Use of Estimated Data Should Require Informed Consent

Guest post by Donna M. Gitter, Zichlin School of Business, Baruch College, based on Professor Gitter’s presentation at the Petrie-Flom Center’s 2016 Annual Conference, “Big Data, Health Law, and Bioethics,” held May 6, 2016, at Harvard Law School.

Cross-posted from the Hastings Center’s Bioethics Forum.

The Icelandic biotech firm deCODE Genetics has pioneered a means of determining an individual’s susceptibility to various medical conditions with 99 percent accuracy by gathering information about that person’s relatives, including their medical and genealogical records. Of course, inferences have long been made about a person’s health by observing and gathering information about her relatives. What is unique about deCODE’s approach in Iceland is that the company uses the detailed genealogical records available in that country in order to estimate genotypes of close relatives of individuals who volunteered to participate in research, and extrapolates this information in order to make inferences about hundreds of thousands of living and deceased Icelanders who have not consented to participate in deCODE’s studies. DeCODE’s technique is particularly effective in Iceland, a small island nation that, due to its largely consanguineous population and detailed genealogical records, lends itself particularly well to genetic research.

While Iceland’s detailed genealogical records enable the widespread use of estimated data in Iceland, a large enough U.S. database could be used to make similar inferences about individuals here. While the U.S. lacks a national database similar to Iceland’s, private companies such as 23andme and Ancestry.com have created rough gene maps of several million people, and the National Institutes of Health plans to spend millions of dollars in the coming years sequencing full genome data on tens of thousands of people. These databases could allow the development of estimated data on countless U.S. citizens.

DeCODE plans to use its estimated data for an even bolder new study in Iceland. Having imputed the genotypes of close relatives of volunteers whose DNA had been fully catalogued, deCODE intends to collaborate with Iceland’s National Hospital to link these relatives, without their informed consent, to some of their hospital records, such a surgery codes and prescriptions. When the Icelandic Data Protection Authority (DPA) nixed deCODE’s initial plan, deCODE agreed that it will generate for only a brief period a genetic imputation for those who have not consented, and then delete that imputation from the database. The only accessible data would be statistical results, which would not be traceable to individuals.

Are the individuals from whom estimated data is gathered entitled to informed consent, given that their data will be used for research, even if the data is putatively unidentifiable? In the U.S., consideration of this question must take into account not only the need for privacy enshrined in the federal law of informed consent, but also the right of autonomy, which empowers individuals to decline to participate in research. Although estimated DNA sequences, unlike directly measured sequences, are not very accurate at the individual level, but rather at the group level, individuals may nevertheless object to research participation for moral, ethical, and other reasons. A competing principle, however, is beneficence, and any impediment to deCODE using its estimated data can represent a lost opportunity for the complex disease genetics community.

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REGISTER NOW: Aligning Policy and People: Why the Time is Right to Transform Advanced Care

hands_Ingram Publishing_slideJune 21, 2016, 9am – 1pm

Wasserstein Hall, Milstein East (2036), Harvard Law School, 1585 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA

This event is free and open to the public, but seating is limited. Register now!

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Please join us for the inaugural event of the Project on Advanced Care and Health Policy, a collaboration between the Coalition for Advanced Care (C-TAC) and the Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics at Harvard Law School. This conference will feature policymakers, thought leaders, family caregivers, clinicians, consumer advocates, and others working to identify the timely, practical, and actionable opportunities to transform care for people with advanced illness nearing end-of-life.

Confirmed Speakers

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Healthcare complaints matter: the need to improve the system

Today consumerism is an essential part of the fabric of British society and complaint systems are heralded in many retail and professional environments. The British public have got used to complaining over the years and this attitude has seeped into the provision of health care services.

Records levels of complaints about the National Health Service (NHS) can be seen to be made every year but the NHS just does not seem to be able to get to grips with developing a good patient complaints handling system.

