and digital scribes that automate doctor note-taking and offload other tasks from burned-out providers have also gained steam.

Virtual care: The digital health industry is high on virtual care’s future, though experts say reimbursement from health plans and government payers will be critical to its level of use.

The pandemic fueled demand for virtual care, which industry leaders said has gone beyond telehealth in recent years with remote patient monitoring, artificial intelligence and chronic care management services becoming more prevalent. Some argued the future is “click and mortar,” with hybrid virtual/in-person care models playing a prominent role. Many private insurers have recently turned to those sorts of “virtual-first” models.

Data-sharing obstacles: The industry looks to bolster data-sharing, a longstanding health care issue. A number of efforts exist, from the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology to the private sector, though no clear silver bullet to make data flow better is in sight.

Implementation: A key part of taking health care digital will be managing the change, experts said. That includes incorporating the technology into workflows and communicating to patients how the technology works and what providers are doing with their data.

Buzzwords of the week, honorable mentions: Integration, stakeholders, solution, digital transformation, the cloud

The winner: Seamless. 

Welcome back to Future Pulse, where we explore the convergence of health care and technology. Share your news and feedback: @_BenLeonard_ @samsabin923

Andy Mychkovsky @healthcareandy: “CVS has filed trademark to provide healthcare and NFTs in the metaverse. How many digital trees will we need to plant for receipts?”

COVID PUSHES STATES TO DIGITIZE SOCIAL SERVICES: Imagine being sick, homeless and hungry and having a caseworker hand you a stack of business cards while saying, “Good luck with that.”

Or imagine being a caseworker trying to do more than that — but spending a good chunk of the day playing telephone tag or on hold.

A few clicks: Now, using new and rapidly growing online referral services that link health and social needs, caseworkers can address social determinants of health with a few clicks of a mouse, track the referral and make sure someone on the other end follows through.

When the virus hit, an increasing number of people needed help just as social services and nonemergency health services went virtual or were pared back. A tech-driven, communitywide approach to care coordination seemed worth a shot. The dominant company in the burgeoning field is Unite Us, now working in more than 40 states with health departments, Medicaid managed-care plans, hospitals, insurers and community organizations. “Having a roof over your head, food in your belly and access to other service gives people a fighting chance to be healthier,” Unite Us co-founder and president Taylor Justice told POLITICO contributing editor Joanne Kenen. 

The questions: The approach has its skeptics. Will it soak up money that could have gone to social services? Can it work well with community groups, some of which use rival referral platforms? The answers may be different in each state.

But Jacob Reider, who was the No. 2 person in the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT in the Obama administration and who helped introduce Unite Us systems while working with a Medicaid program in upstate New York, has solved challenges.

“We got buy-in,” he said. “And we managed it, so we made the right thing to do the easy thing to do.”

COMPANY FORMERLY KNOWN AS WEIGHT WATCHERS TO PAY UP: A Federal Trade Commission and Department of Justice settlement order with the weight-loss app formerly known as Weight Watchers mandated that it delete data and pay a $1.5 million fine for illegally collecting personal data from kids under 13, POLITICO’s Rebecca Kern reports.

Data collection: DOJ filed the suit last month against WW International and subsidiary Kurbo for marketing to and collecting data on its weight loss app from kids as young as 8 without parental consent.

The move comes after President Joe Biden called last week for lawmakers to pass legislation banning targeted advertising to children and update privacy laws. Democrats and Republicans in both chambers have called to bar targeted advertising to kids.

Joining the club: WW International is the latest tech company to come under scrutiny and pay fines after violating kids’ privacy protections, joining YouTube and TikTok.

SINGLE LOG-IN FOR HEALTH PORTALS: HHS is working with health plans like CVS Health and health systems like Kaiser Permanente to roll out a single way for patients to log in and access their medical records across multiple systems.

Testing the waters: The launch this month, first reported by POLITICO, will constitute a test environment for integrating the tech, said Ryan Howells, principal at Leavitt Partners and program manager at the CARIN Alliance, which is leading the efforts. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT will act as “observers.”

Under the idea of proof of concept, health care organizations using the technology would allow patients who have proved their identity to access their health information from different systems in a single step. They would then be able to choose a credential service provider from a list of approved companies under an HHS system, Howells said.

Why not? Similar concepts exist outside of health care, but the industry has lagged others.

“If you think about Google, you log into Google or a Gmail account, you have immediate access [to other Google platforms]. … You have a simple, seamless experience. Health care is behind the curve,” said Sebastian Jayaraj, senior director of product at West Coast-based Providence health system.

GOOGLE HEALTH UNVEILS NEW TOOL FOR DOCS: Google Health is expanding its Care Studio software — which compiles health records from across electronic health record systems — with a new tool for clinicians, the company said Monday at ViVE.

Bundling all of it: Digital health records are often siloed in different systems, and the software attempts to bring patients’ records together. The new feature uses an algorithm to sift through records and gives clinicians a summary of a patient’s important conditions, reducing the time a clinician has to look through records.

“They don’t have hours to go digging through the garage,” Paul Muret, vice president and general manager of Care Studio, told POLITICO. The issue of provider burnout has come to the forefront amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

In the cockpit: Care Studio still has limited reach — the Ascension health system and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center have been pilot users.

Virtual care use rose as the Omicron variant ripped through the country, Healthcare Dive reports.

STAT has this headline: “A glaring gap in Congress’ surprise billing law leaves patients on the hook for pricey, out-of-network lab tests”

Congress is looking to give the FDA power to regulate synthetic nicotine, Bloomberg reports.

Marcy Willis

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