TTA’s Week: CES as major health event, Walgreens Boots, CVS-Aetna, Verily’s billion, and more

 

 

We round up the Official Healthcare Circus of CES, Verily rolls along with $1 bn in investment, and Walgreens Boots finally makes an alliance splash with Microsoft

It’s Official: CES is now a health tech event (And still a circus! We round up the top coverage so you don’t have to)
News roundup: Walgreens Boots-Microsoft, TytoCare, CVS-Aetna moves along, Care Innovations exits Louisville
Verily, Google’s life sciences arm, gathers in another billion to go…where? (A mystery)

Our first full week in January is full of news and events, from CES to RSM, plus lots of healthcare acceleration!

News roundup: CES’ early beat, CVS-Aetna pauses, digital health fizzes, Yorkshire & Humber Propels
Events, Dear Friends, Events part 2: Newcastle and Texas accelerate, Aging2.0 NYC gets happy, AutoBlock’s Meetup, Wearable Tech, HealthImpact East
Events, Dear Friends, Events: Hancock at the RSM, MedStartr NOLA Challenge, RSM and The King’s Fund

We start our 2019 first in West Africa with a health facility mapping initiative addressing epidemics and service distribution. On to the UK with Babylon Health’s chatbot problems revealing an increasingly fractious relationship with the business press–one of our most read articles ever. And 3rings may be exiting, but doing so with grace and consideration–another Top Read.

Healthsites, eHealth Africa mapping health facility locations in West Africa to improve emergency care (Fighting epidemics and improving disaster response using health tech)
Is Babylon Health the next Theranos? Or just being made out to be by the press? (Soapbox) (A few best practices might stop a growing pile-on–or a Big Problem)
3rings’ well-handled transition to their March shutdown (updated) (Referring their clients to other UK companies based on the customer’s needs) 

Our final Alert for 2018 ended with a Dickens quote and hope–for an effective treatment for dementia. Assistive tech crosses over to transportation. Health blockchainers merge, CVS-Aetna held up again, and there’s comings and goings–one good, one bad.

Happy Holidays and a most Festive Season! (Best wishes from the Editors)

Ultrasound to break up brain amyloid plaques moving to human trials in 2019 (Very hopeful news)
News roundup: CVS-Aetna still on hold, blockchainers Change acquires PokitDoc, Teladoc’s COO resigns under insider cloud, Clapp joins Cricket (Includes two comings and goings)
Kompaï robotics gets FABULOS in EU Horizon 2020 automated minibus competition (Assistive tech in robotics crosses over to transportation)

VA gets back to expanding home telehealth for veterans. Older tech and even furniture integrates with digital health. And No18 goes to war with REALLY old tech–calling Godzilla and Tokyo!

VA expands telehealth services again with T-Mobile’s 70,000 lines (Adding home telehealth access for distant veterans is back to their old vision)
Why they matter: the $225 million acquisition of Propeller Health; Hill-Rom’s integration of EarlySense’s bed monitor (Reviving old tech with the new means $$ to young companies)
Just the Fax. Or Matt Hancock versus the Fax Machines (UK) (A solution leading to Unintended Consequences)

A medical tricorder, once so close, fades into the distance as reality sets in. CVS-Aetna faces an unexpected hurdle. A PERS tech company loses its innovative muse. And plenty of company news!

News roundup: NeuroPace’s brain study, Welbeing’s Liverpool win, VA’s Apple talks, Medtronic’s diabetes move
Unaliwear’s model/muse, Joan Hall, passes at 85 (A remarkable woman)
Will there ever be a medical ‘tricorder’? (Not a race, but a search. Don’t miss David Doherty/3G Doctor’s comment)
CVS-Aetna merger closes, but hardly ‘rubber stamped’ in Federal court (There once was a judge who threw a spanner…)

Is there really hope that telehealth will finally be accepted by US doctors because they will actually be paid for it–and then pay vendors? And in No Surprise, Google exercises right of ownership, reorgs DeepMind Health into new division.