The Health Service Ombudsman (HSO) lies at the top of the NHS complaints structure and makes the final decisions on complaints that have not be resolved by the NHS in England. The HSO has looked into the quality of NHS complaint investigations where serious or avoidable harm has been alleged.Systemic failings in complaint, patient safety investigations were revealed. Failures which unsurprisingly have appeared in numerous complaints reports over the years before.

For the report, the HSO reviewed 150 NHS complaint investigations where avoidable harm or death was alleged. The HSO also spoke to six different trusts and surveyed over 170 NHS complaint managers to gain insights. An advisory group was later convened by the HSO to test findings.

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Henrietta Lacks and the Great Healthdata Giveaway

Part Seven of Seven-Part Blog Series by Guest Blogger Patrick Taylor

A suggestion runs through the debate on the NPRM to amend the Common Rule that the proposed changes are a tribute to Henrietta Lacks, a necessity so her story is not repeated.

That story was told in a the national bestseller  The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, a moving biography of the young woman whose  aggressive tumor was the source of the ubiquitous HeLa cells (probably without her consent, certainly without her awareness of what followed); her family;  the  cells’  (and her) dehumanization into a research tool to be exploited unthinkingly; and the poverty, disconnection, racism,  lack of health care and lack of concern for her family. Society and scientists received a bonanza, and did nothing for her family in return.  The book criticizes phony consent, and advocates sharing  cell line proceeds with donors and their families. It rekindled discussion of consent and racist legacies, while urging that injustice required social change.

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TWIHL Special: Wendy Mariner Analyzes the New Wellness Regulations

By Nicolas Terry and Frank Pasquale

twihl 5x5A special TWIHL episode with analysis of the new EEOC regulations under the ADA and GINA on Employer Wellness Plans. Nic is joined by Professor Wendy Mariner. Professor Mariner is the Edward R. Utley Professor of Health Law at Boston University School of Public Health, Professor of Law at Boston University School of Law, Professor at Boston University School of Medicine, and Co-Director of the J.D.-M.P.H. joint degree program, and a member of the faculty of the Center for Health Law, Ethics and Human Rights at BUSPH. Professor Mariner’s research focuses on laws governing health risks, including social and personal responsibility for risk creation, health insurance systems, implementation of the Affordable Care Act, ERISA, health information privacy, and population health policy.

Our discussion concentrated on the ADA regulation and examined how the agency responded to comments (including ours), the concept of voluntariness, the status of EEOC v. Flambeau, Inc., data protection (including issues raised when  employers research the health of their employees), and the policy flaws in the wellness space.The Week in Health Law Podcast from Frank Pasquale and Nicolas Terry is a commuting-length discussion about some of the more thorny issues in Health Law & Policy.

Subscribe at iTunes, listen at Stitcher RadioTunein and Podbean, or search for The Week in Health Law in your favorite podcast app. Show notes and more are at TWIHL.com. If you have comments, an idea for a show or a topic to discuss you can find us on twitter @nicolasterry @FrankPasquale @WeekInHealthLaw

NPRM Symposium: Consent, Causality, and Castles in the Air

Part Six of Seven-Part Blog Series by Guest Blogger Patrick Taylor

Reading the NPRM and its government commentary, one is subtly, slowly led to a sense of inevitability.  Arguments from abstract principles emerge, leave a footprint and then, in the wake of another tide of interests and arguments, another principal supplants them.  But we are to believe that each previous  footprint endures intact.  There’s “autonomy,” said to require expanding opportunity to consent to honor individual preferences, overtrodden by scientific convenience, which demands just one-time consent, and suggests that world-changing choices to be privacy-bare may be irrevocable.  There’s privacy demanding that information meet HIPAA deidentification standards at least some of the time; but there is some undisclosed vector requiring that there is no limit on who government may share your medical information with.  Surrender to the illusion that these are not inconsistent,  and the proposal is the best of all possible worlds, in which every inconsistent good is maximized and every tradeoff ignored.  Surrender the illusion itself and one sees a mix of juxtaposed  partial-prints going different directions, each incomplete.

