176: Smart Health Cards

ASTHO Chief Medical Officer Dr. Marcus Plescia says continued federal investment can help keep the nation on the right track in the fight against the COVID-19 virus; Dr. David Rhew, Global Chief Medical Officer at Microsoft, explains how Smart Health...

ASTHO Chief Medical Officer Dr. Marcus Plescia says continued federal investment can help keep the nation on the right track in the fight against the COVID-19 virus; Dr. David Rhew, Global Chief Medical Officer at Microsoft, explains how Smart Health Cards can give patients more control over their health information; and there’s still time to sign up for ASTHO’s Public Health TechXpo, kicking off its second day of discussions this morning at 11 a.m. eastern time.

ASTHO Website: Public Health TechXpo

ASTHO News Release: Getting Ahead of the Next Pandemic, Leaders Convene to Identify Solutions to Transform U.S. Health Data

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This is Public Health Review Morning Edition for Wednesday, May 11th, 2022. I'm Robert Johnson.

Now, today's news from the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials.


The recent projection that the U.S. could log 100 million new cases of COVID-19 infections this fall is not the news anyone wanted to hear now in our third calendar year of the pandemic. The prediction comes as the administration and Congress discuss the pros and cons of additional funding for the pandemic response.

ASTHO chief medical officer Dr. Marcus Plescia says continued investment can help keep the nation on the right track in the fight against the virus.


We're at a good place right now: we have a lot more tools to be able to deal with COVID; we're a lot more savvy about, you know, kind of how the virus manifests itself.

I mean, we could really turn a corner here—but we do need the resources to be able to put things like vaccines and therapeutics into place so we can move in that direction.


Asked about the possibility that all Americans might need a booster shot later this year, Plescia says the work on vaccine formulas is evolving just like COVID variants.


So, the idea would be in the fall that we have a vaccine that's not the same COVID vaccine that you got last year, that you maybe got boosted with this year. It's a new vaccine. That's a lot more specific to the ways that the virus has changed because of these variants. And ideally this new vaccine has a real breadth of protective qualities to it, where it'll protect against the original variants but it's also capable of protecting against what we're seeing right now—and perhaps even anticipating what we might see in the fall.



Hundreds of public health professionals from states, territories, and local jurisdictions are meeting again today for the second day of ASTHO's Public Health TechXpo.

First up, a discussion about Smart Health Cards and the need to give patients more control over their health information.


I think what we saw during the pandemic was that we needed desperately to be able to take that interoperability to the next level. Bring it to consumers, put it in their hands so that they could demonstrate—to businesses, to schools, to a variety of other places, airlines for traveling to different countries—that they actually had information that they wanted to share that could be relevant for a particular purpose; in this case, entering into those facilities and being comfortable and allowing other people to feel comfortable that they are protected.


That's Dr. David Rhew, global chief medical officer at Microsoft, his remarks kicking off two days of discussion about public health data and technology.

His topic: Smart Health Cards, and the need to offer patients more than a paper card like those handed out during the COVID vaccination response.


What we realized was that these cards were really designed for a purpose of just simply informing you of what was meant, but it wasn't really meant to be a verifiable source. That wasn't something that was digitized, even though you could take a picture of it, and there was a lot of forgeries that we started seeing, and fake pictures, and a variety of other things.

And so, because of all these challenges that we started experiencing when we needed to digitize this and we needed to have a verifiable source, we knew that the current process was not going to work.


Rhew says more than 200 million Americans have access to Smart Health Cards today.


First of all, they're trustworthy. You know, these are things that we know have gone through a rigorous process. It's reliable.

It's equitable—I mentioned this earlier, on paper or digital so it doesn't really matter if you're digitally savvy or not.

It can be used anywhere, it's ubiquitous, and it applies open standards.

And it's free. It doesn't cost anything, we're not charging people to use this. It's just leveraging an existing standard—that makes it something that anyone can use.

And it's verifiable—and I keep on using that word because that's one of the key elements of this, being able to show to the organization that is looking at this, that this meets a certain standard, and it is from a trusted resource.


Day Two of the TechXpo starts this morning at 11:00 a.m. Eastern time, and it's not too late to sign up. If you want to know where public health technology is headed, then click the link in the show notes to save your seat. Registration is free to most people.


Before we go, we want to remind you to follow the show on your podcast app. And if you're on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, or LinkedIn, we'd love a shout out.

That'll do it for today's newscast. We're back tomorrow morning with more coverage of the TechXpo.

I'm Robert Johnson. You're listening to Public Health Review Morning Edition. Have a great day.

Marcus Plescia MD MPH

Chief Medical Officer, ASTHO

David Rhew MD

Global Chief Medical Officer and VP of Healthcare, Microsoft