DOJ steps in on Oscar Health vs. Florida Blue, Spire Health launching COPD study and more digital health news briefs

Also: Tweeted images could suggest troubled users; exercise apps could aid recovering cancer patients.e
By Dave Muoio
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Help from above. The Department of Justice has taken the side of tech-enabled insurer Oscar Health in a federal antitrust suit it filed in November of last year against Florida Blue, Crain’s New York Business reports. While Oscar’s motion for a temporary injunction was rejected by a federal judge back in February, the DOJ filed a statement in April arguing that Florida Blue had incorrectly applied a law that establishes limited exemption from federal antitrust law for insurers.

"The court should not dismiss Oscar's Sherman Act claims on the basis of Florida Blue's flawed interpretation of the McCarran-Ferguson Act's antitrust exemption," Patrick Kuhlmann, an attorney in the DOJ's antitrust division, wrote.

Florida Blue has since filed a response contesting the DOJ’s interpretation of the law. Also of note is that Joshua Kushner, one of the cofounders of Oscar Health, is the brother of White House Senior Advisor Jared Kushner.

Wearables to monitor COPD patients. Spire Health announced this week that its Health Tag devices — wearable sensors that are adhered to the user’s undergarments — is at the heart of a new nationwide observational clinical trial focused on COPD exacerbations. The investigation began enrollment in November, and requires participants to wear the Health Tag devices consistently for nine months while reporting symptoms, medication changes and hospitalizations each week.

“COPD is one of the most expensive chronic conditions, generating healthcare costs of over $30 billion per year in the United States, largely from hospitalizations,” Jonathan Palley, CEO of Spire Health, said in a statement. “Being able to predict exacerbations through continuous respiratory monitoring and enable early interventions has the potential to significantly reduce hospitalizations, making a large impact on costs as well as improving the lives of millions of people with COPD.”

Troubled Tweeting. Data to be presented next month by Penn Medicine researchers suggests that the content and appearance of Twitter posts could be used to identify users with depression or anxiety. According to a press release detailing the study, researchers analyzed posts from 4,000 Twitter users and surveys from 887, eventually finding that affected users were more likely to post pictures with less vivid colors and reduced aesthetic cohesion.

"While the association between depression and language-use patterns is well-studied, the visual aspects of depression has not been," Sharath Guntuku, a research scientist with Penn Medicine's Center for Digital Health and the study’s lead author, said in a statement. "It is challenging to transform pixels that form the images to interpretable features, but with the advances in computer vision algorithms, we are now attempting to uncover another dimension of the condition as it manifests online.”

Exercise apps could aid cancer recovery. Patients recovering from cancer treatments could benefit from clinician-prescribed fitness apps, according to a European evaluation published recently in the Journal Of Cancer Survivorship. In the study, researchers reviewed 67 iOS and Android fitness apps and found that approximately one in five included content suitable for recovering cancer patients. These generally focused on aerobic-based activities, and often included monitoring, feedback and goal setting features to better engage users.

"Fewer than 25% of cancer survivors meet physical activity guidelines which is concerning. Not only will physical activity help improve the quality of life of survivors, it lessens their risk of developing new conditions such as osteoporosis or diabetes,” Jo Armes, lead for digital health at the University of Surrey and an author of the study, said in a statement. "However, there is currently little in place to help those recovering from cancer to increase physical activity levels. With over 80 per cent of the adult population owning a smart phone, fitness apps could potentially fill this void by providing easily accessible instructions, helping them to monitor their progress and set goals for themselves."

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