DIGITAL HEALTH BRIEFING: Digital health wins big in new US spending bill — Dentists can use AI to spot tooth decay — Mobile app could help fight opioid crisis

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NEW US SPENDING BILL PAVES THE WAY FOR BROADER TELEHEALTH ADOPTION: On Friday, US President Donald Trump signed a new spending bill into law that could provide massive tailwinds for the expansion of digital health solutions, such as telehealth, according to Healthcare IT News. This is likely the first time a complete spending package that expands telehealth access to Medicare beneficiaries has been passed, HIMSS senior director of congressional affairs Samantha Burch said. Budget appropriators will have until March 23 to designate how the budget will be allocated.

Why is this important?

The new spending bill includes the CHRONIC Care Act, which extends and expands the delivery of telehealth to Medicare Advantage (MA) beneficiaries from 2020 onward. It will vastly improve access to telehealth options for the more than 19 million consumers in the US enrolled in MA. Telehealth includes things like virtual care, telemedicine, and remote patient monitoring, which can help physicians and patients better monitor chronic illnesses — the leading cause of death and disability in the US, according to the CDC.

How will this impact the digital health industry?

Chronic illnesses are the biggest strain on the healthcare industry, accounting for 86% of the $2.7 trillion spent in annual health care costs in the US in 2014 alone. Aging populations and the ongoing decline in direct care workers means this strain is only getting worse. Broadening the use of telemedicine could help reduce these costs, by enabling patients to connect more frequently with their physicians and care providers, without having to travel.

Moreover, the new bill addresses some of the gaps in telemedicine reimbursement, which could help drive an uptick in provider adoption and usage of telehealth technology — reimbursement is a top barrier preventing extensive provider adoption of telehealth and telemedicine. For example, the new bill would expand access to stroke telemedicine services, meaning that providers would get reimbursed for neurological consultations via telemedicine, something that wasn't covered by MA in the past, FierceHealthcare notes.

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AI HELPS DENTISTS PINPOINT PROBLEM AREAS ON X-RAYS:  ParallelDots, the artificial intelligence (AI) company, has started the clinical deployment of its cloud-based AI application, Dentistry.AI, for detecting cavities on dental x-rays, according to the Chicago Evening Post. The solution integrates with commonly used imaging software by dental clinics to automatically access patient x-rays. Dentistry.AI then pinpoints areas that have a high probability of dental caries, also referred to as tooth decay. Dentists can use this feedback to focus on these problem areas when further examining the patient. The tool can be used to improve what is a relatively flawed process — studies have found that 20%-40% of cavities are undetected in a typical clinical setting, even when dentists use digital radiography. Dentistry.AI could help reduce costs associated with complications from missed cavities or the need to run more tests in the future — total US dental expenditures have increased 7% from 2014 to reach $124 billion in 2016, according to the American Dental Association. That's after several years of being flat. 

MOBILE MEDICATION MANAGEMENT APP COULD HELP COMBAT OPIOID OVERPRESCRIBING: DrFirst, a provider of electronic prescription and medication management solutions, launched mobile app that allows physicians to prescribe drugs and controlled substances while complying with state prescription drug monitoring program (PDMP) requirements. The app also gives providers access to 24-months of patients' medication history, insurance information, and PDMP databases. Having this information easily accessible will enable physicians to save time during the prescribing process, increase medication adherence, and provide more informed care to combat opioid overprescribing. Digital solutions like this will continue to garner interest from the medical community as solving the opioid crisis remains a major goal for the entire country — in the US, more than 1,000 people are admitted to emergency rooms due to opioid addiction each day, according to data from CDC cited by DrFirst.

RESEARCHERS USE AI TO AUTOMATE READING RADIOLOGY REPORTS: Researchers at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai have trained a machine learning algorithm to understand clinical concepts in a radiology report, according to HIT Consultant. The researchers used more than 96,000 radiologist reports to train the computer software, which encapsulated the variety of language used in reports, according to the study published last week in the journal Radiology. The study could lay the foundation for the training of future AI systems to read medical reports. The information in the reports can be turned into data, which can help the AI provide clinical decision support for physicians. This is just the latest example of how providers and payers are turning to AI to improve workflow efficiency, mitigate unnecessary hospital visits, and better engage patients. And while the adoption of AI in healthcare is still very nascent, it continues to gain momentum. Healthcare AI VC deal volume and funding hit a five-year high in 2016, with almost $800 million in investments across 90 deals, according to TM Capital.

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