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Elizabeth Sepper on ‘The Week in Health Law’ Podcast

By Nicolas Terry and Frank Pasquale

 

This week we interviewed Elizabeth Sepper, Associatetwihl 5x5 Professor of Law at Washington University. Elizabeth’s work explores the interaction of morality, professional ethics, and law in health care and insurance. She has written extensively on conscientious refusals to provide reproductive and end-of-life healthcare In recent work, Elizabeth has argued that, in resisting compliance with antidiscrimination laws, pharmacy regulations, and insurance mandates (most prominently, the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive mandate), businesses make claims more reminiscent of market libertarianism than of religious freedom.

Our conversation covered many aspects of conscience claims by contemporary health providers. Our timing was perfect, since HHS just finalized a rule on one of Elizabeth’s areas of expertise: prohibitions on discrimination based on race, color, national origin, sex, age or disability. Elizabeth weighed in on the rule and its implications for the future of health care.

The Week in Health Law Podcast from Frank Pasquale and Nicolas Terry is a commuting-length discussion about some of the more thorny issues in Health Law & Policy. Subscribe at iTunes, listen at Stitcher RadioTunein and Podbean, or search for The Week in Health Law in your favorite podcast app. Show notes and more are at TWIHL.com. If you have comments, an idea for a show or a topic to discuss you can find us on twitter @nicolasterry @FrankPasquale @WeekInHealthLaw

When Global Health Norms Meet Medicaid

Special guest post by Nicholas J. Diamond

Medicaid is currently facing a timely, although largely underappreciated, challenge: rebalancing Medicaid long-term services and supports (LTSS). For context, LTSS refer to a broad range of paid and unpaid medical and personal care assistance for individuals who experience difficulty completing self-care tasks due to aging, chronic illness, or disability. According to 2013 estimates, there are approximately 12 million individuals in the U.S. who rely on LTSS, mostly paid for through Medicaid, with a projected increase to approximately 27 million individuals by 2050.

Medicaid has a historical structural bias toward institutional care, such as nursing homes, as opposed to home and community-based services (HCBS), such as home health aides, personal care, chore services, supported employment, rent and food for live-in caregiver, and nonmedical transportation, among many others. Medicaid LTSS rebalancing, therefore, shifts spending away from institutional settings and toward HCBS, which is less expensive and generally preferred by beneficiaries. States may provide HCBS through a complex panoply of federal statutory authorities, including waiver authorities, which afford states wide latitude in designing programs. As you might imagine, with flexibility comes significant variations in how states provide HCBS, which specific types of HCBS they provide, and whether, for instance, cost containment strategies available under certain authorities negatively impact access to needed services. Continue reading

NPRM Symposium: “I prefer to be asked”

Part Five of Seven-Part Blog Series by Guest Blogger Patrick Taylor

The preamble to the NPRM justifies requiring consent for data and specimen research by contending  that studies indicate that people want to be asked for permission.  However, the literature on this topic is relatively thin.  Available evidence suggests that many people, upon being informed that their heath data and tissues could or would be used in research without their consent (and nothing further is said to prompt the idea that research might delve into controversial matters) are generally fine with such use.  But when also queried whether they would prefer to have been asked, people say they would.  What the literature does not show is that people say: “I object to any use without my consent,” let alone “and I choose that over all the advantages of minimal risk research involving analysis by a computer of digitized files not humanly readable limited to disease-gene associations of thousands of medical records where consent would not be possible but the results will be essential or important to my health, the health of others, and the national health.”  Pluralistic discussion of tradeoffs over time, or an extended, candid national dialogue about the reasons for the present rules, were not in the mix.   Yet still, people said the opposite of “This must not occur without my consent!”

