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  • Writer's pictureJulie Barnes

July 29, 2021

Maverick's Update

Only What Matters in Health Information Policy

The 2021 Olympics will be remembered, not only because it is happening in the middle of a once-in-a-century global pandemic (see 1920 Spanish flu at the Antwerp Olympics), but maybe also because all three countries (China, U.S. and Australia) that medaled in the women's 4x200m freestyle swimming relay broke the world record for the fastest time ever. Relay team member Katie Ledecky, the American competitive swimmer who has won the most gold medals in the history of female swimmers, swam at a faster clip than everyone else in the relay race -- but the gold ultimately went to China’s team that collectively swam .4 seconds faster than we did. Fun fact: Just a month ago, Katie Ledecky graduated from Stanford with a B.A. in psychology -- which means one of our most determined and successful humans may be redirecting her superpowers to the mental health field someday. How great is that? Read more in the One Thoughtful Paragraph below.

News that is not necessarily worth a gold medal, but still interesting:

  1. The vast majority of Americans definitely want more access to their health information, according to a Pew Research study. But when the Pew surveyors explained that health data on smartphone apps and tablets is unlikely to be protected by HIPAA privacy rules, they got pretty squeamish. So it was not terribly surprising when this New York Times article found that most people really do not know how the HIPAA law works.

  2. The U.S. Department of Justice made one thing clear this week: there is no federal law that prevents employers from requiring their employees to get vaccinated. CNN published a list of famous-ish employers who have mandated vaccinations, and the Wall Street Journal reviewed the uneven application of vaccine requirements in the country.

  3. Now that this one piece of health information - whether you are vaccinated against COVID-19 or not - is particularly important to daily life activity -- Americans need to better understand who can ask about and share their health information.

One Thoughtful Paragraph

After hearing about U.S. star gymnast Simone Biles suddenly pulling out of the team gymnastics final at the Olympics this week to focus on her mental health, U.S. swimming sensation Katie Ledecky said "I would never want to speak for Simone or say I know what she's feeling ... But I understand it. We're at the highest level, we have the most eyes on us." Indeed, we are looking and reading about Olympians with rapt fascination. In fact, we know that at least 193 people, including 20 athletes, tested positive for the coronavirus at the Tokyo Summer Olympics. Obviously, public health concerns are heightened during a pandemic at a potential super-spreader event like the Olympic games, but it seems like high-level athletes are always in a not-really-private situation when it comes to their health information. The push and pull of public good v. private rights is far from new, but this never-seems-to-end pandemic is putting these issues in stark relief. Like everything, it seems to us, we quickly get from a core health care problem to the question of how are we going to collect and store the information? If people refuse mandatory testing or refuse vaccinations, who is tracking that? It is not like that information is somehow magically digital right now. Rather than breaking up communities into did and did-not vaccinate, many people seem to be trying to avoid this altogether by encouraging people to just get the jab -- proof here, here, here, here and here.

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