UK’s DeepMind loses Streams, health projects to Google Health (DeepMind UK staff, initiatives stay–for now)
The wind may finally be at the back of telehealth distribution and payment (US) (Real advances in Medicare reimbursement could not come sooner for emerging and struggling companies)

Babylon Health’s AI diagnostic efficacy challenged. CVS-Aetna’s merger out of the oven by Thanksgiving. And a win for TECS with Canary Care.

Is Babylon Health’s AI on par with a human diagnostician? Claim questioned in ‘The Lancet’. (What $100 million should be solving)
Comings and goings: CVS-Aetna finalizing, Anthem sued over merger, top changes at IBM Watson Health 
Canary Care re-emerges as Canary Care Global Ltd, confirms continued operations (A happier outcome)


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It’s Official: CES is now a health tech event

CES is now, officially, a health tech event. It’s not just the timing before CES of the flashy but apparently cratering JP Morgan annual healthcare investment conference in the absurdly pricey venue of San Francisco (FierceBiotech on the #MoveJPM backlash; the general disillusion with it expressed well here). It’s the fact that whatever mainstreaming health tech has actually accomplished, it’s far better represented in Las Vegas. Always a place of beginnings, endings, fun, and gambles taken, health tech fits right in, big or small.

CES reported that 2019 boasted an increase of 25 percent health-related exhibitors and a 15 percent increase in the amount of floor space dedicated to health tech. One winner was a big gamble by a small company–Living in Digital Times, which organizes and stages the Digital Health SummitTen years later, it turned out to be right place, right time for the founders who work hard to keep it on trend. Lifestyle, robotics, self-care, assistive tech (even exoskeletons), wearables, cosmetic “wellness” devices like P&G’s Opté, and Alexa-type gadgets all now fit into the CES purview. Trial balloons by young companies, AI-powered concept devices from big companies, watches (including the Apple-beater Move ECG from the revitalized Withings TTA 10 Oct 18 and Omron’s HeartGuide), and robots all appeared. Samsung again brought out a brace of concept robots, ElliQ is finally available for pre-order after three years at a measly $1,500, and yes, Pepper from Softbank made its appearance and apparently didn’t wilt.

Sleep tech was another hot item, with a spin on sleep diagnostics or improvement from many products. A brainwave product, Urgonight from France, claims to be able to train your brain to sleep better. (Send one to Rick Astley who was a poster child for not Sleeping.)  Mental health is a natural crossover into sleep tech and robots, with a $5,000 Japanese robot, Lovot, capable of responsive cuddling and comfort.

CNET has probably the best coverage and articles on health which stick to the facts (slim in some cases as they are); anyone who wants to catch up with the feel and flavor of this three-ring circus can start and stay there. Their full show coverage is here. Dr. Jayne at HISTalk also did an excellent health-related product roundup in her Curbside Consult column. Mobihealthnews also has a very long running list of health tech pictures and announcements as part of its limited coverage, including the mea culpas and promised transparency of onetime health ed unicorn Outcome Health [TTA 29 Jan 18].

Beyond the plethora of products encouraging ever more to come forward, what ones will even make it to market, far more be winners? Aside from the Samsungs and P&Gs, which of these young companies planting their stake at CES will be there next year?  As in past CES, the wheel goes round and round, and where it stops, nobody knows. Even the JPM investors. 

News roundup: Walgreens Boots-Microsoft, TytoCare, CVS-Aetna moves along, Care Innovations exits Louisville

Walgreens Boots finally does something. Their teaming with Microsoft to migrate their IT infrastructure to the Azure platform will eventually lead to “more personalized care experiences from preventative self-care to chronic disease management. WBA will leverage the cloud for wellness and lifestyle management programs.” It was important enough to both companies to have a photo op with twin CEOs: Walgreens Boots’ Stefano Pessina and Microsoft’s Satya Nadella. The ‘consumerization of healthcare’ and ‘transforming healthcare delivery’ phrases liberally sprinkled throughout the article and the press release are today’s prevalent clichés, as ‘synergy’ was the buzzword of say, 1999. Healthcare IT News, CNBC  In the long run, this IT overhaul may actually mean more to their customers than, say, the Amazon-JP Morgan-Berkshire Hathaway hydra.