We have already seen one way in which the claim to be respecting the preference to be asked is untrue – it applies to only some research by some organizations.   Now here is another. The commentaries to the NPRM celebrate as fact that a patient need be asked only once, for all time, and then the only acceptable “yes” answer grants permission for any research by anybody.    It seems doubtful that a one-time consent to any future scientific research by any researcher for any purpose, without ever going back to inform or re-query,  without any regulatory provisions ensuring it was revocable, was what  participants meant by  “being asked.” Rationally, that option is far worse than no consent, for reasons we shall come to. Continue reading

Divided Infringement in Patent Law and the Doctor-Patient Relationship

Regular readers of this blog (hi, Mom) will recall that I often think and write about the interaction between the divided infringement doctrine in patent law and medical method patents of various kinds.  In previous posts, I’ve written about the Federal Circuit’s efforts to assign liability for divided infringement of method patents and considered the potential impact on medical method patents (here and here) and I’ve more recently examined a district court opinion applying the Federal Circuit’s analysis to a method-of-treatment claim (here).

I’ve just posted a new essay on SSRN (here, forthcoming in IP Theory) specifically considering the role of the doctor-patient relationship in the Federal Circuit’s analysis.  Would the Federal Circuit see the doctor-patient relationship as fitting within the scope of its divided infringement analysis?  Should it?  These questions are timely, as the Federal Circuit is due to take up these issues very soon.  Briefing before the court in the Eli Lilly case I considered in my last blog post has just been completed, and the case will likely be scheduled for argument later this summer.

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NRPM Symposium: “We are holding health care for ransom, just get naked already!” or “Consent neutrality is non-neutral in effect”

Part Three of Seven-Part Blog Series by Guest Blogger Patrick Taylor

In the previous post of this series, we took a look at how comprehensively certain proposed revisions to human subject research regulations would apply and whether they would, if effective, really fulfill a broad goal of enabling the consent of everyone to researchers’ use of their clinical data.  The answer is a big “No,” based on their scope.  If public trust in science depends, as the government claims, on individuals’ consent reliably and consistently governing research use of their data, then science is in trouble; all the government has proposed is a restriction on the institutions a supermajority of the people trust already to protect their privacy: healthcare providers, researchers funded by the NIH, and a handful of other federal agencies.   Everyone else, from Google to spymaster, drug company to next-door neighbor, is unaffected except to the extent that those entities, or reviewing IRBs, require contracts that say something more, which in this case is left to chance.

The proposed regulations call for government to draft a general blanket consent to govern tissue banking and banked data.  “Blanket” means that it covers everything, in undifferentiated language, with no opt outs – all or nothing.   Such an approach will eliminate most or any choice about what one is consenting to.  It will require consent to any research by anybody using any technique, with any goal in mind.  The options will be to consent to that or not consent at all. Continue reading

NPRM Symposium: Privacy and Promises, Promises, Promises

Part Two of Seven-Part Blog Series by Guest Blogger Patrick Taylor

The first blog post in this series probably provided a few surprises, but the surprises are just beginning. Can the NPRM to amend the Common Rule keep its promises?

The NPRM promises that patients will be able to consent to use of their clinical data in research, which is actually two promises, not one. The first is that the consent will be given effect. The second is that the refusal will be given effect.  As to refusal, the NPRM absolutely does not keep its promise.

The NPRM is filled with page after page of exceptions where your consent is not required. These include examples like trailing you and spying on you in public, some tests done on how to affect children’s behavior, and more. Continue reading

Looking Towards 2030 in Patient Safety

There is a clear need for those charged with patient safety policy making to prepare for the future and to take account of emerging trends. This would be so in any commercial or professional organisation. These issues were addressed in the context of patient safety at the recent,Patient Safety Global Action Summit held in March 2016 in London. The conference was designed to mirror the discussions contained in the report  by NIHR (National Institute for Health Research), Patient Safety Translational Research Centre at Imperial College London and The Imperial College NHS Trust on the priorities and direction that the patient safety movement should follow going towards 2030.

There is a lot that is excellent in this report  which is very rich in analysis and detail. Lots of deep thinking about patient safety issues with interesting and novel ideas expressed on nearly every page.

