• Julie Barnes

July 17, 2020

Maverick's Update

Only What Matters In Health Information Policy

WARNING: Your eyes may glaze over reading this, despite the importance of this news. For whatever reason -- either the pandemic is getting to us or it is truly complex, unsexy news this week -- Maverick Health Policy regrets that this week’s update is unlikely to make you laugh aloud. Still, some important stuff going on.

  1. The Joint Initiative Council (JIC) for Global Health Informatics Standardization just added a new member to its nine-member (including HL7 International and SNOMED International) health care data standard and interoperability efforts: Logical Observation Identifiers Names and Codes (LOINC), associated with Regenstrief Institute at Indiana University (pause here for nod to such a great movie: Hoosiers is about conquering difficulty no matter the odds, apt for a news item on interoperability efforts). LOINC has been creating lab testing codes during the pandemic to provide a standard way to represent lab test data so that the information can be shared and analyzed at a global level.

  2. Changes in U.S. data privacy laws may be coming sooner than we thought. The European Union’s version of the U.S. Supreme Court just ruled that a data-sharing agreement between the U.S. and the EU is no longer valid. The downfall of the so-called “Privacy Shield” agreement (by a guy who runs an organization called None Of Your Business who successfully went after Facebook) not only confirms that the EU thinks American companies are spying on their citizens’ personal data, but means that companies that need to transfer data overseas must figure out a new legal mechanism to get access.

  3. Similar acronyms are probably not the reason, but this week both CVS and CMS offered proof of how people are really using virtual health services. CVS Health’s survey of patients and providers indicates an increased interest in digital health tools, while CMS Administrator Seema Verma shared CMS data showing the impact of telehealth on Medicare beneficiary access and the agency’s plan to continue these services beyond the pandemic. This telehealth drumbeat will bolster support for pending legislative proposals that intend to make COVID-19 telehealth flexibilities permanent.

One Thoughtful Paragraph

Did HHS tell hospitals to stop reporting their COVID-19 information to the CDC for good or bad reasons? In a guidance document published on July 10, hospitals were suddenly told to send their patient data directly to a database called “HHS Protect” -- a database that is not open to the public, and was built by Palantir (Lord of the Rings fans know that palantir is an Elvish word meaning “all-seeing”), a data mining firm founded by the controversial Peter Theil. That sounds sketchy, but then the CDC Director Robert Redfield -- in a formal statement -- denied that data or access was being taken away from the CDC. An HHS spokesperson explained that the CDC's system was inadequate, with its week-long lag time in reporting hospital data. At least one hospital Chief Medical Officer said the change in reporting doesn’t make much sense -- even as the American Hospital Association encouraged hospitals to just deal with it, because it was the only way to get ensure the proper distribution of COVID-19 treatments and supplies. So now information about hospital capacity and ICU bed occupancy rates on the CDC's National Healthcare Safety Network dashboard have been removed from its website (but tracking COVID-19 cases is still there -- or maybe it was put back). Real-time data exchange and sophisticated analysis is critical to solving our uniquely difficult pandemic problem, but data transparency is equally important for public trust -- which is exactly what experts just told a House oversight committee about the COVID-19 vaccine rollout.

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