A vote of confidence in diagnostic telehealth pioneered by young Israeli company TytoCare. They added $9 million to their Series C from investors including Sanford Health, Itochu and Shenzhen Capital Group (and its affiliates). This adds to last year’s round led by Ping An Global Voyager Fund for a total Series C of $33.5 million. TechCrunch. TytoCare also was named one of Wired’s Best of CES (CBS TV video, at 1:35) and earlier this month announced the integration of Health Navigator’s symptom checker into their system.

The judge says ‘No Delay For You’! In the CVS-Aetna hearing, Federal Judge Richard Leon refused to give the Department of Justice any more time to submit comments in the CVS Health and Aetna merger case. The deadline remains 15 February despite the government shutdown furloughing much of the antitrust division. Judge Leon is reviewing the decree under the Tunney Act requirement that the merger meet the public interest. Healthcare Finance

Care Innovations ankles Louisville. A modest and mainly paywalled item in Louisville Business First may point to something larger at Care Innovations. After two years of operation and a much-touted expansion to one of Louisville’s better addresses, the telehealth/RPM company has quietly vacated its 7,200 square foot space at Brown & Williamson Tower and pulled its operations from the city. Reporters from the publication were unable to obtain a statement from Care Innovations, which is now in Folsom, California, closer to majority owner Intel. At the time of their Louisville expansion in April 2017 (still on their website), Care Innovations received a $500,000 KBI tax incentive to create 24 high-paying jobs, which now are departed. It is ironic as Louisville is a health hub dominated by insurer Humana but has successfully campaigned for health tech. Last July [TTA 17 July], CI sold its Validation Institute and their VA win disappeared from their website. Of late, there has been no news from the one-time Intel-GE partnership.

Verily, Google’s life sciences arm, gathers in another billion to go…where?

Biotech/device company Verily added to its 2016 $800 million stake from Singapore’s Temasek a fresh $1 bn from Silver Lake Partners. with reported participation from Ontario Teacher’s Pension Plan. Verily is majority-owned by Google parent Alphabet, which has added a new member to the Verily board, CFO Ruth Porat, and Egon Durbat from Silver Lake.

CEO Andrew Conrad, who is still there despite a brace of bad press two years ago [TTA 6 Apr 16], stated that “We are taking external funding to increase flexibility and optionality as we expand on our core strategic focus areas. Adding a well-rounded group of seasoned investors, led by Silver Lake, will further prepare us to execute as healthcare continues the shift towards evidence generation and value-based reimbursement models.”

One is tempted to say, ‘whatever that means’. They have had multiple ventures from contact lenses with Novartis’ subsidiary Alcon (reportedly discontinued but dating back with Google to 2014), diabetes with Sanofi, to sleep apnea with ResMed. VentureBeat reports they are cash-profitable and even venturing into areas such as small exploding needles that can extract blood through a wearable device–not precisely for the needle-phobic. There seem to be multiple projects in multiple directions that are primarily research. Certainly their finding at $1.8 bn is an outlier even at 2018’s big scale–but with Alphabet/Google as a parent and A-list partners, the risk is minimal. Mobihealthnews, Crunchbase

News roundup: CES’ early beat, CVS-Aetna pauses, digital health fizzes, Yorkshire & Humber Propels

The start of January can be a slow–or busy–time. There are, of course, the avalanche of announcements made at JPM and just starting CES, which has become a part-healthcare show with hundreds of health-related exhibitors. At this point, this Editor confesses that there is not much that has caught her attention or that she–and Readers–haven’t heard about before, but the bulk of the coverage will come out next week. A lot of what is on the floor are still gadgets–and they come and mostly go. In better news, there was a Hospital at Home panel kicking off the 10th year of the Digital Health Summit on till Friday which illustrates their maturing into issues such as AI, workplace wellness, and aging. All this may be moving forward and coming a lot closer to reality than say, in 2017. But Jake, it’s CES–this year, if it folds, rolls, is retro, has a healthcare spin, and 5G, it’s on trend at CES.

