When the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) announced in July it had levied criminal charges against 36 defendants across the country for more than $1.2 billion in alleged fraudulent telemedicine and other health care schemes, it became the latest in an ongoing series of criminal behavior by scammers in this arena caught by the federal government.
Your mailing address could soon be used as a valuable tool to help health systems properly identify you and link disparate medical records held by different entities.
Since early 2021, the federal government has been working on Project US@ (pronounced “USA”), an initiative to establish a standard approach for representing patient addresses across all health IT systems. The effort, led by the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC), is believed to improve what is known as patient matching — the processes involved in correctly identifying patients and linking their medical records within and across systems.
WBUR radio host Meghna Chakrabarti was visiting her brother on the West Coast last summer, enjoying a glass of wine when he said he thought artificial intelligence was going to change civilization. While the two went on to discuss other topics, the idea stuck in Chakrabarti’s mind, and she and senior editor and colleague Dorey Scheimer started researching the topic. Their original four-part series, “Smarter health: Artificial intelligence and the future of American health care,” aired in May and June on the Boston-based program “On Point.” It’s well worth a listen (or a read, the transcripts are posted online, too).
Chakrabarti and Scheimer spent four months researching and reporting the series. They spoke with about 30 experts across the country, including physicians, computer scientists, patient advocates, bioethicists and federal regulators. They also hired Katherine Gorman, who co-founded the machine intelligence podcast “Talking Machines,” as a consulting editor. The result is an in-depth look at how AI is transforming health care while addressing ethical considerations and regulation of the technology, the people developing it, and patients at the receiving end.
In a new “How I Did It,” Chakrabarti and Scheimer discussed their reporting process and more. (Responses have been lightly edited for brevity and clarity.)
When Intermountain Healthcare’s call centers became overwhelmed in March 2020 with people asking about COVID-19 symptoms, the team turned to artificial intelligence, the Washington Post reported. Specifically, a chatbot — a computer program designed to simulate human conversation called Scout. The technology allowed people to describe their symptoms while the chatbot matched their responses to possible diagnoses to ask relevant follow-up questions or suggest actions for the patient to take.
It’s one of several technologies that were greatly accelerated during the pandemic and continue to be gaining ground in the face of an ongoing pandemic, an aging population, shrinking caregivers, health care worker burnout and resignations, and other factors.
Journalists can find interesting stories by investigating the various uses of chatbots, robots, and other virtual caregiver technologies being trialed or used by health systems, senior homes or others. But beyond the wow factor, it’s always good to maintain a critical eye to ask questions about costs, ease of use, accuracy, and if the intended audiences like them or find them helpful.
Within days of the Supreme Court ruling overturning the landmark Roe v. Wade case, information about abortion spread rampantly online.
One area of ambiguity has been the use of femtech, or technology such as period-tracking mobile apps to support women’s health. People have raised concerns about what will happen regarding computer or phone search histories for reproductive care.
“There’s a lot of information floating out there,” said Bethany Corbin, senior counsel with Nixon Gwilt Law, in an interview with AHCJ. “The main concern is that period-tracking apps or other femtech apps will serve as a way for law enforcement to get access to sensitive reproductive health data and criminalize a woman for having an abortion or even a suspected abortion. It is a legitimate concern.”
Law enforcement can access data from apps in multiple ways, Corbin said. But if women start to delete apps, there may be a longer-term negative impact on women’s health, she said, adding that some apps partner with research institutions to use data to gain valuable insights into women’s health. Removing these apps could also result in decreased access to care for some people, particularly those living in rural areas at or below the poverty line who otherwise may not have access to reproductive health care.