Microsoft, Salesforce, and Oracle are working on digital vaccination records


Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

A coalition of health and tech companies, which includes Microsoft, Salesforce, and Oracle, is working on an initiative that aims to make it easier for people to access their COVID-19 vaccination records digitally. As people are beginning to get vaccinated against COVID-19, they may need to prove that they’re vaccinated so that they can return to work, school, or to travel, and having an easily accessible digital vaccination record could help with that. The coalition is calling itself the Vaccination Credential Initiative (VCI).

“VCI’s vision is to empower individuals to obtain an encrypted digital copy of their immunization credentials to store in a digital wallet of their choice,” according to a press release. If you don’t want to use…

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Apps and web portals are streamlining vaccine rollout, but the digital strategies could leave vulnerable populations behind, experts warn

Summary List PlacementOlder Americans, who have died from COVID-19 more than any other population, are finally getting broad access to vaccines in the US. 
Some health systems are starting to release plans on how they will get older populations vaccinated. Michigan-based Beaumont Health, for instance, said the only way people 65-years-old or older can make vaccine appointments will be through the hospital’s online portal, via email. The Cleveland Clinic in Florida has encouraged seniors to sign up for appointments online due to “extremely high volume of calls.” Tennessee’s Department of Health will soon require residents to make appointments online to streamline distribution.
CVS Health, which will assist the US in providing 20 to 25 million shots per month to the public, requires scheduling a vaccine appointment online or via the app.
Using technology could be an efficient way for health systems to keep track of appointments, but might limit access among older Americans. 
Read more: The 8 digital health startups to watch that are changing healthcare in 2021
Fewer than half of seniors aged 80 or older report using the internet and only 28% have broadband service, according to Pew Research Center. Just 46% of older adults living in households earning less than $30,000 a year use the internet.
AARP, the nation’s leading interest group for those 50-years-old and older, has found though older Americans are increasingly more tech-savvy, there’s a “large discrepancy” between low-income seniors compared to the general population in terms of owning technology.
The Sarasota Herald-Tribune has already reported older people without smartphones or computers had difficulty making appointments online in Florida.
“There continues to be a digital divide in the senior population as there is for the general population,” said Tricia Neuman, senior vice president at the Kaiser Family Foundation. “People in communities of color, lower income people, and much older people are less comfortable or have less access with technology and wi-fi than others.”
How to ensure older Americans get equitable access to the COVID-19 vaccines
The Food and Drug Administration is now encouraging states to begin inoculating elderly Americans to speed up the distribution process after the slower-than-expected vaccine rollout: 2.8 million Americans received vaccines in 2020, far short of President Donald Trump’s goal of 20 million. 
“There is no reason that states need to complete, say vaccinating all health-care providers, before opening vaccinations to older Americans or other especially vulnerable populations,” Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar told reporters on Wednesday. 
People 75 and older are 8 times more likely to be hospitalized with COVID-19 and 220 times more likely to die than 18-28 year olds, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The disease has also spread particularly fast among Black Americans and lower-income workers.
Adam Gaffney, a critical care physician and an instructor at Harvard Medical School, argued in USA Today the US should have begun vaccinating the oldest Americans before slowly widening the scope to younger people to decrease deaths and hospitalizations. 
Even as the disease hurts America’s most vulnerable at higher rates, vaccine distribution seems to be favoring privileged groups. Insider’s Shirley Livingston recently reported white people are getting more vaccines than Black people and other groups, according to state data. Wealthy donors and hospital administration staff getting have reportedly gotten vaccines before frontline workers in some cases. Celebrity plastic surgeons have gotten vaccinated as contract nursing home staff still waits in line.
Read more: A group of huge employers like Walmart and Lowe’s are trying to pick up where Haven left off and find ways to lower healthcare costs
Angela K. Shen, visiting research scientist at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia who formerly worked at the US Department of Health and Human Services, co-authored a recommendation on how the US should equitably distribute vaccines. In the report, Shen said ensure older adults should get first access to the vaccine without needing to pay.
Shen said relying on online appointments to get vaccines not only disadvantages some older Americans, but also rural communities that lack fast internet access. But Shen said healthcare systems should focus on getting large swaths of the population access to vaccines, which might require using apps and technology. 
“If you can kind of like capture like a large swath of the population, then you can change and have more precise strategies or tweak strategies that weren’t working before to kind of get at those people that you may have missed,” Shen said. 
Shen and Neuman both said the key to getting equal access to older Americans is to use a variety of methods to reach different groups. In Colorado, for instance, drive-through vaccination clinics were able to inoculate seniors from small and disadvantaged areas first, The Colorado Sun reported. The US gave health systems paper cards with reminders on when to get a second dose. 
Systems will also need to work with in-home providers to access the 2 million people over 65 that are permanently homebound, according to STAT News.
If access to vaccines remains unequal among older populations, Shen said high-risk communities should continue to engage in social distancing and mask wearing.
“Just because you’re older and you don’t use a cell phone doesn’t mean that you’re higher risk; it depends on what actions you yourself are doing,” Shen said. “There’s plenty of older adults who use technology, but then there’s plenty of who don’t.”SEE ALSO: I’ve spent the past 9 months talking to healthcare workers as a reporter. ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ gets the pandemic right.
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HEALTH TECH'S ROLE IN THE NEW OFFICE NORMAL: How digital health firms are helping US employers facilitate return-to-work programs amid the coronavirus pandemic

