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The evolving abortion privacy story
Last week’s Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade has created concern that people seeking abortions in states where it is or will soon be illegal may be prosecuted with the help of information they shared with health care providers, period-tracking apps, and Google Search. Two fresh data points illustrate the chaotic scramble to understand the nature of our digital exhaust in a post-Roe country:
- Research from ad-blocking app Lockdown Privacy suggests Planned Parenthood’s scheduling tool is sending data, including IP addresses and approximate ZIP codes, to third-parties, the Washington Post reports. The data could be used to reidentify users who sought services from the provider. The report underscores how organizations can unintentionally reveal sensitive data if their tools aren’t built with care — a recent investigation conducted by The Markup in collaboration with STAT revealed that hospital websites were leaking HIPAA-protected health data to Facebook.
- A fresh study in JAMA Internal Medicine shows that in the hours following the May leak of a draft Supreme Court opinion on abortion, Internet searches for abortion medications spiked. Data from Google Trends showed “significantly more searches occurred in states with more restrictive reproductive rights.” They suggest some of the search volume could be explained in part by people hoping to stockpile medication before bans took effect. It will be interesting to watch how Google’s policies are enforced in light of new legal regimes. Will it comply with law enforcement requests for search data? Will it remove links to information about reproductive health care?
Report: Cerebral’s irresponsible prescribing
A trove of documents leaked to Business Insider surfaced even more surprising details about the beleaguered mental health startup’s prescribing practices, including internal reports that providers harmed hundreds of patients.
Incident reports suggested that dozens of patients were placed on clinically questionable treatment plans or misdiagnosed. Others may have been prescribed dangerous and potentially legal drug combinations, including some with histories of substance misuse, according to the reports.
The company — which is being investigated by both the Federal Trade Commission and the Drug Enforcement Agency — announced layoffs earlier this month and advised affected employees to expect notice by July 1. The workforce reduction will help the company “refocus on the core mission of improving access to high-quality mental health care,” CEO David Mou wrote in a LinkedIn post this week.
The latest devices to score breakthrough status
We’ve added a new crop of devices to our Breakthrough Device Tracker, including OxfordVR’s virtual reality treatment for serious mental illness and a continuous glucose-ketone tracker from Abbott. The FDA’s breakthrough devices program is intended to speed the development of particularly innovative devices that are potentially “more effective” at treating or diagnosing deadly and debilitating conditions. As Katie and Mario reported, so far the secretive program has proven far more useful to companies than beneficial to patients. STAT’s tracker contains over two-thirds of the more than 650 breakthrough devices minted to date.
There are thorny issues in health care — trust, structural barriers, affordability — that tech alone can’t solve. But wielded with care, and with input from patients, it can help make a dent. In a virtual event moderated by Mohana, Sylvie Leotin, who is researching ways technology can help patients communicate their experiences to providers through her company Equify Health, pointed to a prime opportunity she’s seen while undergoing cancer treatment. Every time she needed to check in with her care team, she found herself in an endless cycle of transferred phone calls and holding periods.
“Why am I spending all this time when I don’t have energy, and I have lots of things to do? Because of poor automation, ” Leotin said. On a practical level, a better system would make life easier for patients. But it could also go toward building more trust in the relationship with providers — as Eric Beane, VP of regulatory and government affairs at UniteUs, noted, not asking patients to repeatedly describe their symptoms or needs is part of providing “trauma-informed care.”
There’s still room for more technology in health care, though, as long as it doesn’t further marginalize already underserved groups who are often the subject of bias, said MIT’s Zen Chu. “You have to have that lens of health equity and unconscious bias as you really think about resigning care paradigms and care workflows,” he said. He pointed to the early successes of Podimetrics, a startup that emerged out of Chu’s Hacking Medicine with a plan to use a foot pad to analyze circulation in people with diabetes. The ultimate goal is to prevent wounds that could later result in amputation.
Deals and news
- Regard, formerly known as HealthTensor, which is developing software to help physicians with diagnoses, announced a $15.3 million Series A round led by Calibrate Ventures and Foundry Group. Taking advantage of partnerships with both Cerner and Epic, the company’s algorithms look at patient medical records to support doctors’ decision-making and to help health systems with coding and billing.
- Ria Health, which provides telehealth treatment for alcohol use disorder, raised an $18 million Series A led by SV Health Investors. The firm has deals with several major health plans including UnitedHealth Group, Anthem, and Magellan Health, and will use the new funds to expand its reach.
- Digital health management company Wellframe hired Madhu Rajagopalan as VP of engineering. Previously, he was VP of engineering at both Zipcar and Flexcar.
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