Emerging threats to patient safety

In the report, in chapter one, it is acknowledged that there are many existing issues at the root of patient harm that have yet to be solved. Also that unfortunately trends in healthcare are likely to increase the risks to safety. The report focuses on four emerging trends: Continue reading

REGISTER NOW! 2016 Annual Conference: Big Data, Health Law, and Bioethics

Close-up of fiber optic cables

2016 Annual Conference:
Big Data, Health Law, and Bioethics
May 6, 2016
Wasserstein Hall, Milstein East ABC
Harvard Law School, 1585 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA

“Big Data” is a phrase that has been used pervasively by the media and the lay public in the last several years. While many definitions are possible, the common denominator seems to include the “three V’s” – Volume (vast amounts of data), Variety (significant heterogeneity in the type of data available in the set), and Velocity (speed at which a data scientist or user can access and analyze the data).

Defined as such, health care has become one of the key emerging use cases for big data. For example, Fitbit and Apple’s ResearchKit can provide researchers access to vast stores of biometric data on users from which to test hypotheses on nutrition, fitness, disease progression, treatment success, and the like. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) have vast stores of billing data that can be mined to promote high value care and prevent fraud; the same is true of private health insurers.  And hospitals have attempted to reduce re-admission rates by targeting patients that predictive algorithms indicate are at highest risk based on analysis of available data collected from existing patient records. Continue reading

LGBT Backlash Legislation and the Politics of Biology

By Maayan Sudai

Of the many responses to the monumental victory of the gay marriage movement in Obergefell v. Hodges in 2015, one was a backlash of legislative proposals submitted by conservative groups. A popular target was the regulation of sex-segregated public spaces like bathrooms, schools, etc. – also called “bathroom bills” – in TexasFloridaKentucky, and other states. The anti-LGBT bills are meant to either block the extension of anti-discrimination protections that could accommodate free use of sex-segregated public spaces, or strictly ban Transgender people from entering public bathrooms that fit their self-identified gender.

In South Dakota, failed bill HB1008 would have made it illegal for schools to provide accommodations for Transgender students and would have required every public bathroom, shower, or locker room be “designated for and used only by students of the same biological sex.” The bill did not pass, as Governor Dennis Daugaard vetoed it last March, affirming the authority of local municipalities to determine their own standards. Nevertheless, a few weeks later a similar bill was passed in North Carolina. The new law, also known as HB2 or the “Charlotte Bill” (more formally: “Public Facilities Privacy and Security Act”) came as a response to a local non-discrimination ordinance issued by the Charlotte City Council which provided protections and accommodation to the LGBT community in public bathrooms. HB2 affectively repealed the Charlotte ordinance, and restricted the ability of other cities in the state to expand equality measures beyond the standard determined by HB2.[1] Rich Schragger said that HB2 is “thus an anti-LGBT law masked as an anti-discrimination provision.”

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Leo Beletsky on ‘The Week in Health Law’ Podcast

By Nicolas Terry and Frank Pasquale

twihl 5x5

This week we interviewed Leo Beletsky, Associate Professor of Law and Health Sciences at Northeastern University. Leo utilizes empirical and theoretical approaches to analyze how legal mechanisms can help curb substance abuse, prevent the spread of HIV and other infectious diseases and improve patient care. By highlighting discrepancies between black letter law and its real-world implementation, he also examines the relationship between police practices, public health outcomes and human rights of vulnerable groups.

We had plenty of opportunity to apply Leo’s expertise to the topic we focused on this week: opioid addiction. Recent studies have demonstrated a rapidly rising rate of opioid abuse, with troubling consequences for individuals and communities. This drug use has also attracted a host of legal responses, which Leo has expertly dissected in past work (including some recent studies here).

Our lightning round featured discussions of recent research on income and life expectancy, the emerging natural experiment in Kentucky on Medicaid rollback, and insurer mergers.

The Week in Health Law Podcast from Frank Pasquale and Nicolas Terry is a commuting-length discussion about some of the more thorny issues in Health Law & Policy. Subscribe at iTunes, listen at Stitcher RadioTunein and Podbean, or search for The Week in Health Law in your favorite podcast app. Show notes and more are at TWIHL.com. If you have comments, an idea for a show or a topic to discuss you can find us on twitter @nicolasterry @FrankPasquale @WeekInHealthLaw