• Julie Barnes

March 25, 2020

Maverick's Update Only What Matters in Health Information Policy

Overwhelmed. Stir-crazy. Stressed. The adjectives being used during this crisis aren’t super-positive. Wishing you all as many bright spots and as much levity as you can get while we are in hunker-down mode. Recommend subscribing to the Washington Post Optimist newsletter, and this is pretty funny.

Until things turn a corner, Maverick Health Policy will continue to meld our usual health information policy news with the only other federal policy news of the day: COVID-19.

By the way, just how much money does the federal government have? (Not sure. But this is a fact: the total federal debt is $23.5 trillion. Opinions about the impact of the stimulus packages here, here, here, here, here, here).

  • March 6: The first $8.3B emergency funding bill is already three weeks old. It included $21 million for the ONC to fund a “patient lookup system” to help medical response teams access critical patient information to enable care coordination.

  • March 18: The “Families First Coronavirus Response Act” is the $100B second package.

  • March 25 deal: We are on our 3rd economic stimulus package and there are rumors of a 4th in the works. As soon as the 3rd package becomes law, (it was unanimously passed by the Senate so far), we will explore the implications for health information policy. For now, read about what is in the $2 trillion bill here, here, here, here, here.

A few other items:

  1. A more normal sum of money for an important task: Applications Due April 6 for AHRQ Challenge on Digital Solutions -- $175,000 to the developer of interoperable health IT solutions that engage patients and caregivers during transitions from inpatient hospital care to home. (Isn’t Caremerge already doing this?)

  2. Technology is rushing in to save the day. Singapore’s app. South Korea’s data tracing system. See this list of technology used to address various issues related to the outbreak. Geisinger, UPMC tech solutions. Hospital bed capacity tracker. Artificial intelligence techniques may help with COVID-19 big data research.

  3. Tech companies are working together with the federal government to combat fraud and misinformation (vodka is one way to stave-off infection, who knew?), and these awesome people are just helping without being asked. And the federal government is pressing big tech to use “supercomputers” to help with COVID-19 solutions. See here, here.

  4. Why is the United States not as effective as Singapore, South Korea, and Taiwan in curbing a pandemic? Americans tend to think their tracking solutions are a scary invasion of privacy (see also here), while other countries' citizens expect contact tracing is how their government will protect them. See here, here, here.

One Thoughtful Paragraph

So is the U.S. health care system finally going to modernize with awesome digital tools and technology now that everyone was forced into trying them? There are more than a few start-ups hoping so, after jumping on the COVID-19 solution bandwagon (here, here) and there are resources available to help. Whether all this good work is temporary or permanent probably depends on how well it goes -- Will people and physicians love telehealth visits enough to keep doing them? Was remote monitoring successful and as reliable as institutional care? (Alivecor will be an interesting one to watch). Will people be ok with the federal government hooking up with tech companies to track data on smartphones and data pooling for public health crisis reasons? It will probably come down to privacy concerns -- Americans can be funny about that.


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Julie Barnes, J.D. 

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