Morning Rounds Shraddha Chakradhar

Bill to raise tobacco purchase age to 21 gets a markup & other D.C. events 

It’s a busy day in the capital today. A subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee will mark up several pieces of health legislation. One bill proposes raising the minimum age for purchasing tobacco products to 21 and prohibiting e-cigarette makers from advertising or marketing their products to those under that age. Also under consideration: a bill to improve maternal health in rural areas and reduce racial disparities among pregnant women. 

Speaking of e-cigarettes, the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee is holding a hearing to examine the response to the ongoing spike in lung illnesses related to vaping. Anne Schuchat, principal deputy director of the CDC, will be among the witnesses. 

Finally, the House Small Business Committee will discuss the looming shortage of doctors and how they can be trained to leverage telemedicine and other new technologies to address any coverage gaps. 

HHS probing Google’s 'Project Nightingale' 

HHS is investigating whether Google followed the federal privacy law HIPAA when it collected millions of patient records through a partnership with nonprofit hospital chain Ascension, according to a new Wall Street Journal report. Called “Project Nightingale,” the new initiative gave Google the ability to analyze personal health information, including names and birth dates that Ascension compiled, with the goal of delivering more personalized medical treatment. Patients and physicians were not informed of this project, the Journal reports, even though Ascension said some clinicians and nurses were involved. HHS’ Office of Civil Rights, which is conducting the probe, is seeking “to learn more information about this mass collection of individuals’ medical records,” and whether HIPAA protections were implemented, the office’s director told the Journal. Google said that it was happy to answer questions but believes that HIPAA regulations were followed. 

New report finds lung cancer survival has gotten better in the past 10 years

The American Lung Association’s first "State of Lung Cancer"report shows that survival in the U.S. has improved by 26% over the past decade. Here’s more: 

  • Overall trends: More than 228,000 people will be diagnosed with lung cancer this year. The five-year survival rate for lung cancer is now around 22%. 

  • State-level trends: Utah has the lowest rates of the disease, while Kentucky has the highest. Five-year survival rates range from 26% in Connecticut to 17% in Alabama.   

  • Diagnosis and treatment: Early stage diagnosis was highest in Wyoming — at 23% — but around 17% in Alaska. Surgery, which makes lung cancer more curable, was the first course of treatment for 31% of Massachusetts patients, and for 14% of those in New Mexico.

Inside STAT: How Silicon Valley's digital health firms rely on faraway coaches 


Digital health companies are all the rage now. They tout using machine learning and other AI techniques to help patients with chronic illness monitor their conditions and flag individuals for more intervention. But what’s less obvious is that for all the tech talk, these companies rely on a steady army of “health coaches” — real people who are far away from the patients they’re helping stay on track. Take the example of Omada Health. Investors rave about the sleek monitoring devices for patients and the millions of data points the company collects to keep tabs on patient behavior, but the whole operation would fall apart without Houston-based DJ Moberly and others who spend much of their days exchanging messages with Omada patients, including encouraging them to eat healthfully. STAT’s Rebecca Robbins has more here

Universities form new venture to tackle brain diseases 

The University of California, San Francisco, UC Berkeley, and the University of Washington just launched a new initiative aimed at better understanding disorders that affect the brain and nervous system. The program — called the Weill Neurohub after a $106 million gift from the Weill Family Foundation — will bring together researchers from beyond neuroscience, including engineering, physics, mathematics, and computer science, as well as experts from the Department of Energy’s 17 national laboratories. The leaders of the Neurohub have deemed four scientific areas to be “pillars” of the new endeavor: imaging, engineering, genomics and molecular therapeutics, and computation and data analytics. Projects underway at the three institutions — including the development of a new, higher-resolution MRI and designing CRISPR-based therapies for movement and eye disorders — may also feed into work for the Neurohub. 

Planned Parenthood launches digital ‘abortion provider’ tool

Planned Parenthood just launched a new tool to connect people to abortion providers closest to them. Called “Abortion Care Finder,” the digital tool asks users to provide their age and ZIP code to generate a list of Planned Parenthood clinics that perform abortions. The list also specifies whether a clinic offers abortion pills or in-clinic procedures as well as any state requirements that may need to be met before procuring an abortion — some states mandate two trips to the clinic, while others require underage patients to also involve a parent. In a statement, Planned Parenthood said that the tool was created in response to “mounting state restrictions on abortion,” noting that many states have only one abortion provider and several states this year have attempted to ban early-term abortions. 

What to read around the web today

  • Meet Limo Chen, STAT 2019 Wunderkind. STAT
  • More South Korean academics caught naming kids as co-authors. Nature
  • Paradise Drug, an old-time pharmacy, held on after the Camp Fire, until now. San Francisco Chronicle
  • Facing ‘certain death,’ boy with vaping injury gets double lung transplant. New York Times
  • Down on the body farm: Unlocking the forensic secrets of decaying corpses. Undark

Thanks for reading! More tomorrow,


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Wednesday, November 13, 2019


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