The pitfalls of pandemic apps, Epic’s data network, & Medicare’s race data problem

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One small step for interoperability

Epic said it will participate in a government-led effort to improve the exchange of patient information across America’s byzantine network of health software systems. The company announced that it will seek to form a so-called Qualified Health Information Network that uses common data standards (known as TEFCA) to exchange information on patients. Participation is not mandatory, so getting the support of an industry giant like Epic means the government’s effort stands a much better chance of working. But we are still a very long way from creating a seamless flow of information that would actually put the interests of patients ahead of the health systems and software vendors that keep their data bottled up.


The pitfalls of pandemic apps

Every stage of the pandemic has come with its corresponding set of apps. Smartphones have become a platform for contact tracing, epidemiological research, and individual Covid-19 risk assessment, notes a new review in Nature Biotechnology — but few apps have made the impact their designers hoped. Pandit, director of Digital Medicine at Scripps Research Translational Institute and one of the authors on the paper, pointed out a number of pitfalls of pandemic-focused apps, including inadequate privacy regulations, low adoption, and a lack of data standards.


He hopes the work will spur more research to determine which digitally-enabled interventions — if any — made a difference in the pandemic’s trajectory, and incorporate the findings into public health playbooks. STAT’s Edward Chen has the full story.

Practical tips on digital privacy

Amid the push to digitize clinical trials and health care more broadly, loss of privacy and personal autonomy often take a back seat to perceived benefits such as convenience and ease of participation. In a new paperDuke University’s Eric Perakslis seeks to better define the potential privacy-related harms and suggest ways to mitigate them. He emphasizes that protecting privacy doesn’t just mean preventing identity theft, it means protecting a person’s right to self-determination. That latter goal becomes exponentially more difficult in a world where patients’ data, even if de-identified, is being aggregated and sold for commercial purposes. “The more data collected on and about a person,” Perakslis writes, “the easier it is to manipulate that person’s behavior via targeted content” such as ads that pop on social media sites.

In an environment where such practices are pervasive and loosely regulated, Perakslis said purveyors of digitized trials and services should consider taking 10 steps to protect patients. Among them: ensuring that agreements with third-party businesses prevent secondary use of data, limiting the creation of new patient accounts to collect data, and auditing algorithms used to analyze data for accuracy and bias.

Medicare needs better race and ethnicity data


A new report from HHS’s Office of the Inspector General showed glaring gaps and inaccuracies in Medicare’s data on the race and ethnicity of enrollees  — information critical to its stated goal of advancing health equity. Most of its race and ethnicity data comes from the Social Security Administration, or is imputed using an algorithm that factors in last name, geography, and language preference. But compared to self-reported race and ethnicity from a subset of beneficiaries in nursing homes, that information was often wrong, especially for American Indian/Alaska Native, Asian/Pacific Islander, or Hispanic beneficiaries. The report calls for CMS to create its own source of race and ethnicity data, use self-reported race, and standardize its data collection.

Optum-izing health data

  • UnitedHealth’s Optum subsidiary is acquiring the U.K. health software company EMIS Group for $1.5 billion in cash. EMIS makes software to track pharmacy and primary care services, which would feed into Optum’s efforts to provide data analysis to the UK’s National Health Service.
  • SteadyMD, a business-to-business provider of telehealth software, is acquiring BlocHealth, a clinician licensing and credentialing platform. The move will help SteadyMD more quickly recruit and deploy clinicians as part of a workforce spread across all 50 states.
  • Walgreens is launching a clinical trials business that will focus on helping with recruitment of diverse patient populations and allowing for digital participation and data collection. It is teaming up on the effort with Pluto Health, which seeks to coordinate health services by linking siloed patient data.
  • The AI imaging company Aidoc raised $110 million in a Series D round led by TVC and Alpha Intelligence Capital. The company plans to use the money to embed its software platform within hospital service lines and specialties.
  • Swing Therapeutics, which makes digital therapies focused on autoimmune and chronic pain conditions, raised $10.3 million in a Series A round led by JAZZ Venture Partners. The influx of funding will help pay for a randomized clinical trial to investigate its therapy for treating fibromyalgia.
  • Proximie, the marker of a virtual surgery platform, raised $80 million in a Series C round led by Advent Life Sciences. The company’s first tool allowed surgeons to connect virtually to operating rooms and it is now building services to compile and analyze surgery data to improve care.

What we’re reading

  • Smarter health: Regulating AI in health care, WBUR
  • You agreed to what? Doctor check-in software harvests your health data, The Washington Post
  • How researchers are using old phones to screen for Alzheimer’s, The Verge
Source: STAT