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The Week That Was: Crises in Healthcare Communications

The Week That Was: Crises in Healthcare Communications

March 28, 2016 0 Comments


Riddle me this readers, if you were an executive developer at Microsoft with too much time on your hands, what would you choose to do? The answer is clear: develop an artificial intelligence Twitter “bot” to help you learn about “conversational understanding.” Tay, as the Twitter bot was named, was created by the software developers to engage in automated discussions with Twitter users, mimicking the language they speak. So did Tay reveal some universal truths about the way humanity communicates? Umm, that would be a “no.” Instead, she became a racist. Yes, the sad truth is that in less than 24 hours after her launch, @TayandYou died a swift death at the hands of her creators. Unbeknownst to Tay, she began mimicking inappropriate phrases and hate speech used by others on Twitter. Her short-lived handle disputed the Holocaust, referred to women in disgusting terms and advocated genocide. When she wasn’t hateful, she used random slang, such as this response: “@edgewerk my duck face is on fleek” Hmm… It didn’t help that other Twitter trolls egged her on, forcing Microsoft to shut her down and regroup.

Our Take: Well, we know that Internet comments are not always the “high brow” Platonic dialogue that one would expect in a constrained 140 characters, BUT sadly, Tay brought out the most disgusting voices the Internet has to offer. This is exactly this reason that some media companies have started banning the “comment” option on news stories about sensitive topics like terrorism and race protests. But, in our opinion, the bigger loser is Microsoft and Bing. By not having a better risk mitigation plan in place for the predictable behavior of trolls and bad actors, the applicability of artificial intelligence took a big step backwards.



The escalating tension between health insurance company Anthem and PBM Express Script spilled over this week. Anthem sued the company responsible for negotiating drug prices on its behalf and claimed its most recent review of pricing revealed that its deals are now more than $13 billion above the competitive market pricing. For those unfamiliar with pharmacy benefit manufacturers (PBMs), insurers contract with middleman PBM companies like Express Scripts to negotiate rebates and discounts on prescription drugs on behalf of the people they insure — and sometimes pocket some of the savings for themselves. In short, Anthem’s contention with Express Scripts is that it isn’t doing a good enough job winning the best prices for its members’ medicine. Meanwhile, Express Scripts new CEO declared the company intends to keep its largest customer.

Our Take: For months, PBMs have had a free pass in attacking pharmaceutical companies, even taking on the populist role. While Anthem’s suit may highlight the impact PBMs have on patient out-of-pocket costs, that is likely the limit of this lawsuit’s impact on the harsh pricing environment.



The NFL came under the spotlight of a New York Times investigation this week, with the paper drawing connections – both in personnel and tactics – between the league’s concussion issues and tobacco companies’ denial of a link between smoking and health effects. The report found that the League’s seminal research on concussions used incomplete data that underreported the number of concussions in the study period by at least 100. Pro football also used some of the same lobbyists and lawyers as tobacco companies.

Our Take: Industry-sponsored scientific research always comes under increased scrutiny, and this time the most intense criticism came more than 20 years later. Even publication in a peer-reviewed journal does not provide full immunity. The key is transparency. The league is quoted in previous articles touting the completeness of the study, but depending on self-reported data by teams has obvious shortcomings. If your clients publish original research, transparency and arms-length review are crucial for the sake of both science and PR.

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