CVS-Aetna grinds to halt. The partial government shutdown has affected the DOJ’s filings with DC Federal Court Judge Richard Leon on the consent decree from October. Judge Leon is reviewing the decree under the Tunney Act requirement that the merger meet the public interest. It turns out that the DOJ cannot supply documents as the Antitrust Division was furloughed–non-essential . This means little for the actual merger as it has already happened, but it slows down a fair amount of functional integration. Prediction: DOJ will not move forward with this until at least one month after the shutdown ends–our bet is April, with the cherry blossoms. Seeking Alpha

Fizzy, not bubbly. That’s Rock Health’s verdict on This Year In Digital Health Funding. No Bubble Here! While Rock only takes a piece of the picture (US only deals, over $2 million), it came in at $8.1 billion–a full $2.3 bn or 42 percent–over 2017, as projected in Q3 [TTA 11 Oct]. The deals continue to be bigger and fewer–368 versus 359 for 2017, which is barely a rounding error. More on this next week.

Propel@YH debuts. Returning to the UK, Yorkshire and Humber’s Academic Health Science Network’s (AHSN) first digital health accelerator program will be providing guidance and support services for pioneering developers with innovative digital and patient solutions. Eligible organizations will have either an existing presence in the region or are willing to establish one. Six organizations will be chosen to take part in a six-month program focused on human-related design, clinical safety by design and understanding NHS procurement. Announcement and AHSN website.

Events, Dear Friends, Events part 2: Newcastle and Texas accelerate, Aging2.0 NYC gets happy, AutoBlock’s Meetup, Wearable Tech, HealthImpact East

Short notice–Thursday 10 January in Newcastle, Aging2.0 is supporting the Innovation SuperNetwork on their Innovation in Ageing Accelerator Programme. This is a collaboration that includes the local National Innovation Centre for Ageing, Newcastle City Council and Northstar Ventures. They are offering £12,500 of investment and 6 months office space in the Biosphere building on Newcastle Helix. The Accelerator is holding a four-hour workshop tomorrow, 1-5 pm. If you can make it, register here.

Wednesday 30 Jan, NYC. Post-holiday, post-CES/JPM, and mid-winter blues have you down? Aging2.0 in NYC is hosting a Happy Hour (drinks are on you) down at Grey Bar in the trendy Flatiron District. It’s Wed 30 Jan 6-8pm at Grey Bar (26th between 6th and Broadway). RSVP here.

Friday-Saturday 8-9 February, Dallas. The Health Wildcatters are sponsoring a two-day Texas Healthcare Challenge. Format is a “hackathon-like” prize competition focused on creating team-based solutions to problems in healthcare. Teams can apply as well as solo fliers who will join a team that presents at the end of the event. Application by 24 January. More information here.

If you are in the Cambridge/Boston MA area, the former Health Innovators, now AutoBlock, hosts a weekly Thursday Meetup at the Cambridge Innovation Center on blockchain in healthcare. Hat tip to Kalyan Kalwa MD 

And on the other side of the country, the 10th Wearable Tech + Digital Health + Neurotech Silicon Valley conference will be 21-22 February at Stanford University, co-sponsored by ApplySci and the Stanford Wearable Electronics Initiative. More information here. 

And looking ahead to warmer weather…HealthImpact East will be up on 21-22 May at the Google offices in NYC. 

Events, Dear Friends, Events: Hancock at the RSM, MedStartr NOLA Challenge, RSM and The King’s Fund

HealthChat with Secretary of State for Health Matt Hancock. Monday 28 Jan at the RSM (starts at 8 for 8.30am).

