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Is Amazon Ready To Protect Patient Data?

Posted on July 6, 2018 I Written By

Anne Zieger is a healthcare journalist who has written about the industry for 30 years. Her work has appeared in all of the leading healthcare industry publications, and she's served as editor in chief of several healthcare B2B sites.

Late last month, a Connecticut woman found out that a third-party Amazon vendor she had done business with had exposed her personal medical data to the world, including her medical conditions, along with her name, birthdate and emergency contact information.

The story suggests that Amazon engaged in a bit of bureaucratic foot shuffling when called on the privacy lapse. According to the woman, an Amazon call center rep told her it would investigate the issue, but a further email told her they would not be able to release the outcome of this investigation. It’s little wonder she wasn’t satisfied.

Ultimately, it appears that she was only able to get immediate action once she contacted the third-party seller, which took the photos containing the information down promptly upon her request.

Though no small matter for the woman involved, the episode means little for the future of Amazon, in and of itself. However, it does suggest that the marriage of Amazon technology and healthcare data may pose unexpected problems.

For those who have been sleeping under a rock, in late June Amazon announced that it had acquired online pharmacy PillPack for what reports say was just under $1 billion. PillPack, which competes with services delivered by giants like CVS, lets users buy their meds in pre-made doses. News stories suggest that Amazon beat out fellow retail giant Walmart in making the buy, which should close the second half of this year.

Without a doubt, this was a banner day in the history of Amazon, which has officially stamped into healthcare in 10-ton boots. The deal could not only mark the beginning of new era for the retailer, but also the healthcare industry, which hasn’t yet seen a tech company take a lead in any consumer-facing healthcare business.

That being said, perhaps a more important question for readers of this publication is how it will manage data generated by PillPack, a store likely to grow exponentially as Amazon integrates the online pharmacy into its ecosystem.

While there are obviously many good things its staggering fulfillment and logistics capabilities can bring to PillPack, Amazon’s otherwise amazing systems weren’t built to protect patient health information.

When it comes to most any other company, I’d imagine these problems could be addressed by layering HIPAA-compliant technologies and policies over its existing infrastructure. However, given the widely distributed nature of its retail network, it’s not just a matter of rethinking some architecture. Sealing off health data could require completely transforming its approach to doing business. Just about every retail transaction could prove a chink in its armor.

Since it wasn’t itself required to meet HIPAA standards in this instance, Amazon won’t get any flack from regulators over the recent PHI exposure. Still, issues like this could undercut the trust it needs to integrate PillPack into its core business successfully.

If nothing else, Amazon had better put a strong PHI protection policy in place on its retail side. Otherwise, it could undermine the business it just spent almost $1 billion to buy.

CVS Launches Analytics-Based Diabetes Mgmt Program For PBMs

Posted on December 29, 2016 I Written By

Anne Zieger is a healthcare journalist who has written about the industry for 30 years. Her work has appeared in all of the leading healthcare industry publications, and she's served as editor in chief of several healthcare B2B sites.

CVS Health has launched a new diabetes management program for its pharmacy benefit management customers designed to improve diabetes outcomes through advanced analytics.  The new program will be available in early 2017.

The CVS program, Transform Diabetes Care, is designed to cut pharmacy and medical costs by improving diabetics’ medication adherence, A1C levels and health behaviors.

CVS is so confident that it can improve diabetics’ self-management that it’s guaranteeing that percentage increases in spending for antidiabetic meds will remain in the single digits – and apparently that’s pretty good. Or looked another way, CVS contends that its PBM clients could save anywhere from $3,000 to $5,000 per year for each member that improves their diabetes control.

To achieve these results, CVS is using analytics tools to find specific ways enrolled members can better care for themselves. The pharmacy giant is also using its Health Engagement Engine to find opportunities for personalized counseling with diabetics. The counseling sessions, driven by this technology, will be delivered at no charge to enrolled members, either in person at a CVS pharmacy location or via telephone.

Interestingly, members will also have access to diabetes visit at CVS’s Minute Clinics – at no out-of-pocket cost. I’ve seen few occasions where CVS seems to have really milked the existence of Minute Clinics for a broader purpose, and often wondered where the long-term value was in the commodity care they deliver. But this kind of approach makes sense.

