COVID VaccinesReturn to WorkMental Health

Brainstorm Health: Digital Health Ethics, Google Opioid Project, CRISPR Babies

February 21, 2019, 9:32 PM UTC

Good afternoon, readers!

Stanford and a compendium of industry partners has set out to create guiding principles meant to ensure the ethical use of digital health technology, Stanford Libraries tells Fortune.

Stanford University’s sprawling library system recently hosted a seminar attended by stakeholders in the digital health field, such as Proteus Digital Health (maker of the first FDA approved digital pill), and more than 30 other representatives from health care, pharmaceutical, and nonprofit organizations to get the ball rolling on 10 initial guiding principles for the sector. The aim is to make sure the burgeoning field of digital health doesn’t leave ethical concerns such as patient privacy and prudent data usage by the wayside.

“Libraries have long served as staunch advocates of protecting personal data,” said Michael A. Keller, Stanford’s university librarian and vice provost for teaching and learning, in a statement. “An academic library’s online and offline environments are designed to pique conversation and debate, and given the exponential rate of developments occurring in the digital health space, we offered to initiate the conversation and report out on results of the seminar.”

The initial guiding principles resemble a digital health patients’ bill of rights of sorts. For instance, participants concluded that, “Sharing digital health information should always be to improve a patient’s outcomes,” and “Patients should be able to decide whether their information is shared, and to know how a digital health company uses information to generate revenues.” The full set of guidelines is entitled, “Guiding Principles on Ethics in Digital Health.” You can read all ten of them here.

The rise of companies such as genetic testing firm 23andMe and the increasing ubiquity of technologies such as Apple Watch, Fitbit, and other wearable trackers to monitor patients and guide health care research has raised questions about privacy and the most beneficial way to use such tech to bolster patient outcomes. Some have questioned the manner in which genetic testing companies share their consumers’ information and sell them to partners such as drug makers, although firms like 23andMe point out that customers need to give their consent for this kind of data sharing.

Stanford Libraries says the guiding principles are just a first step in what will be an ongoing conversation among major digital health players. “We want this first set of ten statements to spur conversations in board rooms, classrooms and community centers around the country and ultimately be refined and adopted widely,” said Keller.

Read on for the day’s news.

Sy Mukherjee


Report: Chinese CRISPR babies may have had their brains enhanced. MIT Technology Review is out with a fascinating report suggesting that the Chinese twins who had their genes modified before birth via CRISPR may have souped-up brains. For those who don't remember the original (and highly controversial) story, a Chinese scientist claimed to have modified embryonic genes in order to prevent HIV transmission to the twins. But this very process may (may) have enhanced the baby girls' cognitive and memory abilities, according to the Technology Review, which spoke with genetics experts on the matter. (MIT Technology Review)

Google Maps takes on the opioid crisis. Google is expanding a preliminary project to lead consumers to safe drop off locations for opioid medications. The new Google Maps feature will automatically list locations such as pharmacies, hospitals, and other locations where one can dispose of old prescription drugs in a collaboration with the DEA, Department of Health and Human Services, and pharmacy chains such as CVS and Walgreens (both of which have incorporated medication drop offs into their retail stores). (Fortune)


Catalyst defends a $375,000 drug price hike. U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (a recently announced presidential contender) called out Catalyst Pharmaceuticals earlier this month for raising the list price of a rare disease drug once available to U.S. patients for free to $375,000. Catalyst is standing its ground, pointing out that the compassionate use program that most patients used to rely on wasn't a match for an officially FDA-approved treatment, and that the pricing is in line with other rare disease drugs (the specter of America's super-convoluted drug reimbursement system plays a part in all this). (Reuters)


Health care spending hit $3.65 trillion in 2018. A new analysis finds that Americans spent $3.65 trillion on health care in 2018, a 4.4% increase over the previous year. That equates to more than $11,000 per person, with the bulk of spending funneled to hospitals, doctors, and clinical services. But here's the rub: Increased utilization was not the main driver of increased spending. It was price increases, according to the study. (Fortune)


Cannabis May Pose a 'Long-Term Risk' to the Alcohol Industryby Chris Morris

In Brexit, Could Ireland Wear the Crown? by Richard Morgan

On Jussie Smollett, Christopher Paul Hasson, and Hate Crimesby Ellen McGirt

Busting Myths About Cryptocurrency Custodyby Brian Armstrong

Produced by Sy Mukherjee
Find past coverage. Sign up for other Fortune newsletters.