Digital health round-up: Australian government proposes changes to MyHealth Record

As Australia signed in new prime minister Scott Morrison following a leadership coup, its beleaguered government is trying to stave off another crisis by publishing legislation designed to reassure the public over the security of its electronic health record system.

Australia wants to introduce an opt-out-based electronic health record system, known as MyHealth Record.

But there are concerns it would be too easy for law enforcement authorities to access the records, which would be kept for 30 years even if citizens asked for them to be deleted.

A new bill proposes that should someone ask for their record to be deleted, the agency will only be allowed to retain the citizen’s name and health identifier, and the name and identifier of the person who asked for the account to be cancelled – such as a parent, for example.

Under the amendments, records will only be accessed under a judicial order, reported the IT website The Register.

It also outlines conditions that would apply to the order: properly identifying whose data is sought, the information to be disclosed, the law enforcement agency asking for the data, and the purpose of the order.

But the Australian government is in turmoil, and it is unclear whether parliament will last long enough to consider the amendments.

Ada health app launches in Spanish and Portuguese

The most uninsured ethnic group in the US can now access health information via new Spanish and Portuguese versions of an artificial intelligence health app.

Ada, which was previously only available in English and German, is now also aimed at Hispanics, who represent the largest ethnic group in the US without health insurance.

As ownership of mobile phones is around 75% for adults in this population, the health app, which takes users through a series of questions and suggests possible diagnoses, could potentially reach millions of Spanish and Portuguese speakers.

According to the US Census Bureau, Hispanics are the least likely group to visit a doctor when unwell, often due to language, cultural and insurance issues.

But they are more likely than the white and black population to use a smartphone to obtain health-related information. In fact, 73% of Hispanic smartphone owners researched a health condition on their phone during the last year.

Hispanics, in general, tend to seek medical help only when a condition is severe. Ada, which builds knowledge on a user’s symptoms and allows them to be tracked, could help with earlier identification of potential conditions such as diabetes and arthritis.

Researchers use AI to learn ‘language’ of drug discovery

Researchers from Israel are the latest to show that AI and deep learning could make the drug discovery process more efficient, by getting a computer to learn the ‘vocabulary’ of drug discovery.

Increasingly, scientists are turning to computers to remove the element of chance from the drug discovery process.

Whereas in the past new drugs were serendipitously discovered, modern processes begin by screening many molecules and selecting those with the greatest therapeutic potential.

But with more molecules showing potential than there are stars in the galaxy, this is an enormous task.

However, in a study presented at the KDD 2018 conference in London this week researchers from Technion – Israel Institute of Technology demonstrated a new approach for generating therapeutic molecule candidates.

The working hypothesis is that drug development has a ‘vocabulary’ similar to that of a natural language.

The system’s co-developer Shaher Harel said that a system founding on AI and deep learning ‘acquired’ this language based on hundreds of thousands of molecules.

Top cardiologist joins Amazon’s health revolution

Maulik Majmudar

Amazon has hired top cardiologist Maulik Majmudar to help its venture into the healthcare sector.

At the beginning of the year Amazon joined with Berkshire Hathaway and JP Morgan to form a non-profit company to provide healthcare services for their employees.

The aim of the project is to bring down healthcare costs for the company’s employees.

The cardiologist announced his new role on Twitter on Monday, which will mean leaving his role as director of the healthcare transformation lab at Massachusetts General Hospital.

In a series of tweets, Majmudar thanked his colleagues, but said he had taken the role to make a difference to the lives of millions of people throughout the world.

Merck & Co launches diabetes app

Merck & Co has announced the US launch of a mobile app designed to help and enhance communications between diabetes patients and educators.

US-based Merck said the app known as map4health was developed as an extension of Journey for Control.

This collaboration between patient-engagement programme Healthy Interactions and Merck began in 2007.

Map4health made its debut at this week’s American Association of Diabetes Educators annual conference in Baltimore.

The app is designed as a platform to help improve the quality of diabetes patient support in between in-person coaching sessions. It enables patients to connect with educators through text and video-chat, as well as providing weekly digital activities to sustain patient engagement. Patients may choose to securely log health information that their educators are able to review and respond to within the platform.

Healthy Interactions and Merck, in collaboration with the American Diabetes Association, launched Journey for Control in 2007.

The aim of the project was to develop tools focused on lifestyle and behavioural change to help healthcare providers improve diabetes management for people living with the disease.

Merck, known as Merck, Sharp and Dohme (MSD) outside the US, markets several diabetes drugs, such as Januvia (sitagliptin), and the recently-approved Steglatro (ertugliflozin) as part of a partnership with Pfizer.

Like its other rivals in diabetes, Merck is trying to offer a range of digital side-offerings that aim to help patients with the condition.