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  • Writer's pictureJulie Barnes

March 25, 2021

Maverick's Update

Only What Matters in Health Information Policy

The movie Sneakers, a fantastic and hilarious 1992 film that featured some of the best actors of all time (including Robert Redford, Sidney Poitier, Ben Kingsley and Dan Aykroyd, David Strathairn and River Phoenix) is a comedy/caper with the eerily prophetic theme “no more secrets.” The villain -- “Cosmo” played by Ben Kingsley -- delivers this iconic line to support his criminal activity: “There's a war out there, old friend. A world war. And it's not about who's got the most bullets. It's about who controls the information.” Yep. That’s why today, almost 30 years later on Thursday, March 25, 2021, the CEOs of Facebook, Google and Twitter are facing a congressional firing squad about their role in distributing misinformation that helped make the January 6th attack on the U.S. Capitol possible. If you need a laugh about the situation we are in, find a way to watch Sneakers.

In the meantime, there is some news to share (that would be more interesting if Ben Kingsley was narrating on a podcast):

  • House Energy & Commerce Committee Chair Frank Pallone told Axios that he is eager to draft new laws to govern technology companies. This public statement came only a few days after the subcommittee chairman -- Rep. David Cicilline -- told Axios that he plans to introduce a series of antitrust bills to regulate competition in the digital marketplace.

  • Congress isn’t the only participant in this blame-big tech game: President Biden officially nominated Lina Khan to the Federal Trade Commission, bringing her famous anti-tech-monopoly intellectual prowess to bear on the only federal agency charged with oversight of these issues.

  • The Federal Communications Commission is asking consumers to help it improve the agency’s broadband maps by complaining about the quality of their wifi connections -- which shouldn’t be a big challenge -- so long as the agency has time to wait for people to get into town to connect so their emailed complaints will go through.

One Thoughtful Paragraph

With all this hand-wringing about technology companies and their control over information, what does it mean for the health care industry -- which happens to be on the precipice of a major IT evolution? Clearly, there is both an eagerness to embrace modern tools and nervousness about what it means. An example of how we are embracing technology is the overwhelming support for digital behavioral solutions to address our mental health crisis, and an example of the nervousness is the American Hospital Association’s request for a federal investigation into UnitedHealth Group’s plan to acquire technology company Change Healthcare -- saying that the resulting consolidation of data would “likely distort decisions about patient care.” It is an interesting dynamic when you know you need something (help with technology) but you’re scared about what it means. It is undeniable, though, that the federal government is encouraging this modernization -- the interoperability rules encourage the downloading of sensitive health care data to third party apps, the highly-technical rules prohibiting information blocking are forcing hospitals and others that handle health care data to seek out external technical assistance, and the demand for the publication of health care prices and the automation of prior authorization processes mean more direct engagement with technology companies. If there are no more secrets for the health care industry -- we need help making sure that our technology friends have our best interests at heart.

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