February 14, 2023
Reporter, STAT Health Tech Writer

Good morning, health tech readers!  Today, we've got a conversation with early stage health tech investor Cheryl Cheng, a look at a new device being tested for GI disease, and the latest on interoperability. Pass any news tips along to mohana.ravindranath@statnews.com.


The latest on interoperability rules

The federal government has taken another step toward making transferring medical data between patients, providers, apps, insurers and researchers easier, though we might not see a tectonic shift immediately  It’s been about a year since the federal government’s health IT office published TEFCA, a framework standardizing the process for exchanging health data. And this week the Health and Human Services Department picked a handful of organizations — the CommonWell Health Alliance, eHealth Exchange, Epic TEFCA Interoperability Services, Health Gorilla, Kno2, and KONZA — to be the first to implement that framework. These “Qualified Health Information Networks,” or QHINs, are committing to joining live in one year. 

In response to some tongue-in-cheek discussion about whether the step would drive changes in the short-term, former ONC official Genevieve Morris offered this: “Tomorrow no, but hopefully sooner than we would have had, a patient should be able to get their data from all providers without having to remember their provider name, their portal credentials, or fill out forms.” 

data privacy

Report: No standards for handling mental health data 

Data brokers don't have a standard set of best practices for handling consumers' sensitive mental health information — and a new report out from Duke's Technology Policy Lab details how some brokers sell that data. Among the findings by Duke researcher Joanne Kim: Some data brokers are shopping around the vast amounts of information they have on consumers' mental health conditions "on the open market, with seemingly minimal vetting of customers and seemingly few controls on the use of purchased data." One broker advertised a dataset to Kim that included names and addresses of people with depression, bipolar disorder and OCD, as well as data on some people's races and ethnicities. 

Kim calls for a more comprehensive national privacy law, or at least an expansion of federal rules governing health data to include consumer information to guard against misuse by brokers. 

Venture capital

Vive Collective’s Cheryl Cheng on care navigation

I recently chatted with Cheryl Cheng, founder and CEO of Vive Collective, which funds and helps grow young digital health companies, about the crush of care navigation companies I’ve been seeing and how companies can differentiate in an increasingly crowded market. She’s also seeing more care navigation pitches cross her desk, and she shared a few thoughts on how she chooses which to work with. 

What specific capabilities do you look for when a care navigation company pitches you?

Outcomes data is most important.  This data may vary based on the subspecialty so there isn't one true north data point but overall clinical outcomes are important. I also look for solutions that embed into current workflow as much as possible without requiring behavior change, especially for clinicians. 

How do you know a company can actually help patients navigate care across disparate provider groups?

Ideally, you can talk to existing customers to see how the platform is being used and which features and functionality most delight the users. You can also look at their underlying architecture to see how much customer integrations need to be done to bring on different and additional providers onto the platform.   

Do you see more companies coming to you with care navigation products? If so, why now?

Yes, there will be more and they will become more specialized for each subspecialty. Each subspecialty has their own unique dynamics — from a patient disease management perspective, a provider behavior perspective, a payor reimbursement perspective and even a drug manufacturer perspective. Care navigation systems have to account for all of these elements so you see specific solutions emerge to optimize outcomes for each subspecialty.  Why now? There's increasing pressure to move to a value based world and care navigation is one way to try to achieve those goals. Data interoperability is another tailwind where these systems can actually start to pull different data sources into one place.  


Speaking of headwinds and tailwinds...

About 90% of U.S. employers are planning to make changes to partnerships with vendors offering health and wellbeing benefits to their workforce, according to a survey of about 230 companies conducted by HR consulting firm Willis Towers Watson. It’s not clear yet what changes they’ll make — adjustments could include adding to or ending those partnerships, according to the survey. 

More than one-third plan to change their mental health vendor partnerships, and about 40% plan to change their care navigation and medical advocacy programs. 

While robust health and wellness offerings help employers compete for workers, they’re “taking a close look at the value and cost savings their vendors promise. What’s more, they are ready to make changes as needed,” Courtney Stubblefield, a WTW senior director, said in a release.

Medical devices

A quarter-size device that could change GI care

Researchers seeking to make the process of detecting GI disorders like acid reflux and constipation easier are looking at ingestible devices that can observe the digestive tract as they travel through it, my colleague Lizzy Lawrence reports. In a paper out this week in Nature Electronics, researchers reported the results of animal tests of the device, which they hope could  help doctors better target treatment  and to allow patients to diagnose GI issues at home. 

“In principle, one could be evaluated at home and then you could see how something is moving in three dimensions in the GI tract to help map, for example, dysfunction in the rectum,” MIT researcher Gio Traverso said. 

Lizzy has more on the devices’ implications and how they work.

Also on medical devices …

The Food and Drug Administration has more to share on the problems behind its recall of certain Philips breathing devices, including ventilators including CPAP machines. The agency received more than 8,000 medical device reports related to the machines between November and the end of December, including a reported 82 deaths, Lizzy tells us.

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What we're reading

  • Snoo faces criticism for feeding the 'surveillance state', Business Insider
  • The group behind smart home standards Matter is now tackling health data,  The Verge
  • The future of Chat-GPT assisted diagnosis, STAT

Thanks for reading! More on Thursday - Mohana

Mohana Ravindranath is a Bay Area correspondent covering health tech at STAT and has made it her mission to separate out hype from reality in health care.

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