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Compliance Corner – News Round Up

March 30th, 2017 by Sharon L Nelson, MSN, RN, CNS, CIP, Executive Director, Consulting and Compliance Services

Considering Technology, Privacy and Its Impact on Health

Technological advancements have made it possible for us to communicate and collaborate in incredible new ways. This same technology has also brought us new ethical challenges in what and how we share with each other. This month, we look at three recent developments in the realm of technology, privacy and health.

 


 

Sharon Begley reports for STATNews on the growing opposition to a congressional bill (HR 1313) that would remove privacy protections, afforded by the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA), from workplace wellness programs. HR 1313 proposes to allow companies to require employees to undergo genetic testing, employers to see the results, and to impose financial penalties on employees who choose to opt out of the testing requirement.

GINA prohibits the use of genetic information in making employment decisions and restricts employers and other entities from requesting, requiring or purchasing genetic information. It also strictly limits the disclosure of genetic information. HR 1313 gets around GINA’s requirements by stating these protections do not apply when genetic tests are part of a workplace wellness program.

Among those voicing opposition is the Wellness Council of America. “Allowing employers to require employees to undergo genetic testing and to turn over the results to companies running wellness programs could cause harm both mentally and physically to employees.” Secretary of Health, Dr. Tom Price, stated on Meet the Press, “I’m not familiar with the bill, but it sounds like there would be some significant concerns about it.”

Begley also points to concerns shared by leading geneticists and researchers regarding the imprecise nature of medical genetics, the variability in laboratory methods and interpretation of results, and the potential impact on research. Will people be willing to participate in important genetic research if “employers are allowed to ask employees to share their genetic results?”

When reviewing research protocols, IRBs look for protections that ensure a study participant’s health information, including genetic information, is kept secure and only accessible to those whom the participant has granted access. With this in mind, we will watch and listen carefully as HR 1313 moves through Congress.

 


 

Let’s shift gears to a technology where information sharing is encouraged and, in fact, the whole point. In Is Social Media Making Us Lonelier? NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins discusses the results of an NIH-funded study that examined social media use and its possible association with feelings of social isolation in young adults.

The NIH-funded researchers surveyed more than 1700 young adults and “found that individuals who were the heaviest users of social media were two to three times more likely to feel socially isolated than those who used little to no social media.” Social media helps people stay in touch with loved ones scattered across the globe; however, the research suggests it might not work well as a sole means of communication.

What is the impact for us as friends, family, and healthcare professionals? Dr. Collins notes that “previous research has linked social isolation to worsening physical and mental health, and even an increased risk of death.” Sharing photos and updates online can help strengthen social connections, but it seems the IRL (“in real life”) interactions are what keep us alive.

To learn more about the study, the participants, and the results, read here.

 


 

We conclude with a report on people who live what might be considered a rather technology-free lifestyle. James Gallagher, BBC health and science reporter, highlights a recently published study in The Lancet that examines the Tsimane, a forager-horticulturalist population of the Bolivian Amazon. The research team concluded the Tsimane “have the lowest reported levels of coronary artery disease of any population recorded to date . . . findings suggest that coronary atherosclerosis can be avoided in most people by achieving a lifetime with very low LDL, low blood pressure, low glucose, normal body-mass index, no smoking, and plenty of physical activity.”

The contrasts between the Tsimane and U.S. diet, fitness, and cardiovascular health prompt consideration:

  • 72% of Tsimane calories come from carbohydrates compared with 52% in the US.
  • 14% from fat compared with 34% in the US, Tsimane also consume much less saturated fat.
  • Both Americans and Tsimane have 14% of calories from protein, but Tsimane have more lean meat.
  • Tsimane are far more physically active with the men averaging 17,000 steps a day and the women 16,000.
  • By the time they reach age 75, two-thirds of Tsimane are coronary artery calcium (CAC)-free compared with the overwhelming majority of Americans (80%) having signs of CAC.

What is the takeaway for those of us living, eating, and working in the modern digital world? Consider Professor Naveed Sattar of the University of Glasgow’s comments on the research: “Simply put, eating a healthy diet very low in saturated fat and full of unprocessed products, not smoking and being active life long, is associated with the lowest risk of having furring up of blood vessels.”

 


 

With that, I believe I will now leave my desk, computer and internet connection to join a friend for a walk outside.