Person typing on computer.

Online Terms of Use for Genealogy Websites – What’s in the Fine Print?

By Jorge L. Contreras

Since genealogy websites first went online, researchers have been using the data that they contain in large-scale epidemiological and population health studies. In many cases, data is collected using automated tools and analyzed using sophisticated algorithms.

These techniques have supported a growing number of discoveries and scientific papers. For example, researchers have used this data to identify genetic markers for Alzheimer’s Disease, to trace an inherited cancer syndrome back to a single German couple born in the 1700s, and to gain a better understanding of longevity and family dispersion.  In the last of these studies, researchers analyzed family trees from 86 million individual genealogy website profiles.

Despite the scientific value of publicly-available genealogy website information, and its free accessibility via the Internet, it is not always the case that this data can be used for research without the permission of the site operator or the individual data subjects.

In fact, the online terms of use (TOU) for genealogy websites may restrict or prohibit the types of uses for data found on those sites.

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Doctor Holding Cell Phone. Cell phones and other kinds of mobile devices and communications technologies are of increasing importance in the delivery of health care. Photographer Daniel Sone.

HHS Recognizes Key Role of Telehealth in Amended PREP Act Declaration

By Vrushab Gowda

On December 3rd, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) extended its provisions to cover telehealth services in amending its Declaration Under the Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness Act (PREP Act) for Medical Countermeasures Against COVID–19.

This represents the first time HHS has covered telehealth services under the authority of the PREP Act. Telehealth providers are now permitted to deliver a range of COVID-related care across the country, including states in which they do not hold professional licenses. The Declaration, moreover, offers them expansive liability protection, effectively immunizing them against a host of claims in connection to their administration of designated countermeasures.

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AI concept art.

Health Care AI in Pandemic Times

By Jenna Becker

The early days of the COVID-19 pandemic was met by the rapid rollout of artificial intelligence tools to diagnose the disease and identify patients at risk of worsening illness in health care settings.

Understandably, these tools generally were released without regulatory oversight, and some models were deployed prior to peer review. However, even after several months of ongoing use, several AI developers still have not shared their testing results for external review. 

This precedent set by the pandemic may have a lasting — and potentially harmful — impact on the oversight of health care AI.

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Code on computer.

Rise in Hospital Ransomware Attacks Requires Government Intervention

By Jenna Becker

Last week, widespread ransomware attacks against hospital systems forced several hospitals to go offline. 

Despite the growing risk of cyberattacks against hospitals, the health care industry has been left to address this issue on their own. Ransomware attacks, named for the fee that these malicious viruses attempt to extract, can be very challenging to address, involving complex cybersecurity protocols.

Unfortunately, many hospitals lack the resources and the time required to prevent this malware from spreading. The government has provided minimal resources to hospital systems looking to enhance their cybersecurity. Resource-strapped hospitals require significant government support to address the growing threat of ransomware.

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Rainbow lgbtq pride flag and trans pride flag.

Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity in Medical Records Can Reduce Disparities

By Jenna Becker

Sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) data is widely considered crucial to providing competent care to LGBTQ+ patients. This data can also be used to reduce health disparities among sexual and gender minority populations.

Most electronic health record (EHR) vendors are able to document SOGI data. Many health care systems across the country have been collecting SOGI information for several years. However, SOGI documentation is not broadly required. It’s time to require SOGI data collection in EHRs nationwide.

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A calculator, a stethoscope, and a stack of money rest on a table.

Telemedicine is No Cure for Fraud and Abuse

By Vrushab Gowda

The exponential growth of telehealth in recent years has revolutionized the delivery, access, and cost of care. Unfortunately, it is not immune to the fraud and abuse that divert nearly $70 billion from the health care system annually.

A rise in suspect practices has been accompanied by a concomitant escalation of Department of Justice (DOJ) enforcement, sending a clear signal to would-be fraudulent actors.

The ongoing Operation Rubber Stamp is one such enforcement thrust. A joint initiative of the of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), it targeted an extensive network of telemedicine fraud totaling over $4.5 billion in false claims and yielding thirty guilty pleas to date.

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computer and stethoscope

Is Real-World Health Algorithm Review Worth the Hassle?

By Jenna Becker

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) should not delay their plans to regulate clinical algorithms, despite challenges associated with reviewing the real-world performance of these products. 

The FDA Software Pre-Certification (Pre-Cert) Pilot Program was designed to provide “streamlined and efficient” regulatory oversight of Software as a Medical Device (SaMD) — software products that are regulable by the FDA as a medical device. The Pre-Cert program, in its pilot phase, is intended to inform the development of a future SaMD regulatory model.

Last month, the FDA released an update on Pre-Cert, highlighting lessons learned from pilot testing and next steps for developing the program. One key lesson learned was the difficulty in identifying and obtaining the real-world performance data needed to analyze the clinical effectiveness of SaMDs in practice. Although this challenge will be difficult to overcome in the near future, the FDA’s plans to regulate should not be slowed by insufficient postmarket data.

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Washington, USA- January13, 2020: FDA Sign outside their headquarters in Washington. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA or USFDA) is a federal agency of the USA.

A New Step for the FDA in Regulating Digital Health Products

By Vrushab Gowda

On September 22, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced the establishment of a new initiative to regulate digital health products – the Digital Health Center of Excellence (DHCoE).

In some ways, the announcement does not come as a surprise; FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn’s predecessor, Scott Gottlieb, outlined the DHCoE in a press release two years ago. What does remain to be seen is whether DHCoE represents a true paradigm shift in FDA’s approach to regulating digital health products.

According to Hahn, the DHCoE aims to (1) build partnerships, (2) share knowledge across FDA and with stakeholders, and (3) innovate regulatory approaches. It will be led by the current Director of CDRH’s Division of Digital Health, Bakul Patel.

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Photograph of a doctor holding a headset sitting in front of a laptop

How Telehealth Can Reduce Disparities

By Jenna Becker

Telehealth can and should be used in an intentional effort to reduce health disparities.

Increased COVID-19 mortality rates in communities of color have been a constant, tragic reminder of the ways in which systemic racism causes poor health outcomes in the United States. Immigrants are facing an increased risk of illness and limited access to care. Rural Americans may face an increased risk of serious illness.

Telehealth can reduce barriers to care that these groups face, such as lack of access to transportation, culturally-competent providers, and childcare.

The last six months have seen rapid growth in the use of telemedicine in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. In response to urgent need, regulatory agencies and private insurance companies have loosened requirements that previously inhibited the use of telehealth.

The expansion of telehealth and removal of traditional barriers to care may lead to more equitable health outcomes.

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Cartoon of contact tracing for COVID-19.

COVID-19, Misinformation, and the Law in Nigeria

By Cheluchi Onyemelukwe

The spread of COVID-19 in Nigeria has been paralleled by the spread of misinformation and disinformation about the novel coronavirus. In Nigeria, information casting doubt on the existence of the coronavirus is spread especially through social media channels, but also through other informal channels.

Some religious leaders with considerable influence have doubted the existence of the virus, and shared conspiracy theories on its origins and the interventions instituted to prevent further spread of the virus. Others have taken to social media to express concerns about the Nigerian government and a perceived lack of transparency. For example, the government has received criticism for continuing its school feeding program during the pandemic, at a time when schools are closed, children are at home, and the country’s financial resources are scarce.

Unproven cures and interventions are also regularly propagated, especially via social media channels such as WhatsApp. For instance, hydroxychloroquine, a drug used for malaria previously, has been touted as a cure, despite evidence to the contrary, prompting some to stockpile it and instigating much discussion on social media.

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