A roundup of the week’s top healthcare technology news.

1. Alexa: What’s my heart rate?

Need to monitor your blood sugar or track your blood pressure? Ask Alexa. Amazon’s virtual assistant can accomplish simple healthcare tasks — and so much more. Alexa is now able to send and receive patient health records, opening the doors for healthcare companies to serve consumers with information and treatments at home. Alexa can also pick up on agonal breathing, the type of breathing associated with cardiac arrest.

Amazon thinks Alexa may help healthcare providers diagnose conditions such as mental illness and Parkinson’s. The device may even be able to enter medical information into electronic health records, freeing up providers to focus on patient interaction during doctor visits.

2. Kaiser discovers high spending trends

High healthcare spending continues for longer periods for people with particular diagnoses, shows a Kaiser Family Foundation study. Big spenders include patients with HIV, cystic fibrosis and multiple sclerosis, all diseases that are expensive to manage. “Their extensive healthcare needs and predictably high spending make them an important focus for any efforts to improve value and quality,” Kaiser researchers wrote.

Patients with costly health needs who spend healthcare dollars over consecutive years spent an average of $88K per person in a single year, the report revealed. “While not everyone with these conditions has persistently high spending, knowing that there are large shares with persistently high spending within these disease groups helps us better understand where some of the most significant health needs and costs are concentrated,” stated the report.

3. Lawmakers propose first bill to address SDOH

Congress recently joined the social determinants of health movement by proposing a partnership between government agencies. Lawmakers led by Reps. Cheri Bustos (D-Ill) and Tom Cole (R-Okla) have introduced a bill called Social Determinants Accelerator Plans that will fund efforts with $25 million in grant money.

Lawmakers would like to see the plans manage food, housing and transportation for individuals on Medicaid such as the homeless, elderly nursing home patients, moms with postpartum depression and rural residents. Aligning for Health is the group behind the legislation, which includes the American Hospital Association, the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association, Humana, Molina and UPMC.

4. Geo data can help target SDOH

Geography may help healthcare organizations manage social determinants of health (SDOH) in their communities. But what geographical data should they use?Many healthcare agencies rely on zip code data to inform their SDOH strategies, but other sources exist. Typically, smaller geographical units equal more targeted population groups. Here’s a look at the pros and cons of select geographies gathered by Xtelligent Healthcare Media:


Pros: national comparisons, trackable trends, large-scale resource distribution

Cons: too broad, different reporting standards per state


Pros: in-state comparisons, national hot spot identification

Cons: too broad, meaningless for small states with few counties

Zip code

Pros: in-state comparisons, available data from patient records

Cons: changing boundaries, population variability

Census tract

Pros: in-town comparisons, similar population

Cons: tedious mapping

Census block/block groups

Pros: in-town comparisons, similar population

Cons: tedious mapping

5. New apps make shopping for benefits easy

Shopping for benefits? There’s an app for that. Emerging tech platforms will offer everything from insurance options to easier ways to manage wellness and coverage. Apps can provide employees with more information to help them make better choices for their benefits, spending, and ultimately, their care.

Up-and-coming apps will also be available for human resource departments to engage employees in their searches for coverage. Benefits managers of large companies may partner with tech companies and a consultant to communicate with and educate employees about their options. Smaller companies may need to rely on outside organizations with built-in tech platforms.



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