Summary List PlacementThe coronavirus pandemic has thrown the US economy into a state of flux, forcing businesses into uncharted territory as they decide when and how to reopen. Before the pandemic, 39% of US office employees worked remotely—which nearly doubled to 77% during the pandemic, per a June PwC survey.  Now, company leaders across the US are strategizing how to resume operations and restore normalcy by bringing their employees back into the office. In order to reopen brick-and-mortar offices, warehouses, and stores, it’ll be of paramount importance for employers to navigate how to do so safely and instate routines that curb the spread of the coronavirus. Otherwise, employers risk creating sites of new outbreaks and being forced to shut their doors yet again.

The pandemic could hike up employer medical spending—creating an even greater sense of urgency for products that help ensure workers are in good health. The pandemic could increase self-insured employers’ medical spending by as much as 10% in 2021, per PwC’s estimates. For context, this estimate was calculated under the assumption the wave of coronavirus cases erupting in the spring of 2020 would lead patients to defer care to 2021. So, investing in programs that will maintain the health and safety of workplaces will be top-of-mind for businesses looking to preemptively rein in medical spending now, considering it could tick up over the course of the year. 
Tech companies and digital health startups are rolling out software to facilitate the return-to-work transition for employees. Return-to-work methods have made headlines, like Amazon’s use of temperature checkpoints in its warehouses. But another segment of software developers—digital health firms—are designing platforms that focus on monitoring employees’ symptoms and coronavirus status, and passing that information onto their employers.
In this report, Insider Intelligence outlines how tech giants and digital health companies are using their tech and clinical expertise to help US businesses with their reopening plans. We explore what the return-to-work health tech space looks like now—providing examples of the solutions on the market from both tech companies and fast-moving digital health companies, and unpacking the pros and cons of each. Finally, we shed light on some of the legal and privacy-related challenges that could hamper employers’ implementation of tech-enabled return-to-work programs.  
The companies mentioned in this report are: Alphabet, Amazon, Apple, Castlight Health, Collective Health, Color, Dole, emocha, Facebook, Fitbit, Google, Microsoft, One Medical, RxMx, Salesforce, Sonde Health, UnitedHealth Group, UrbanSitters, and Verily. 
Here are some key takeaways from this report: 

Employers are strategizing how to reinstate normalcy in their operations amid the coronavirus pandemic—and tech developers are rolling out retirn-to-work programs that prioritize ensuring the health of employees. 
Some of the largest tech companies are throwing their hats into the workforce reentry space, leaning on their data analytics prowess and existing relationships with healthcare entities in their pursuit of return-to-work tie-ups. 
Digital health companies are relying on their specific areas of expertise—employee benefits, telehealth, lab testing, voice—to craft return-to-work programs that attract businesses across industries.   
Privacy hangups surrounding employee surveillance are still inhibiting employers from investing in and implementing return-to-work tech, and the changing legal landscape may also make it difficult to to implement workforce reentry programs, especially those than lean heavily on contact tracing. 

 
In full, the report: 

Provides a snapshot of the tech-focused return-to-work market.
Outlines ways in which prominent tech companies and digital health startups are pivoting to roll out workforce reentry solutions. 
Highlights the pros and cons of implementing return-to-work solutions.
Identifies the legal and privacy-related barriers that exist—and will likely persist—to investing in tech-focused return-to-work solutions.

Interested in getting the full report? Here’s how you can gain access:

Join other Insider Intelligence clients who receive this report, along with thousands of other Digital Health forecasts, briefings, charts, and research reports to their inboxes. > > Become a Client

Purchase the individual report from our store. > > Buy The Report Here

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