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  • Writer's pictureJulie Barnes

January 14, 2022

Maverick's Update

Only What Matters In Health Information Policy

It is pretty rare when someone is known as “the first” to do something of great consequence for society. Sidney Poitier, who died last Friday at age 94, was not only the first Black man to win an Oscar for best actor, his mega-stardom helped break down racial barriers both on and off the big screen. Dr. Ronald Weinstein, who died recently too, used a different kind of screen to break down barriers: he was a telepathology pioneer who (in the 1960s!) used remotely-controlled microscopes to diagnose patients in rural areas before going on to build out a global telemedicine program. A New York Times article about him explained why he was known as the father of telepathology and a trailblazer for telemedicine overall: “By the time he died last month, his early vision of telemedicine’s possibilities had become an integral part of the health care system, not only in pathology but also in numerous other specialties.” There is not an Oscar for that, but Dr. Weinstein did win lots of recognition and served as president of six professional organizations including the American Telemedicine Association.

Here are some other firsts in the news:

  • The first official national standard for patient matching is finally here: ONC released its Version 1.0 of Project US@. It will encourage the industry to use U.S. Postal Service Publication 28 (the standard formatting for home addresses) so different healthcare record systems can make sure they have the correct John Smith in their electronic files. We explain in our blog post from a year ago how the absence of a patient matching standard can cause grave medical errors.

  • A new coalition, the Artificial Intelligence Industry Innovation Coalition (AI3C), will be the first to make recommendations about AI best practices in healthcare and help prepare students for careers in data science. Members include the Brookings Institution, Cleveland Clinic, Duke Health, Intermountain Healthcare, Microsoft, Novant Health, Plug and Play, Providence, UC San Diego, and University of Virginia.

  • For the first time, a company -- called Avaneer Health -- is going to try to create a “utility network” for the healthcare industry using blockchain technology to ensure privacy and reduce costs of data exchange. Avaneer Health grew out of the Health Utility Network, a consortium of healthcare companies including Aetna, Anthem, Cleveland Clinic, Health Care Service Corporation (HCSC), IBM, The PNC Financial Services Group, Inc. and Sentara Healthcare.

One Thoughtful Paragraph

Sidney Poitier is famous for his landmark roles in movies that made an imprint on the fabric of society, and Sneakers (1992) is not one of them. But as the former CIA operative named Crease, he calls his spook colleagues to figure out who is behind the mysterious murder of a cryptologist who invented a code-breaking device, saying: “Don’t tell me you can’t do it because I know you can. And don’t tell me you won’t do it because I’ve got to have it. Damnit, I need to know. And I need to know now!” This seems to be the same attitude that everyone has about getting access to the always-in-short-supply rapid COVID-19 lab tests. On January 10, 2022, the Biden Administration announced that it is requiring health plans to cover the cost of over-the-counter, at-home COVID-19 tests authorized by the FDA until the end of the Public Health Emergency. Setting aside whether it makes sense to require private insurance companies (instead of the federal government) to reimburse only privately insured people (Medicare beneficiaries can’t get reimbursed) for public health screening tests that may have reduced sensitivity for COVID-19 variants, our question -- as health data-focused people -- is how are we tracking these results? In former blog posts, we explained (as have others) the difficulty of tracking public health records even when public and private organizations are trying to do so. But with this policy, we are not even trying to track the lab results and no laboratory or doctor is involved -- so we are trusting that when people test positive that they will follow CDC guidelines. In the underrated Sneakers movie, Sidney Poitier’s character decides to help despite his misgivings about his colleagues’ plan, saying “You guys will be chalk outlines without me. All right, what do we need?” In this case, we need proper public health tracking and monitoring.

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