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Walking the Fine Line between the Delivery of Health Care Services and Information/Educational Support

The explosion in digital health solutions that connect consumers with licensed health care providers (e.g., nurses, nutritionists, physicians) and laypersons who have certain informal training (e.g., wellness guide, lifestyle coach, outreach partner) has the potential to blur the lines between what constitutes the practice of a licensed health care profession and what does not (usually because the service is intended to be merely informational or educational). Why does it matter which side of the line a particular service falls on? If a service is one that is delivered by a licensed health care professional, there are various state laws and regulations that may govern the activity, and different potential causes of action that may apply in the event a consumer/patient is injured in the process.

  1. If a digital health solution connects a consumer to an individual who is engaged in an activity that is normally performed by a licensed health care professional, state laws and regulations governing health care professionals likely apply.

As background, state professional boards regulate individuals who deliver health care services to the public (e.g., nursing, psychology, medicine, phlebotomy). What falls within the definition of a specific health care service can be very broad and varies state to state.  (more…)




Digital Health Solutions are Key to Success under Health Care Payment Innovations

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.

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Digital Health’s Perfect Storm of Regulators

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.




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