Last Week in Health Tech: November 20, 2017

Written by Drew Rushmer on Nov 27, 2017 11:55:00 AM

While some might be worrying about their waistline after last week’s holiday, this column is a lot more concerned with the ever-growing list of healthcare technologies that just might impact your life directly—and no, the news does not pause to enjoy some pumpkin pie. With that, I welcome you, the intrepid readers of this blog, to...

(The Best of)
Last Week in Health Tech

If you've read even a single one of these columns, you know that the blockchain has loomed large over this landscape. That trend continued last week as the Huffington Post published an editorial about how the Biogerontology Research Foundation’s Chief Science Officer “discuss[ed] the potential of blockchain to decentralize and galvanize both healthcare [and] biomedical research". The author does a good job of comparing what the beginning of the year had to say for blockchain while also pointing to a new technical paper on the subject as a possible “roadmap” for its future in healthcare. The article is a bit long, but it's as readable as it is informative.  

According to the following article (and those to which it links), a letter from Congress to the department of Health and Human Services emphasized that one of the major ways HHS ought to try to minimize cybersecurity threats when it comes to medical devices (and technology in general) is by requiring a “bill of materials” (BOM). While it sounds a bit boring, this is a wonderful step forward because it prevent the kind of “black box” scenarios that have caused trouble in many industries from happening (or continuing to happen) in the medical industry. For those of you unfamiliar with what a “black box” system is, the term refers to how transparent any particular system or method is for accomplishing a task, with a “black box” being a system that is hidden entirely from the operator (this is bad, and exactly what the whole BOM system is designed to avoid). Ideally, that system is entirely transparent, as that transparency affords a greater level of development oversight and makes the system easier to secure.

However, as the article mentions, it can hardly be said that a BOM-based system would be a “silver bullet,” or that this will be even close to enough when it comes to cybersecurity for medical devices. The fact is that infrastructure, including medicine’s, is currently just as open (and in some cases moreso) to attack from the same kinds of sophisticated malware that has already been used to digitally attack other industries. In short, the letter is a great first step in the right direction, but it alone will not be enough. The piece does a decent job of highlighting some of the serious cybersecurity issues that even transparent technology still faces. Perhaps because of that fact, the news popped up more than once.

It would also seem that the topic of Electronic Health Records (EHRs) is as inescapable as news about the blockchain. This time, the article in question takes a look at what the author calls “being able to track the spread of disease in hospitals” one of the “benefits” of EHRs. Please don’t forget that other arguments, specifically one from last week, had an almost diametrically opposed viewpoint—which is to say that while we have one point of view arguing that the ability of EHRs to gather metadata is not only good but in fact useful, last week we read that the “warehousing” of data within EHRs (including metadata that could otherwise be aggregated and analysed) is responsible for slowing hospitals down. In other words, the debate rages on and, as is all too often the case, Congress is way behind.  

On the other side of the pond, there came articles about the NHS’s use of digital health records to help academic hospitals as well as regular care facilities by combining the technology with other innovations to simplify what they call “informatics,” or what Americans might call “logistics.”

One of the drawbacks to technology that we have already discussed is that “high” technology is often very costly. No doubt you have also seen large sums of money in the form of investments, grants, and other funding going to various healthcare-related technological projects. This opinion piece, though, attempts to answer the following question: is it technology driving spending, or the other way around?

Finally, the week before last brought us all kinds of news about the digital pill, and although we have not received any new information about the breakthrough beyond what we have already reported, there have been a myriad of opinion pieces offering to tell you just why the new pill is just about the greatest thing since sliced bread. More interestingly, though, is the counter-piece published on Fortune Magazine’s website that argues that the so-called “digital pill” is nothing more than yet another “example of the limits of technology in health care.”

The Rest of the Best

  • At the seventh World Health Students’ Symposium, which kicked off last week in Kigali, Rwanda, technology was once again promoted as the best means to deliver better service more efficiently and to a greater area.
  • Another editorial out of the UK’s Huffington Post argued that the citizens of Britain should be “glad” because the National Health Service (NHS) is “embracing new technology.
  • One article on the web shone a light on why we should expect to see more robotic surgical instruments entering hospitals, by and large because they have become more affordable.
  • We heard more about the “concierge” medical service model, but thankfully this article is at least up front about the fact that only the top one percent or so of the income bracket will actually be able to use said services. In fact, the article is even entitled, “For the One Percent, the Latest In Comfort Are Concierge Services.”
  •, a company that used to provide only an app for these purposes, is now moving fully into the area of digital integration of personal metadata into health modeling.
  • “The Information Age” website had an interesting piece about the move of medical software to the cloud, where services are “on-demand” and can therefore help manage costs. For instance, think of a service that’s very expensive and rarely used—but in the one case it is used, it is life-saving. As a service-on-demand, any local hospital might be able to afford said life-saving service, where under the previous model, every local hospital would have required not just a connection to the cloud, but would have had to own their own apparatus.
  • In more about AI, the Digital Journal published a piece about China’s ambitions in the area, including the AI they are already using.
  • GPS needs to a be a part of the “tech revolution in healthcare.”
  • Johns Hopkins is welcoming innovators to their conference, whose main thrust is “engineering the future of health care.”
  • The BioMedDevice medical conference will be back in San Jose this year, with iFixit’s CEO Kyle Wiems there to speak about the “right to repair” while he tears an iPhone 8 to pieces in front of the crowd. (For those unaware, iFixit is a service and website that helps users with the proper know-how to make basic repairs to sensitive electronics that tend to break).
  • One article looks back at the “Compamed and Medica” tradeshow, which included around five thousand vendors and over 120,000 attendees. Not much news there, but a decent look at a very large and complex conference.

And the Award Goes to

The “Ability Network” was named the overall Winner at 18th Annual Tekne Awards


That's it for this week. 'Til next time, happy reading!

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Drew Rushmer

Written by Drew Rushmer

Drew Rushmer is a writer reporting on IT and healthcare news. He is also a philosophy and literature nerd, which fuels his passion for writing on the web.

Topics: Health Tech

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