I took time out this week to listen to the tolling of the funeral bell at the Washington National Cathedral. The bell tolled 400 times, once for every 1,000 COVID deaths in the United States. The 12-ton bell creates a deep and somber tone, intended to help mourn but also celebrate the lives of the lost. The recording was accompanied by video of the paper doves that form the Les Colombes installation by artist Michael Pendry, which is located in the Cathedral’s nave. It’s likely that we’ll see another 150,000 deaths by summer unless something changes significantly.
To the relief of many, Inauguration Day passed without any serious incidents, with the new US president getting straight to the business of trying to manage the COVID pandemic. I’m interested to see if the tone at the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services changes, since nearly every email that I’ve received over the last several years had a headline or opening paragraph celebrating the administration’s accomplishments. I suspect the new leadership may be a little more humble, and hopefully they’re getting the right kinds of leaders in place to help steer the massive bureaucracy to a more functional and productive place.
Many healthcare organizations are holding their collective breath to see if there will be major changes to policy or additional federal funds targeted towards vaccine administration. From people I’ve spoken to who have boots on the ground across the country, administration continues to be chaotic. We’ve finally been able to get my family members scheduled — they range in age from 75 to 95 — but it remains to be seen whether there will be vaccines shipped and available for their scheduled appointments.
Speaking of vaccinations, two Michigan marijuana dispensaries are offering free joints to customers who are vaccinated for COVID-19. The Detroit Free Press reports on the “Pot for Shots” campaign and its attempt at “blunting the curve.” The participating locations are Greenhouse in Walled Lake and UBaked Cannabis of Burton. You have to love a business name that clearly defines the brand.
Back to the realm of healthcare IT, I had a chance to catch up with a friend this week. We were bouncing ideas around as far as what sectors of the market might actually be heating up. Although most of my friends on the vendor side say that none of their prospects or clients is in a buying mood, there are indications that there will be money to be made. Intel Chairman Omar Ishrak is building a $1 billion war chest for a special purpose acquisition company IPO to target health technology deals. Prior to Intel, he was at Medtronic, so he’s not a stranger to the marketplace. Goldman Sachs Group Inc. is putting together the IPO. It seems that lately we’ve been hearing a lot about SPACs and I suspect this will be one to watch.
I enjoyed reading the recent blog penned by my long-term crush Farzad Mostashari. Aledade’s premise is that primary care is the foundation of an effective health system, and that it must be strengthened if we are to deliver better patient care and lower healthcare costs. Since 2014, the company has expanded to 27 states.
The blog notes that shared savings payments have been a way for primary care practices to stay afloat while fee-for-service payments have dropped due to decreased volumes during the pandemic. Aledade hopes to grow that savings from $50 million last year, doubling it this year and tripling it for the next. Investors are taking note, resulting in a $100 million funding increase that will drive an ambitious agenda that includes a 50-state growth strategy, expanded remote patient monitoring, predictive analytics, continuation of telehealth, and upgrades to Aledade’s software. It’s exciting to watch a truly mission-driven company do well, and I wish them continued success.
The Office for Civil Rights of the US Department of Health & Human Services will not be imposing penalties for potential HIPAA violations when healthcare organizations use online or web-based scheduling applications as long as they are “used in good faith and only for the limited purpose of scheduling individual appointments for COVID-19 vaccinations during the COVID-19 nationwide public health emergency.” That’s good, because my employer was one of the potential violators. In order to try to rapidly schedule employees for the 300 doses of vaccine that we received (which had to be given within 36 hours of receipt, since it had already been thawing at another health system) they used the Calendly platform. The so-called “enforcement action” does not include appointment scheduling systems that connect directly to the EHR, but encourages healthcare providers and their business associates to continue to guard the security of protected health information.
HIMSS announces a new recognition program, the HIMSS Changemaker in Health Awards. The award recognizes “inspiring senior healthcare executives who rigorously challenge the status quo in their journey to build a brighter health future.” Recipients will be determined by peer voting and will receive a “symbol of recognition” as well as coverage in HIMSS publications and seminars. They also must agree to contribute to HIMSS content including articles, podcast interviews, and participation in webinars. I was surprised to see that candidates can nominate themselves. If you know someone who is making change, or think you’re hitting it out of the park yourself, nominations are open through February 16.
In COVID news, the internet is full of cures and treatments that haven’t necessarily been proven. I’m interested in further research on this one, which purports that chemical compounds found in dark chocolate may interfere with COVID virus replication. Researchers at North Carolina State University are continuing to investigate, although they note that no human trials have been conducted yet. I’ve already got at least one reason to want to visit the Carolinas, so I’m happy to volunteer as a research subject.
If you’ve been holding off on travel due to COVID, what’s the first place you’d like to visit? Leave a comment or email me.
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