• Julie Barnes

June 4, 2020

Maverick Health Policy Update

Only What Matters On Health Information Policy

This has been a horrible week of social unrest and emotional turmoil for Americans, and for those watching and sometimes joining around the world. In response to George Floyd's death, medical groups like the AMA and the American Academy of Pediatrics are calling racism a public health crisis. Read our “One Thoughtful Paragraph” to learn how health care information policy can make a difference.

  1. Junky data poses a significant hurdle to COVID-19 recovery and is largely due to technology gaps in the healthcare system and public health agencies, demonstrating the necessity of interoperability. Several private mapping initiatives are showing the pandemic’s impact in specific geographic areas, to allow researchers to better understand how the virus is spreading, who it's affecting and how to stop it.

  2. As the country continues to reopen, contact tracing is cautiously being implemented using tools like the Google-Apple API against a backdrop of bipartisan legislative proposals to address privacy concerns and questions about whether it was constitutional to suspend HIPAA privacy protections during the pandemic.

  3. Studying how telehealth was used and implemented during the pandemic is the focus of a new legislative proposal, to see whether maintaining the regulatory flexibility for the growing industry should be the norm. At the same time, community health centers and health systems in underserved areas are struggling to make the costly transition to telehealth.

One Thoughtful Paragraph

The director of the Maryland Center for Health Equity said: “You cannot disconnect what's happening in Minneapolis from what's going on with COVID-19… If COVID-19 is taking [black people] out at greater proportions, the government doesn't care.” Ever since the pandemic began, the disproportionate impact of the virus on minorities was recognized (CDC, Harvard Business Review -- the most recent alarming statistic is that Blacks and Latinos are twice as likely to die as Caucasians in NYC) and there have been repeated calls to obtain race-inclusive data to find out why. In early April, academic public health researchers gave specific instructions on how to make this happen, and just recently we are beginning to get (with the help of tools like the COVID racial tracker) at least some racial-related data to understand the disparities. As three doctors looking for an explanation wrote in a recent JAMA article, “collecting and reporting accurate data on demographic and social determinants of health depends on clinical systems reporting to local and state public health departments and to the CDC.” Just last week, Maverick Health Policy expressed our disappointment that public health agencies are unable to receive data electronically, and we know that this antiquated public health tracking system is keeping us from handling the pandemic better and faster. One interesting suggestion is that Congress should look at Medicaid’s technology investments in public health and scale it up in the next economic stimulus package. But as our country takes a hard look at racism’s presence in our governmental institutions, it seems like we are in a good position to improve our public health data collection and analysis so that at least we have an equitable response to health emergencies. Maybe then we can take these lessons and apply them to the greater health care system -- and we still strongly suggest that a new federal agency needs to take on this extraordinary task of modernization if we are going to do this right.

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