Health care organizations fearful of stepped-up policing of their marketing practices are cutting back on advertising.

In the first three months of 2023, telemedicine firms spent a quarter of what they did on Google and Facebook ads during the same period last year, according to data from MediaRadar, an ad industry intelligence platform. Nonprofit health systems also halved their spending on targeted ads during that same three-month period year-over-year.

“Legal and compliance teams… are telling the marketing team that these tools are dead men walking, you need to shut it off immediately,” said Ray Mina, head of marketing at Freshpaint, a San Francisco firm that provides software for managing customer marketing data.

It’s a seismic shift for the industry, driven by recent actions by the Federal Trade Commission and Department of Health and Human Services:

– In December, HHS’ Office for Civil Rights issued a bulletin expanding its definition of personally identifiable health information and restricting the use of certain marketing technology.

– In February, the Federal Trade Commission announced that it had fined prescription discount site and telehealth provider GoodRx $1.5 million for sharing customer data with Google, Facebook and other firms, then in March hit online therapy provider BetterHelp with a $7.8 million levy for sharing customer data. Both companies had told customers they wouldn’t share their data.

Anna Rudawski, a partner at law firm Norton Rose Fulbright who advises health care organizations on data protection, said risk-averse health care organizations are discontinuing advertising with major platforms like Google and Facebook until the new regulatory environment is clearer.

“They’re taking a look at anything that looks like a marketing operation that sits on their website and they’re pulling back from it until they get more guidance from HHS,” she said.

This is where we explore the ideas and innovators shaping health care.

The new scale from Withings has something for both the data nut, and the data-phobe.

The French consumer electronics company says its scale will not only provide your weight, but also a body composition analysis, including heart rate, visceral fat, metabolic age, and basal metabolic rate.

For data-phobes, it offers the “Eyes Closed Mode,” which replaces your weight with “encouraging motiving messages or daily information such as step counts, air quality, and the weather.”

Share any thoughts, news, tips and feedback with Ben Leonard at [email protected], Ruth Reader at [email protected], Carmen Paun at [email protected] or Erin Schumaker at [email protected].

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Today on our Pulse Check podcast, your host Ben talks with Myah Ward about her story on Sen. John Fetterman’s return to Congress this week and how the lawmaker’s experience with depression shows that Washington is more openly talking about mental health and making the issue a policy priority.

About 1 in 7 Americans had their sensitive health data breached in 2021 alone, a threefold increase in three years, according to a POLITICO analysis.

HHS is rolling out free cybersecurity training online for health care workers to help keep hackers at bay.

The training will cover issues such as ransomware, social engineering and attacks against medical devices.

The agency also released a publication on recommended cybersecurity practices.

Meanwhile, HHS announced at the end of February that it’s forming divisions within its Office for Civil Rights to address a spike in health data breaches, while the agency’s Administration for Strategic Preparedness and Response released a new roadmap last month to help health care organizations bolster their cybersecurity.

Why it matters: A recent survey from the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society, an industry group, found that health care workers don’t receive much cybersecurity training. Barriers were costs and a lack of time.

An HHS analysis of cybersecurity preparedness across the sector found “considerable variability” in training and that less than half of hospitals say they have sufficient risk management for their supply chains.

What’s next: It could be cybersecurity mandates.

The administration has said it will move to more aggressively guard critical infrastructure like hospitals. Anne Neuberger, deputy national security adviser for cyber and emerging technology, said it’s “time to implement minimum mandates.”

Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Mark Warner (D-Va.) is working on legislation that could set minimum standards for health care organizations to safeguard data.

Appropriations bills for the next fiscal year, on which debate will begin this summer on Capitol Hill, could be the place where the Covid origins controversy has consequences.

Roger Marshall (R-Kan.), who sits on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, says Congress should seek to rein in U.S. agencies, like the National Institutes of Health, which funded researchers who worked with the Wuhan Institute of Virology, from which he believes the coronavirus leaked, by adding more oversight mechanisms.

He also wants to halt government funding of so-called gain of function research — which seeks to alter viruses to make them more dangerous — until more guardrails are in place.

“The way we’re doing research needs to be looked at,” Marshall said.

Why it matters: Republicans say they will continue to pursue evidence around the origins of Covid, but the latest report on the subject, spearheaded by Marshall, underscores how it’ll be hard to keep up the drumbeat without new evidence.

Prepared by Robert Kadlec, who was an HHS assistant secretary during the Trump administration, and Robert Foster, the report presents no new smoking gun or details, but reiterates circumstantial evidence pointing to a lab leak.

U.S. agencies are divided on what caused the pandemic, with some favoring the lab leak theory, while others say it’s more likely the virus first infected an animal that spread the disease to people.

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