Apple’s fall risk feature, 2021 in deals, & the fax facts

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Steady as she goes

In June, Apple introduced yet another feature that turns its devices into health-tracking tools. The new “walking steadiness” score for iPhones will track an opted-in user’s stride over time, delivering a popup letting them know if they’re especially at risk of a fall — a leading risk of injury in those over 65 that can have cascading and devastating impacts. But as with other consumer-facing device features, the score isn’t a clinical tool. So once a user gets notified, what should they do next?

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The feature will suggest exercises to improve balance, but experts question the value of the feature without better integration into clinician workflows. “What would be really cool is to be able to … mix it with the electronic health record data,” said Patricia Dykes, program director of research in the Center for Patient Safety, Research and Practice at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. “And then to be able to turn out a plan that’s personalized for that patient.” Read more in Mario’s story.

Shapeshifting deals in digital health

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A wave of mergers, acquisitions, and IPOs has ushered in a new era of digital medicine, with larger companies focused on delivering virtual-first, comprehensive care. By year’s end, the sector is expected to see more than 80 M&A deals, up from just 17 five years ago. Meanwhile, a sharp rise in SPAC deals and IPOs is accelerating growth and creating new risks. To keep you apprised of the industry’s evolution, we built a list of the most significant transactions of the year so far, with analysis on what each of them says about the future of digital health. For an even deeper dive on M&A activity, and the economic forces that underlie it, check out this story from Erin.

Dear health care, stop asking us to fax

It won’t happen as soon as anyone would like, but new federal rules that took effect July 1 to encourage data sharing in health care should begin to increase the flow of information by digital means. If it succeeds, patients will no longer have to travel back to the 1990s (or Kinkos) in order to communicate with providers and insurers who still, despite the passage of decades and the existence of email, require people to send them basic information by fax.

The eyes have it

The proliferation of electronic health records has allowed clinical researchers to study diseases in different populations, especially increasing the ability to study rare diseases with small patient numbers. But analyzing EHR data is full of minefields. In a study published in JAMA Ophthalmology, researchers looked at medical records coded for a type of eye inflammation called uveitis, and found that while coding for different forms of the disease was largely consistent, it changed over time. In an associated commentary, Karandeep Singh and Maria Woodward point out the risks of analyzing EHR data without careful data cleaning and checks. “Large-scale EHR-based registries are being constructed as well,” they write. “But scientists need to be aware that forming such registries comes at a cost: the potential for blurring of the ground truth.”

Movers & shakers

  • Digital health management platform Wellframe has appointed Terry Beck, a former Teladoc VP, as its senior vice president of growth.
  • Flume Health, a tech-enabled health plan administrator, has tapped Ann Joo Kim to be its chief operating officer. Kim previously worked at now-defunct Haven.
Source: STAT