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

1. SDOH initiatives on the horizon

Is pouring money and resources into social determinants of health a good investment? Innovative hospitals and healthcare systems seem to think so. That’s why Massachusetts General Hospital launched HAVEN to help victims of domestic violence. The program helps connect survivors to community services such as counseling, legal counsel, support groups and language aid.

It’s a great start, but experts say more needs to be done. Technology, for instance, can’t solve all problems, but it can help. In a Health Affairs blog post, Karen DeSalvo, former national coordinator for health information technology, and Mark Savage, director of health policy for the Center of Digital Health Information, recalled a 2015 roadmap published by the Office of the National Coordinator (ONC). The plan suggests the steps needed to implement a nationwide health learning system by 2024.

“This system would be capable of improving individual and population health, empowering consumers, driving innovation, addressing health disparities, advancing precision medicine, and supporting value-based care and reimbursement,” they said. The system would require application programming interfaces (APIs) to access and connect health data on a national level.

2. Fitbit offers new custom-fit services

Fitbit lovers, take note — the wearables company now offers coaching and personalized insights. It’s part of a premium subscription service for the company’s 27.3 million users. The service will cost $10 a month or $80 annually. Fitbit Care, a connected platform for health plans, employers and health systems, will also offer the premium service.

Fitbit also plans to provide one-on-one coaching beginning in 2020. Coaches will help consumers manage chronic conditions such as heart disease and diabetes. James Park, Fitbit’s CEO and co-founder, believes his fitness tracking devices can close gaps in care management. “We want to remove the barriers to good health, which include inaccessibility and lack of engagement,” he said.

3. Traveling abroad? Get an MMR boost

If you’re a Gen X-er or millennial born between 1970 and 1989, you may need a second round of the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine (MMR). Scientists didn’t realize two doses were more effective than one until 1989. But many adults in their 30s and 40s don’t remember if they got a second dose. Public health officials suggest anyone in that age range who plans to travel abroad should be concerned. The number of measles cases continues to rise across the globe. Bulgaria, for example, has had 800 cases so far this year, according to the World Health Organization.

If you can get your hands on your childhood health records, check for two doses of MMR. If you can’t or you don’t see a second dose, talk to your healthcare provider. He or she may recommend getting a blood test to check for antibodies to measles. Unfortunately, these blood tests aren’t always reliable. A safer bet may be to go ahead and get the vaccine. It’s safe and triggers minimal side effects.

4. How hospitals prepare for hurricanes

Hurricane Dorian obliterated the Bahamas earlier this week and then cast a menacing eye on the southeastern United States. The dreary forecast forced hospitals to go into emergency plan mode. Here’s what some of those emergency plans look like:

  • Hospitals must decide if all of their patients and staff will stay put or evacuate. A Savannah hospital chose to transfer newborns from its neonatal unit to Atlanta hospitals.
  • Hospital staff must move supplies and equipment to higher floors in case of flooding.
  • Healthcare providers discharge patients who are ready to go home.
  • Hospitals cancel elective surgeries.
  • Security is amped up to curb looting and vandalism.
  • Many health systems have an A team on hand and a B team on standby to relieve the A team.

5. Employers increase wellness benefits

It’s a great time to be an employee. Over 80 percent of employers plan on raising their health and wellness budgets this year. Why? Because investing in employee health triggers less absenteeism and more presenteeism, attracts and retains talent, and boosts morale.

Employers are also using digital technology and fitness or activity devices to engage employees. Plus, they’re looking at finding ways to address additional issues such as mental and behavioral concerns, women’s health services and telemedicine.

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