Welcome to Practice Rounds, our weekly column exploring what's being covered in the larger world of healthcare.
Senate Confirms Azar as HHS Secretary
On Wednesday, the Senate voted to confirm Alex Azar the next secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
The former drug industry executive passed by a vote of 55 to 43. Six Democrats voted to confirm Azar along with Independent Angus King (Maine), while Republican Sen. Rand Paul (Ky.) opposed and two abstained. Azar will become the Trump administration's second secretary of HHS. Former HHS Secretary Tom Price, MD resigned this past fall amid investigation into his use of private planes for business trips.
Azar will oversee the department's more than $1 trillion budget and its policies, including the new set of rules allowing states to impose work requirements as part of their Medicaid programs.
Azar is a HHS veteran, who previously served as general counsel and deputy secretary at HHS in the George W. Bush administration. He also was president of Eli Lilly's U.S. business unit, Lilly USA, from 2012 to 2016.
Upon his nomination in November of last year, medical groups voiced mixed opinions of the Trump Administration's choice. The American Medical Association (AMA), Medical Group Management Association (MGMA), and The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) all responded positively to the nomination. "Alex Azar is a capable and proven administrator who has a deep understanding of the HHS portfolio based on his prior work as Deputy Secretary and General Counsel," reportedly said AMA president David Barbe, MD, in a statement.
Several physician groups were unhappy with the nomination including the National Physicians Alliance (NPA) and the Physicians for a National Health Program (PNHP). "The National Physicians Alliance (NPA) opposes Alex Azar's nomination to be the next Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) because we believe Mr. Azar's deep ties to the pharmaceutical industry disqualify him from being an independent voice for our nation's healthcare system," the organization said in a statement.
Apple to Bring Health Records to iPhone
This week, Apple introduced an update to the Health app that included a feature for customers to see their medical records on their iPhones.
The Health app update was rolled out to patients with Johns Hopkins Medicine, Cedars-Sinai, Penn Medicine and other participating hospitals and clinics. It aims to make it easy for consumers to see their available medical data from multiple providers whenever they choose. Apple worked with the healthcare community to create health records based on FHIR (Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources), which allows for the transfer of medical records between disparate systems. The health records data is encrypted and protected with the user's iPhone passcode, the company says.
Users will have medical information from multiple institutions organized into one view covering allergies, conditions, immunizations, lab results, medications, and more.
"Our goal is to help consumers live a better day. We've worked closely with the health community to create an experience everyone has wanted for years — to view medical records easily and securely right on your iPhone," said Jeff Williams, Apple's COO in the press release.
Quote of the Week
"There are opportunities for small practices, including the opportunity to form virtual groups, five bonus points for groups with 15 eligible providers or fewer….there's also favorable scoring in the quality category for small practices….[MACRA] is about as favorable as it can be for small practices."
David O. Barbe, MD, President of the American Medical Association