December 2, 2022
Only What Matters in Health Information Policy
One of the reasons why people agree with Andy Williams that this is the “Most Wonderful Time of the Year” is because people gather together to watch their favorite movies. It is nice to take a break by watching gems like Polar Express or Love Actually. One film is particularly special during this chaotic time of year: It’s A Wonderful Life. The story reminds us that one person can have a profound impact on others. And if we are really, really selfless, an angel will get his wings and we get a bunch of cash and a book by Mark Twain criticizing America’s social norms. It is America’s cultural *specialness* that may be why our public health care data infrastructure needs updating, as we explain in the One Thoughtful Paragraph.
Other special American health policy news:
For years, doctors in the U.S. who are treating patients for a physical problem may not know that they are suffering from a substance use disorder. Um, why? Because -- unlike other records covered by HIPAA privacy rules -- substance abuse records are not automatically included in a patient’s full electronic medical record due to the historical stigma associated with substance abuse. This week, the HHS Office for Civil Rights (OCR) and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) proposed an update to the privacy rules to make it easier for those records to be included, so that doctors do not unknowingly prescribe opioids to a patient for whom a prescription could be life-threatening.
Other developed nations provide universal health care to citizens as part of the normal social structure, but the U.S. does not guarantee anything other than emergency stabilization services. We are also just recently starting to grapple with social issues that impact health. This week, staffers at HHS wrote a blog post about how community-based organizations and health information technology platforms can help. At least one state is taking action: Michigan’s health information network is collaborating with social care platform vendors like WellSky, Unite Us, and Findhelp, to develop better ways to coordinate care between social organizations and health care teams.
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the use of telehealth services increased in every country (see here, here), and in the U.S., the Business Group on Health identified telehealth as a trend to watch in 2023. We will see if Congress listens to the more than 370 organizations that asked for telehealth services to continue after the end of the public health emergency.
One Thoughtful Paragraph
At the end of It’s A Wonderful Life, the lead character George Bailey is rewarded for his patience and selfless behavior when his friends and family give him the money he needs to sustain the community bank through difficult times. The staff at the CDC must have just watched the movie because it is awarding $3.2 billion to state and local governments to help them modernize their public health data systems. Why is this just happening now, when we have known for so long that our public health infrastructure is in dire need of updating? A thoughtful answer to this question was just published in a Health Affairs blog post. The authors explain that our country’s chronic underinvestment in the data infrastructure necessary for population-wide health oversight is because Americans prioritize individuals and independence over the common good of society. The article is a bit of a difficult academic-theory-pill to swallow, but there are plenty of nuggets of real-world truth in there. At one point in It’s A Wonderful Life, George Bailey’s guardian angel, Clarence, explains that no one uses money in heaven. And George retorts: “It comes in pretty handy down here, bub!” The CDC gets it.
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