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What you missed while we've been talking about Ebola

October 20, 2014

    Dan Diamond, Executive Editor

    Ebola isn't the only story in health care.

    (It just feels that way.) 

    If you're looking for Ebola coverage, well, we've got plenty of it. But plenty of other important news last week flew under the radar as the health care industry, and much of the United States, focused their attentions on the Ebola outbreak.

    Here's a quick roundup of some of the most important industry news from the past week—a mix that includes reports to Congress, reports to Wall Street, and some of the most innovative health care developments that caught our eye on the Daily Briefing.

    From the policy world

    ONC report outlines industry-wide interoperability issues

    An annual report from the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT to Congress found that while electronic health record adoption has soared, the information those records track isn't getting shared. "Electronic health information is not yet sufficiently standardized to allow seamless interoperability, as it is still inconsistently expressed through technical and medical vocabulary, structure, and format," the report reads. That limits "the potential uses of the information to improve health and care."

    CMS has unveiled a new kind of ACO

    Responding to some feedback—and some dropouts from the Pioneer program—CMS last week announced that it would roll out a new "pre-paid shared savings" model intended to help new ACOs form in underserved areas and existing ACOs move into arrangements that bring more financial risk.

    Supreme Court makes significant ruling on Texas abortion law

    The Supreme Court last week issued a stay on parts of a Texas antiabortion-rights law, allowing more than a dozen abortion facilities in the state to reopen while court challenges continue.

    Will the ACA lead to overcrowded emergency departments? UCLA study says no

    One of the biggest fears from the Affordable Care Act is that the law's coverage expansion will end up swamping providers and hospital EDs, as newly insured individuals rush to get overdue health care. And early findings from the Oregon Health Insurance Experiment bore that out: Researchers determined that when uninsured people got covered by Medicaid, there was a notable uptick in utilization.

    But a new UCLA study on early Medicaid expansion in California suggests that's not always the case; yes, there's a short-term surge for these patients given pent-up demand, but their rate of using the ED levels off within a year.

    On health care innovation

    Google partners with Scripps on a 'talk to a doctor now' feature

    This is an intriguing innovation: If you're in certain California or Massachusetts markets, searching for a medical symptom on Google (say, "food poisoning") will prompt users with an option to "talk with a doctor now."

    Walmart ups its plans: 17 primary-care clinics by the end of 2014

    Walmart had said it planned to open about a dozen primary-care clinics by the end of the year, but the strategy appears to be going well; the giant retailer said last week that it's increased its target to 17 clinics.

    No link—we haven't written on this yet. (One of the stories that got put off because of the Ebola coverage.) But you can read some background on Walmart's other health moves: The plan behind Walmart's primary-care clinic strategy and their stated goal to be "the #1 health care provider in the industry." 

    Clinical news

    Researchers create 'Alzheimer's in a petri dish'

    A fascinating breakthrough that could accelerate drug tests: Researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital have grown "Alzheimer's in a dish" from embryonic stem cells. According to the study's lead researcher, the new discovery will allow scientists to "test hundreds of thousands of drugs in a matter of months." 

    Cell therapy brings leukemia patients from near death to remission

    Another interesting finding from researchers at University of Pennsylvania Health System and CHOP concerns research into acute lymphoblastic leukemia. The therapy's designed to genetically trick a patient's immune system into attacking leukemia cells—and early trials suggest it's working, researchers report in NEJM.

    On Wall Street

    HCA sees a bigger 2014 than originally expected

    In a preview of its Q4 earnings, HCA last week said that it's having a stronger 2014 than expected, thanks largely to a volumes uptick. (Same-facility admissions increased 2.8% year-over-year in Q3, for instance.) For-profit hospital stocks are having a banner year, overall.

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