Obama touts cybersecurity, personalized medicine efforts in State of the Union address

While health IT wasn't directly mentioned in President Barack Obama's State of the Union Address on Tuesday night, two proposals touted--on cybersecurity and personalized medicine--have the potential to alter the landscape of the industry to varying degrees.


Obama's cybersecurity plan, which already has won an endorsement from the Health Information Trust Alliance (HITRUST), calls for increased sharing of information on cyberthreats from the private sector with protection from liability. Specifically, the White House wants the private sector to share its cyberthreat information with the Department of Homeland Security's National Cybersecurity and Communications Integration Center, which would pass that information along to other federal agencies and private-sector operated Information Sharing and Analysis Organizations (ISAOs).

The plan also calls for a single notification requirement that would standardize the "existing patchwork" of state laws currently in place.

"I urge this Congress to finally pass the legislation we need to better meet the evolving threat of cyberattacks, combat identity theft and protect our children's information," Obama said. "If we don't act, we'll leave our nation and our economy vulnerable. If we do, we can continue to protect the technologies that have unleashed untold opportunities for people around the globe."

Jeff Smith, vice president of public policy at the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives, told FierceHealthIT via email that there is a genuine need to ensure that cyberthreat information is broadly available to qualified security professionals working in healthcare.

"CHIME is supportive of plans to develop information sharing centers in both the public and private sector," Smith said. "Further, we believe there is an opportunity for policymakers to make innovative policy to help spur broad investment in cybersecurity technology."

HITRUST reiterated its support for the proposal following the speech.

"With the steps outlined in the president's State of the Union Address last night, the White House has provided clarity that ISAOs are a key link that will continue to provide value to strengthen our government, our economy and our nation as a whole, given the growing cyberthreats the nation faces," the organization said in a statement.

Of the notification requirement, Smith said that if healthcare were to be included, CHIME likely would support it if it aligned with the HITECH Act's requirement of notification within 60 days of a breach discovery.

Ron Mehring, chief information security officer at Texas Health Resources, told FierceHealthIT via email that he thinks the plan's impact on the healthcare industry will be marginal, but added that it will "cast a wider net for information that falls outside the scope of the covered entity breach reporting requirements and help in synchronizing breach requirements for those healthcare organizations that cross state boundaries."

Mehring, who serves on FierceHealthIT's Editorial Advisory Board, added that the effort will be helpful in communicating and boosting visibility on the importance of improving security within healthcare systems.

"I do think the president is trying to raise the bar across all industries," he said.

Precision Medicine Initiative

The Precision Medicine Initiative, meanwhile, aims to increase the use of personalized information in healthcare.

"I want the country that eliminated polio and mapped the human genome to lead a new era of medicine--one that delivers the right treatment at the right time," Obama said.

According to StartUp Health's annual digital health report, private funding for genomics in 2014 reached $632 million. Eric Topol, director of the Scripps Translational Science Institute in San Diego, has previously said that while the U.S. is a little ways from genome testing becoming routine, a strong case can be made for using whole genome sequencing for initial cancer diagnoses.

U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.), who heads up the 21st Century Cures initiative, called for more bipartisanship following Obama's speech.

"More life-saving cures, more affordable energy and more innovation and jobs are all part of our vision for a better America," Upton said in a statement. "It's time to get to work, Republicans and Democrats together, and get the job done."

In April 2013, the Obama administration launched its Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative, which seeks to revolutionize understanding of the human brain. In particular, Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases were identified as focus areas for the initiative.

To learn more:
- here's the HITRUST statement
­- check out Upton's statement