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Laboratory Organizations Urge Congress to Address Workforce Shortages

Federal Insider: June 2023

Lab professionals rush in a hospital because they are understaffed.

AACC, in concert with a broad coalition of laboratory advocacy organizations, is urging Congress to take action on the growing shortage of laboratory professionals in the United States. A letter, signed by the 24 organizations in the coalition, was sent to the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions. Together, the organizations represent approximately 350,000 laboratory professionals.

The letter underscored the fact that the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the existing shortage of laboratory professionals.

“Currently, most medical and public health laboratories suffer from significant personnel shortages, and many are operating at or near crisis-mode,” the letter says. “Staffing shortages now have the potential to undermine the ability of these laboratories to provide timely test results, which is imperative to both the public health and patient access to quality care.”

The coalition is urging Congress to include laboratory professionals in all federal workforce programs, including grants to training programs, scholarship and fellowship programs, and loan repayment programs. Currently, laboratory professionals, and in particular entry-level laboratory professionals, are unable to benefit from these programs.

This letter also asks Congress to consider how tackling visa issues could help improve the shortage. The letter is the latest in a series of efforts by AACC and other laboratory advocacy organizations to raise awareness of workforce issues.

According to the letter, the workforce shortage persists due to several factors, including high educational costs; lack of familiarity with laboratory medicine as a career option; declines in the number of training programs and students trained; and high workload, stress, and burnout.

FTC PROPOSES NEW RULES ON HEALTH BREACH NOTIFICATION AND WARNS OF BIOMETRIC PRIVACY RISKS

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is seeking comment on proposed changes to the Health Breach Notification Rule (HBNR) that include clarifying the rule’s applicability to health apps and similar technologies.

The FTC also warns of the increasing risks associated with the collection and use of biometric information. Increasingly, healthcare apps collect such “digital biomarkers” to track consumers’ health.
The HBNR requires vendors of personal health records (PHR) and related entities that are not covered by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) to notify individuals, the FTC—and, in some cases, the media—of a breach of unsecured personally identifiable health data.

It also requires third party service providers to vendors of PHRs and PHR-related entities to provide notification to these vendors and PHR-related entities following the discovery of a breach.

The FTC proposes changes to the HBNR that would include revising several definitions to clarify the rule’s application to health apps and authorizing the expanded use of email and other electronic means of providing notice of a breach to consumers.

In a separate announcement, the FTC also warns of the increasing risks associated with the collection and use of biometric information—data that depicts or describes physical, biological, or behavioral traits, characteristics, or other measurements. Some biometric technologies claim to determine characteristics ranging from a person’s age, sex, or race to the individual's aptitudes or demeanor.

The FTC’s policy statement cautions that businesses that collect or use biometric information must comply with the law. Businesses must carefully consider the risks associated with collecting and using biometric information and take steps to mitigate those risks, the agency says.

Consumers should take steps to control their own biometric information, according to the FTC. They should be careful about what biometric information they share with businesses and should only share their biometric data with those they trust. Consumers should also use the privacy settings on their devices, such as smartphones.

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