Brainstorm Health Daily: March 21, 2017

March 21, 2017, 4:15 PM UTC

Good morning, readers. This is Sy reporting for duty.

Quick, off the top of your head, what’s the difference between an optometrist and an ophthalmologist? How about a psychologist and a psychiatrist? And, wait, are internists doctors who specialize in internal medicine – or just their interns?

Some of you well-versed Daily readers may know the answer to all three of these questions (for the record: ophthalmologists are the ones who can perform eye surgery, psychiatrists can prescribe medications, and internists are your good old-fashioned general medicine practitioners). But the complexities of medical jargon can make an already complicated U.S. health system even more convoluted for millions of people seeking care. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control notes that nine in 10 Americans struggle with health care terminology.

That’s why Zocdoc, the online doctor-locating and medical appointments platform, launched a new feature today on desktop and mobile devices that it dubs the “Patient-Powered Search.” The firm describes this new engine as a “more intuitive search experience, built specifically to bridge the gap between healthcare industry and human speak.”

The logic behind Patient-Powered Search, which harnesses AI and machine learning capabilities, is that people don’t think in terms of a medical textbook when they’re looking for a doctor to treat their ailments. But many doctor search services require that sort of precise terminology to find the appropriate physician.

Instead, Patient-Powered Search is able to decipher what it is that a patient is seeking. It forgives common spelling errors and gauges what a user’s actual intent is. For instance, “gyno” would be understood to be OB-GYN and the misspelled “hemroids” would be mapped to hemorrhoids; searching for “anxiety” or “depression” will bring up the variety of possible medical professional who may be able to help a patient with those mental health conditions. And by constantly learning the types of real-world medical searches that people conduct, it can continually adjust to shifting trends.

Read on for the day’s news.


Digital health startups are making a splash in New York. A new report from the Center for an Urban Future concludes that the recent explosion of prominent digital health firms in New York is being driven by the city's concentration of academic medical institutes and plethora of investors. In fact, NYC has the second highest level of digital health venture capital investment in the U.S. behind the San Francisco Bay area. The nearly 100 such firms in the city raised $908 million in 2016 funding, and the companies include innovative outfits like Flatiron Health, Nomad Health, and Zocdoc. (Crain's)

A new telehealth grief counseling service for military survivors. Telehealth firm Salus has teamed up with the nonprofit Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS), which offers services to the loved ones of deceased military members, their caregivers, and others, to create a digital grief counseling platform. The partnership will give TAPS access to Salus' VideoMedicine technology, which can be used via desktop and mobile platforms to connect people with mental health professionals offering pro bono telemedicine services to survivors. "Salus is proud to offer telemedicine services via VideoMedicine at no cost to TAPS," said Salus CEO Paula Guy in a statement. “Our hope is that individuals who have suffered the loss of a loved one who served in the Armed Forces will be able to utilize our platform to receive counseling in the most accessible and convenient way possible. We are also happy that we can allow users to invite their own providers to use VideoMedicine, so that they maintain the comfort level and familiarity that is right for them.”


Another Trump attack on drug prices hits stocks. Yet again, President Donald Trump's criticisms of high drug pries are sending skittish biopharma investors into a mini-frenzy. Last night, Trump said that medicine prices will be coming "way, way, way down" under his administration during a rally in Louisville, Kentucky. "Once healthcare reform is done and Obamacare has been repealed, it will be time to get to work on medicine, bringing down the cost of medicine by having a fair and competitive bidding process. Some people think that's just as important as healthcare." While this morning's selloff wasn't quite as dramatic as when the president said drug makers were "getting away with murder," the NASDAQ Biotech Index is down more than 1.6% and the S&P biotech ETF is down more than 3.4%.

New study shows that Novartis' Cosentyx can modify the course of psoriasis. In what could become a major advantage for Novartis in one of biopharma's most lucrative fields, a new study finds that the pharma giant's next-gen psoriasis treatment Cosentyx can change the very progression of the common immune disorder which leads to rashes and rough patches on the skin. In fact, about 20% of patients treated with the drug for a year could see disease modification. "These results suggest that Cosentyx may go beyond simply treating symptoms and could actually modify the course of psoriasis, and highlights the need for further investigation into early intervention," said Vas Narasimhan, global head of drug development and chief medical officer at Novartis, in a statement. (PharmaTimes)

Patient groups give pharma a scathing review on reputation. After temporarily getting a boost in corporate reputation among patient groups in 2015, drug makers' favor among their very target customers has plunged, according to a new PatientView survey. Only 37.9% of the survey's 1,463 patient group respondents felt that the pharma industry as a whole had an "Excellent" or "Good" reputation in 2016, and only 23% felt that the sector's reputation had improved over the past five years. But which drug makers received relatively high marks? ViiV Healthcare (the combined HIV-focused venture between Pfizer and GlaxoSmithKline), AbbVie, and Novartis were deemed to be most responsive to patient groups' needs. But it sure looks like pharma still has plenty of work to do in its reputation-salvaging campaign.


Doctors are recommending more exercise for pregnant women. A new report published in JAMA seeks to dispel "misguided recommendations" for women during pregnancy - including the myth that exercise will lead to complications. The report states that moderate exercise has been found to be perfectly safe for pregnant women (as long as it doesn't involved over-exertion) and may have a number of significant benefits, including relieving back pain, a reduced chance of an overweight newborn, and lower risk of gestational diabetes. Some exercises, such as long-distance running and other high-intensity workouts, should still be avoided. (Washington Post)


Walmart Is Starting a Tech Incubator in Silicon Valleyby Phil Wahba

How Digital Health Could Help End the Opioid Addiction Crisisby Sy Mukherjee 

Stephen Hawking Is Heading Into Space on Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic Spaceshipby Mahita Gajanan

Bill Gates Tops Forbes Rich List Again While Trump Falls 220 Spotsby Ryan Kilpatrick

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