Anyway, not surprisingly the program also includes a connected health component. Diabetics who participate in the program will be offered a connected glucometer, and when they use it, the device will share their blood glucose levels with a pharmacist-led team via a “health cloud.” (It might be good if CVS shared details on this — after all, calling it a health cloud is more than a little vague – but it appears that the idea is to make decentralized patient data sharing easy.) And of course, members have access to tools like medication refill reminders, plus the ability to refill a prescription via two-way texting, via the CVS Pharmacy.

Expect to see a lot more of this approach, which makes too much sense to ignore. In fact, CVS itself plans to launch a suite of “Transform Care” programs focused on managing expensive chronic conditions. I can only assume that its competitors will follow suit.

Meanwhile, I should note that while I expect to see providers launch similar efforts, so far I haven’t seen many attempts. That may be because patient engagement technology is relatively new, and probably pretty expensive too. Still, as value-based care becomes the dominant payment model, providers will need to get better at managing chronic diseases systematically. Perhaps, as the CVS effort unfolds, it can provide useful ideas to consider.

CVS’s New Mobile App Makes Refilling Prescriptions Easy

Posted on April 1, 2013 I Written By

Katie Clark is originally from Colorado and currently lives in Utah with her husband and son. She writes primarily for Smart Phone Health Care, but contributes to several Health Care Scene blogs, including EMR Thoughts, EMR and EHR, and EMR and HIPAA. She enjoys learning about Health IT and mHealth, and finding ways to improve her own health along the way.

CVS has really upped the standards for other pharmacies and drug stores with the recent release of it’s iPad app. Basically, by logging into the app, you see a virtual CVS. While it has a lot of non-medical uses, that are actually pretty cool, there are two parts of the CVS app I want to to feature. First off, I just think this app looks neat. The only time I’ve been in a CVS was when I was in North Carolina last summer First, the pharmacy center. When you pull it up on the app, it looks just like you stepped up to the front desk at a pharmacy. Here are a few of the features of the pharmacy center:

  • Scan your Refill: Just scan the barcode on any prescription, and it will show up in your queue to refill it
  • Manage presciriptions for yourself and your family from the tablet.
  • Use the Rapid Refill feature to refill your common prescriptions
  • You can “grab” your prescriptions that have been saved and quickly refill them

The other health-related features is the MinuteClinic. This basically provides information about the walk-in clinics that are located inside of CVS stores. When you go here in the app,  you can do the following things:

  • Find the nearest clinic and its hours
  • Check out what services are offered and what the costs are
  • Check to see if your insurance is accepted

I’m a very visual person, which is why I like this app. Even though it’s all virtual, and you aren’t actually going up to the counter, it kind of makes it more fun. This is definitely a great app for anyone that really uses the services at CVS on a regular basis. It’s definitely a lot easier to use than some of the websites I’ve seen different pharmacies creating.

The app is free and can be downloaded for the iPad here.

CVS Joins Google Health

Posted on April 9, 2009 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 10 blogs containing over 8000 articles with John having written over 4000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 16 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

The more I consider what Google Health and Microsoft HealthVault are doing, the more I think that they just might have found the real solution to interoperable health records. I’m still holding out final judgment, but I’m really impressed with some of the things there doing.

For example, Techcrunch reported that Google Health just recently partnered with CVS for Google Health to connect with CVS to try and create a comprehensive pharmacy history. Considering Google had previously signed up Longs Drugs and Walgreens, Google is making good head way towards this goal. No doubt Google Health is also in discussions with Wal-Mart and Target, two of the other major players in this space.

Of course, the next step is to get patients to actually start adopting this technology. I can’t see many pharmacists pushing this feature. In fact, I’m guessing this might be an annoyance for them to have to support. Patients are going to have to force the issue if they want to use this. At least until there’s widespread adoption.

We’ll also leave the privacy issues of these connections for another day as well. Either way, these types of partnerships are like gold for Google Health. It creates a good foundation to build their product. I just still like to see more connections with EHR software vendors. I haven’t seen as many of those happening as I’d like to see.