Author Archives: Karen Blum

About Karen Blum

Karen Blum is AHCJ’s core topic leader on health IT. An independent journalist in the Baltimore area, she has written health IT stories for publications such as Pharmacy Practice News, Clinical Oncology News, Gastroenterology & Endoscopy News, General Surgery News and Infectious Disease Special Edition.

Remote patient monitoring the next wave in telehealth

Photo via health.mil.Kathlyn Chassey uses a home healthcare kit as part of the COVID-19 Remote Monitoring Program, a joint effort of the Virtual Medical Center and Brooke Army Medical Center, in San Antonio, Dec. 18, 2020.

Telehealth wasn’t the only health care technology that took off during the COVID-19 pandemic. Remote patient monitoring — the use of mobile devices to monitor patient vital signs at home, plus in-home or virtual visits by health care providers — also has increased due to the public health emergency.

Before the pandemic, a big challenge for remote monitoring was helping large health care organizations, systems and plans to prioritize implementing virtual care technologies beyond just a pilot phase, Drew Schiller, co-founder and CEO of the technology firm Validic, said during a recent webinar hosted by the American Telemedicine Association.

“We were stuck in this endless cycle of trying things,” Schiller said. But once the pandemic hit, remote monitoring, telehealth and other technologies “immediately jumped to the forefront” and showed everyone how they could be used to scale remote care,” he said: “It was obviously a regrettable circumstance … but from a health care technology perspective, it has advanced the industry at least five years, if not a full decade, in a very short amount of time. Continue reading

Apps for substance use disorders, other conditions, may not be as private as we think

Sara Morrison

Sara Morrison

About one in five Americans report using mobile health applications (apps), according to survey data published by Gallup in 2019. But users may not necessarily be aware that the personal information they enter in those apps frequently is shared with third-party vendors that make some of those apps’ features.

In a recent article for Vox’s Recode, tech reporter Sara Morrison took a deep dive into data privacy — or a potential lack thereof — among mobile apps for substance use disorders, with implications for all health apps. She also covered the outdated laws that allow developers to share users’ information, often without full disclosure. Continue reading

Virtual assistants’ role in health care still being explored though questions persist

Photo by Jan Antonin Kolar via Unsplash

The use of virtual assistant devices like Amazon Echo in health care settings has been featured in a number of news stories in recent years. But a lawsuit brought against Amazon this summer by four health care workers — in which they alleged they didn’t realize the devices could record their conversations — indicates that while plenty of people use these devices to check weather, play music or games, or research information, not everyone understands exactly how they operate.

In a class-action suit filed in Washington state on June 30 (Scott et al. v. Amazon.com, Inc.; case #2:21-cv-00883), the health care workers, including a New Jersey substance use counselor and a Georgia-based health care company customer service representative, alleged that their Amazon smart speaker devices recorded their private conversations about patients without their knowledge or intent, according to a write-up on classaction.org. Continue reading

Request to extend telehealth benefits for Medicare beneficiaries, and other story starters

There’s been a small flurry of stories and news updates on telehealth this summer.

On July 26, some 430 health systems, associations and companies sent a joint letter to Congress urging policymakers to extend telehealth benefits for Medicare beneficiaries beyond the COVID-19 public health emergency.

Prior to the start of the pandemic, Medicare only covered telehealth visits for its beneficiaries living in defined rural areas who initiated the call from a provider’s office, according to Kyle Zebley, vice president of public policy for the American Telemedicine Association (ATA), which is co-leading the effort. Thanks to provisions covered by legislation such as the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, telehealth became a covered service for all Medicare beneficiaries regardless of area of residence or where calls were initiated. But it was designed as a temporary measure. Unless it’s made permanent, cautioned the ATA and other letter writers, Medicare beneficiaries and providers who have become accustomed to the service could fall off what advocates call a “telehealth cliff.” Continue reading

Data breaches on the rise: What you need to know

Photo by Sai Kiran Anagani via Unsplash

Photo by Sai Kiran Anagani via Unsplash

If it seems as if you’ve been reading more about data breaches of hospitals and health care organizations lately, you’re not imagining it.

Between 2009 and 2020, 3,705 health care data breaches involving 500 or more records have been reported to the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office for Civil Rights, according to an article in HIPAA Journal. Those breaches resulted in the loss, theft, exposure or impermissible disclosure of over 268 million health care records. The average number of breaches per day in 2020 was 1.76. Continue reading