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Bernadette M. Broccolo has been counseling health industry organizations for more than 37 years on leading-edge health industry relationship formation and realignments. Her areas of concentration include privacy, technology contracting, corporate governance, human subject protection and federal taxation of exempt organizations. Bernadette speaks and writes frequently on emerging health care topics of importance to her clients and the industry. Read Bernadette Broccolo's full bio.

On September 29, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) formally announced a December 12th workshop on informational injury—the injury a consumer suffers when information about them is misused. The workshop will address questions such as, how to characterize and measure such injury and what factors businesses and consumers should consider the benefits and risks of collecting, using and providing personal information so as to gain further perspective for how the FTC should apply its legal framework for privacy and security enforcement under 15 USC § 45 (Section 5). In her September 19th remarks to the Federal Communications Bar Association, Commissioner Maureen Ohlhausen, the Acting Chairman of the FTC, metaphorically characterized the workshop’s purpose as providing the next brushstrokes on the unfinished enforcement landscape the FTC is painting on its legal framework canvas. The full list of specific questions to be addressed may be accessed here.

Background. The FTC views itself as the primary US enforcer of data privacy and security, a role it recently assumed. While the FTC’s enforcement against practices causing informational injury through administrative proceedings goes back as far as 2002, its ability to pursue corporate liability for data security and privacy practices under its Section 5 “unfair or deceptive trade practices” jurisdiction was only ratified in 2015 by the US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit in FTC v. Wyndham Worldwide Corporation. The FTC has actively invoked its enforcement authority but, in doing so, has been selective in determining which consumer informational injuries to pursue by questioning the strength of evidence connecting problematic practices with the injury, examining the magnitude of the injury and inquiring as to whether the injury is imminent or has been realized. Continue Reading Upcoming FTC Workshop on Informational Harm | Next Brushstrokes on the FTC’s Consumer Privacy and Security Enforcement Canvas

The Final Rule published by the US Department of Health and Human Services on January 18, 2017, largely avoids major modifications to the Common Rule. However, it specifically addresses creation of biospecimen and data repositories and use of those repositories for secondary research. All stakeholders involved in federally funded research should be aware of the Final Rule’s changes and prepare to implement them.

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Digital health—the intersection of health care related software applications, analytical tools, medical device technology and electronic data assets that are enabled and achieved through the use of the internet and hand-held devices—is empowering the innovation needed to meet the imperative for a transition from payment based on volume to payment based on value that is evaluated in terms of measurable improvements in care delivery and population health.

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One prominent example is the use of digital health solutions to implement the payment innovation contemplated by the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act (known as MACRA)—which directly ties both payment increases and reductions to various, specific efficiency and value measures. The Merit-Based Incentive Payment System (MIPS), one of the two available payment pathways under MACRA, assigns points to clinicians in different performance categories, several of which promote the adoption of digital health solutions. To illustrate:

  • The Quality category requires six measures to be reported, many of which may be leveraged through the use of digital health tools. For example, the Maternity Care: Post-Partum Follow-Up and Care Coordination measure tracks the percentage of patients who were seen for post-partum care within eight weeks of giving birth who received particular evaluations, screening and education. Obstetricians, gynecologists and family medicine practitioners could earn points under this measure by using telemedicine technologies, like videoconferencing platform, to engage in virtual patient visits with post-partum patients to answer the patient’s questions, provide education on the recovery process and assess the patient’s physical and mental health status, including the performance of mandatory post-partum depression screenings.
  • The Advancing Care Information category requires the use of certified electronic health record technology to coordinate care through patient engagement (g., secure messaging). The implementation of patient portals with integrated messaging platforms facilitate communication between the patient and health care practitioner, providing additional functionalities like sending reminders, engaging in dialogue about follow-up care, encouraging preventative action and distributing educational materials. These portals typically also give the patient access to timely and informative data, like test results, that allow the patient to play a role in decision making and (hopefully) empower the well-informed consumption of care.
  • The Clinical Practice Improvement category is perhaps the best opportunity for digital health integration. Activities that improve beneficiary engagement, population management, expanded practice access and care coordination—among others—are assigned points and weighted. Here, mobile apps have the capability to enable e-visits via videoconference as an alternative method to an in-person visit; facilitate questionnaire reporting; and send reminders, materials and other notifications to alert and educate patients about services due. The apps also provide opportunities to generally inform the delivery of care for the specific patient by sending alerts to providers to indicate that it’s time for a visit or that a problematic symptom was noted on a questionnaire. Further, clinical practices could leverage app-sourced data to gain information about patient trends, clinical areas of concern or successes related to digital health tool utilization.

For additional examples and insights on how digital health tools will be necessary for a successful transition to alternative payment schemes, please read Managing the Transition to Transformation: Digital Health Solutions: Essential Ingredients in Alternative Health Care Delivery and Payment Innovations.

Both developers and users of digital health solutions face both immense opportunities and daunting challenges. One key challenge is compliance with the often complex state and federal laws and regulations adopted by the numerous regulatory bodies responsible for overseeing different aspects of digital health. The following illustration identifies the numerous regulatory bodies that have been increasingly focused on the use of technology in healthcare and are expected to continue their focus and enforcement activities in the coming years.

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Because innovation is moving faster than the law in this area, in-house counsel and compliance officers must be prepared to identify and manage the myriad compliance and liability risk considerations arising from participation in and use of digital health tools. This will require an understanding of how each of these regulatory bodies oversees and regulates digital health today and close monitoring of how that evolves and changes in the future.

Health care providers, patients and consumers should approach the selection and use of digital health advancements with a reasonable degree of caution. As AMA CEO James L. Madara, MD, advised in his address at the recently concluded 2016 AMA Annual Meeting, “…. Appearing in disguise among these positive products are other digital so-called advancements that do not have an appropriate evidence base … or that just do not work well or that actually impede care, confuse patients and waste our time … from ineffective electronic health records to an explosion of direct-to-consumer digital health products to apps, some of which are of poor quality.” In this regard, providers would be well served by performing sufficient “due diligence” to determine whether the functionality of the digital health tool effectively meets their specific clinical and operational needs, as well as the needs of their patients, and to evaluate the developer’s compliance with applicable laws and regulations.