Wednesday, January 21, 2009

New Technologies and Old Laws: Square Pegs in Round Holes

I sit in a lot of meetings where I people discuss how new health information and technology will fit into existing policy and law. Many of these discussions go over my head, as they are bogged down in minutiae of law and policy far beyond my ken. I have often assumed that these discussions are important, perhaps even necessary, as our system of law is built on precedent, reaching back into the past to inform the future.

And then I read something like this.

New President Barack Obama will have to give up his Blackberry. The entire White House Staff can’t Instant Message. Eight years ago, President Bush sent a message to 42 friends and relatives right before assuming office explaining that he had to give up email. I know what I will say to them if they ever try to come for my iPhone; it’s not fit for print and involves my cold, dead fingers.

Why? It has to do with something called the Presidential Records Act. It turns out that all of the documents that come into contact with a President and Presidency need to be preserved and one day made public. Don’t get me wrong, I understand the importance of such a law, and I am all in favor of it. But even that law recognized that there had to be exceptions. Presidents, and their staff, do need to keep some things private. Conversations aren’t all recorded; neither are telephone calls.

Personally, I hate to talk on the phone. So, given the chance, I will use email, text messaging, or even Instant Messaging to talk to friends and colleagues. For me, and many others, it’s faster, it’s easier, and it’s preferable. I can tell you that I would be much less productive professionally, and much less happy personally, if you told me I had to stop.

Here’s the problem. The Presidential Records Act was written in 1978. No Blackberries. No Instant Messaging. No email. It is simply ridiculous that President Obama can’t have a Blackberry and David Axelrod can’t Instant Message because of a law written thirty years ago. We shouldn’t have to figure out how to make these new technologies fit into law that couldn’t predict them. We need new law.

Which brings us back to health technology. Those old laws and old policies – they too were often written in a time when the issues and difficulties we face today were simply incomprehensible.

It may be just as unreasonable to think that we can use them to inform what we should do today. Sometimes, precedent isn’t enough.

We shouldn’t have to figure out how to make these new technologies fit into policies that couldn’t predict them. We need new policies.

Aaron E. Carroll

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Ethics and Health Information Technology: Kenneth W. Goodman, PhD

Join us on January 29th from 12 - 1 PM for Kenneth W. Goodman's discussion: "Ethics and Health Information Technology: New Challenges in Clinical Care and Research in a Pharmacogenomic World" [Flyer, 71 KB - PDF ]

In addition to being a widely recognized expert on the ethical issues of information technology, Goodman is co-director of the University of Miami’s Ethics Programs and founder and director of its Bioethics Program and Pan American Bioethics Initiative. The Ethics Programs have recently been designated a World Health Organization Collaborating Center in Ethics and Global Health Policy, one of four such centers in the world and the only one in the United States.

Goodman notes, in an abstract for this presentation, that the intersection of ethics, computing, and medicine is transformative. He expects "this transformation will continue and acquire greater urgency in a post-genomic, evidence-based world, as digitized genetic data introduces new challenges for clinicians, researchers and policy makers."

This is truly a timely topic; so, join us in Room 1110 of the HITS Building, 410 W. 10th Street, Indianapolis, Indiana. - J.O.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Personalized Medicine: PredictER Collaborator Featured in NY Times

David A Flockhart, MD, PhD, Division Chief of the IU Department of Medicine’s Division of Clinical Pharmacology and PredictER Collaborator, was featured in a December 29th New York Times article that is part of a compelling series examining steps taken toward medicine based on evidence. The article, Patient’s DNA May Be Signal to Tailor Medicine, provides a highly readable overview of personalized medicine, illustrates the field’s inherent potential to increase positive outcomes and decrease costs, and then discusses some of the conundrums that genetically-tailored medicine presents. The author, Andrew Pollack, uses the outcomes of Flockhart’s extensive tamoxifen research to aptly illustrate the medical promise of genetic testing and its broader implications. Flockhart’s research demonstrates that a particular enzyme, CYP2D6, is responsible for converting tamoxifen into a different substance, called endoxifen, which is then directly responsible for fighting breast cancer. The CYP2D6 gene, however, varies between people such that the mechanism is inactive in about 7% of the population, and only moderately active in 20-40%. As the article points out, most patients are now treated with a more expensive class of drugs that demonstrated greater efficacy in clinical trials conducted before the role of CYP2D6 was fully understood. For those women with active CYP2D6, however, tamoxifen may well be the better alternative for the patient, both medically and economically. Genetic testing to determine gene activity in this scenario may therefore have vast economic implications for the pharmaceutical industry.

Amy Lewis Gilbert