The COVID-19 pandemic was the backdrop for this year’s presidential election, triggering important questions about the future of U.S. healthcare. Despite the uncertainty that still exists today, healthcare IT leaders have a strong grasp on the issues and technologies that should take priority in the next four years.
Fierce Healthcare reported on the key issues that healthcare leaders would like to see the federal government take immediate action on. Beyond improving the nation’s public health data infrastructure, the article highlighted improving patient identification, solidifying telehealth reimbursement protocols, advancing interoperability and strengthening cybersecurity in hospitals. All these issues have been exasperated by the pandemic which has created more urgency in addressing them.
Additionally, an Optum survey of 500 healthcare execs revealed that more than half (56%) are accelerating or expanding their artificial intelligence (AI) deployment timelines in response to the pandemic, demonstrating the importance of this business tool during the most stressful times.
In other AI-related news, a group of researchers at MIT developed an AI model that can detect asymptomatic COVID-19 cases by listening to subtle differences in coughs between healthy people and infected people. The researchers are testing their AI in clinical trials and have already started the process of seeking approval from the FDA for it to be used as a screening tool.
2021 will hopefully look very different from 2020 from a public health perspective, and beyond taking the input of healthcare leaders to heart, the federal government has an opportunity to support broad adoption of advanced technologies that can aid in the ongoing battle against COVID-19.
Parking fees should not be a hurdle to healthcare
“Even getting to a hospital or clinic for radiation, chemotherapy sessions, or regular checkups in itself can be a challenge for some patients. For those relying on public transport or in rural areas, access to public transit or the cost of filling up a tank of gas can pose hurdles to cancer care.” In an article for STAT, Priyanka Runwal covers some of the factors that contribute to higher rates of mortality among Black women diagnosed with cancer.
Fast-tracking vaccine development
The Washington Post continues to use graphics to break down the science behind vaccine development. The paper’s latest update tracks 200 vaccines, from 170+ experimental vaccines in pre-clinical development to 10 vaccines currently in Phase 3 clinical trials.
For a quick primer on the three technologies making the compressed timeline to a vaccine possible, check out this article from Michael White, assistant professor of genetics at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, on genetically engineered viruses, DNA vaccines and mRNA vaccines.
New York Times reporter Katherine Wu recently covered a study published in the journal Cell that found CRISPR-Cas9 can cause serious side effects in the cells of human embryos. The research team found the gene-editing tool “appeared to wreak a genetic havoc in about half the specimens that the researchers examined.” The results underscore what scientists have been saying since Chinese “CRISPR babies scientist” He Jiankui sent shockwaves across the industry: it’s too soon to use genome editing in human embryos.
Here is a sampling of stories highlighting some good business news, as well as challenges on the individual level to the international stage.
The Boston Business Journal announced its list of Best Places to Work 2020 and our friends at the Arbella Insurance Group came in third place in the Extra Large Company category.
25 years after her death, Selena Quintanilla remains a cultural icon. WBUR and Futuro Studios recently announced a new, 10-episode podcast to debut in January 2021 with Spanish-language companion episodes. At a time of unprecedented debate about what it means to be American, “Anything for Selena” explores tensions around race, class, body politics and what it means to belong.
The Boston Book Festival’s Shelf Help initiative, which aims to expand a child’s love of reading by providing new books to two Boston Public School’s libraries each year, was featured in WCVB’s 5 for Good.
The eviction moratorium recently ended in Massachusetts, leaving thousands of families vulnerable in the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic. East Boston Neighborhood Health Center care navigator Kimberly Mendoza Iraheta described the urgent issue in Boston.com.
On September 29th, the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America petitioned the United Nations over Turkey’s conversion of UNESCO World Heritage Site such as the Hagia Sophia into mosques. Foley Hoag attorney Christina Hioureas led the legal effort, stating in the Associated Press, “Turkey is in violation of its obligations under international law to preserve cultural heritage and to respect the political, cultural and religious freedoms of Orthodox Christians in Turkey and abroad.”
Are hospitals and health systems ready for a second coronavirus surge? As cases climb, clinicians and government officials are shifting focus towards protecting vulnerable populations. The Boston Globe examined plans for safeguarding the elderly, essential workers, homeless people and inmates. They found high awareness of the challenges, but in some cases, efforts are lacking.
Additionally, a patchwork response and a government focus on nursing homes left many assisted living facilities in the lurch when it came to testing, PPE and other COVID-19 precautions. Elaine Ryan, vice president for state advocacy and strategy integration at AARP, says assisted living has “almost been third tier in terms of focus during this pandemic.” According to AARP Magazine, more than six months later, the federal government has finally recognized assisted living facilities as providers. Much-needed financial help may finally be on the way too.
Safety-net hospitals also face an uncertain fate as federal reimbursement rates change and metropolitan hospitals lose some their best-insured patients to facilities in affluent city neighborhoods. NPR explores how the pandemic only exacerbated these woes at a time when these hospitals’ role – caring for the poor and people of color – has become more important than ever.
Finally, a moratorium from the CDC spotlights a message experts have preached for years without prompting much policy action: Housing stability and health are intertwined. Kaiser Health News reports on social determinants of health and discovers why many families are still being ordered to leave their homes despite an eviction freeze.
The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated the urgent need for decentralized, low-cost, rapid point-of-care testing, leading manufacturers to sharpy increasing production of COVID-19 antigen tests. A new analysis by NPR and the Harvard Global Health Institute shows the U.S. will need to conduct 14 million COVID-19 rapid tests per day to effectively fight the spread of the virus. That’s more than 5 billion tests per year. Similarly, epidemiology professor Michael Mina has called for rapid testing of every American every day.
For perspective, before COVID-19, the lateral flow testing industry only produced a total of 2-3 billion tests per year for ALL use cases combined (malaria, HIV, home pregnancy tests, etc.).
To meet demand, manufacturers of recently approved antigen tests such as Abbott Laboratories, Becton, Dickinson and Quidel are scaling up at an unprecedented rate, each aiming to make 40-80 million tests per month by the end of the year.
This dramatic scale-up has put the spotlight on our client BioDot, which manufactures automated, ultra-low volume dispensing platforms that are currently used by 70+ diagnostics manufacturers to produce COVID-19 tests. Just one of BioDot’s systems can support the production of some 100 million COVID-19 tests per year.
CEO Anthony Lemmo recently spoke with Reuters and shared that he has received orders that would translate into roughly 500 million tests in the coming months. Despite this, current demand outstrips current supply, and this will only increase if at-home testing of asymptomatic patients receives regulatory approval. Yet, no company has been cleared to sell tests directly to consumers and the FDA continues to evaluate how results from antigen tests will be publicly reported to public health officials. As Mr. Lemmo recently shared with USA Today, “To just go to CVS and buy it without this information being collected, from an epidemiological point of view, feels like a big hole.”
Even after a vaccine is developed, testing will be critical to know how effective a vaccine is or will be. “The world now knows that diagnostics matter,” Mr. Lemmo told the Orange County Business Journal. As such, the diagnostics industry must continue to adapt and scale. In this piece in 360Dx, Mr. Lemmo predicts that in the first quarter of 2021 the industry will have ten times the testing capacity of what is available right now.