Roy Lilley of NHS Managers will be asking the questions, so they won’t be a parade of powderpuffs. What is the long term look at health policy when the Government is gripped by Brexit? Promoting digital health won’t have an argument here and fax machines may have had their day, but what’s the 10 year plan all about? What about that social media blitz targeting the obese, smokers, and those who like their drink? Intriguingly, who is the real Matt Hancock? Is he That Man In A Portfolio? Tickets are a moderate £19.95 – £39.95 and likely will sell out soon. Book via Eventbrite here. Hat tip to Roy Lilley via NHS Managers.

NOLA Health Innovators Challenge. Over here in the US, we have a very big event (no, not CES in Las Vegas or the JP Morgan invitational conference this week in SF). It’s down in one of the homes of Real Jazz, New Orleans (NOLA), in March (date to come). Back for its second year, MedStartr Ventures has been running the Health Innovators Challenge jointly with the New Orleans Business Alliance. It’s very late to apply for one of the four Challenges (it closes on Sunday 13 Jan) but if you work hard and fast, see the link to apply to a program that is raising its second round of funding and helping previous crowd challenge winners raise their next rounds–plus get a wealth of guidance on how to package your idea for presentation to key healthcare stakeholders to get to market much faster. They also sponsor the #HCLDR Tweetchat every Tuesday at 8:30 PM EST, 5:30 PST, Wednesday 1.30 AM GMT.

Speaking of the RSM, their Digital Health (Telemedicine & eHealth) section is sponsoring upcoming events on Recent Developments in AI and Digital Health on Tuesday 26 Feb and Medical Apps–Mainstreaming Innovation on Thursday 18 April featuring a return appearance by Matt Hancock. 

Over at The King’s Fund, they will be hosting a full day session on Digital Health Explained: demystifying the tech revolution in health and care on Wednesday 27 March. The annual two-day Digital Health and Care Congress will be a little earlier this year, on 22-23 May; preliminary information and registration including sponsor packages are here. Follow developments at #KFdigital19.

Healthsites, eHealth Africa mapping health facility locations in West Africa to improve emergency care

News from an area not known for health tech. eHealth Africa is partnering with the Global Healthsites Mapping Project to create a dataset of health facility locations across West Africa. The goal of the global project is to improve outcomes in the medical and humanitarian sectors by establishing an accessible global baseline of health facility data. 

The project was initiated during the Ebola epidemic in March 2016 with support from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and Kartoza. eHealth Africa’s expertise is in health facility data collection and presentation. eHealth Africa will be working with Healthsites using two platforms they developed: Gather, a human-mediated data collection and curation application that crowdsources and quality checks facility information; and Aether to facilitate interoperability over several systems, allowing for a large-scale data exchange between numerous organizations. The mapping app that Healthsites uses to establish the baseline of facility data is OpenStreetMap. 

Improving emergency care can lead to a 45% reduction in mortality rates and a 36% reduction in disability–The Lancet  The primary use cases center around epidemic preparedness, support for disaster response, immunization programs, and maternity care. Most of this involves responding to outbreaks more effectively, preparing for sudden influxes of patients, allocating resources and availability of resources, but also the health of women giving birth in remote areas.

Project partners include the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Doctors Without Borders (MSF), The Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team (HOT), the International Hospital Federation, and CartONG. The eHealth Africa blog is a great spot to track health tech used in the field in Africa.

Is Babylon Health the next Theranos? Or just being made out to be by the press? (Soapbox)

There, it’s said. A recent investigative article by a Forbes staff writer, European-based Parmy Olson (as opposed to their innumerable guest writers), that dropped a week before Christmas Eve raised some uncomfortable questions about Babylon Health, certainly the star health tech company on the UK scene. These uncomfortable bits are not unknown to our Readers from these pages and for those in the UK independently following the company in their engagement with the NHS.

Most of the skepticism is around their chatbot symptom checker, which has been improved over time and tested, but even the testing has been doubted. The Royal College of Physicians, Stanford University and Yale New Haven Health subjected Babylon and seven primary care physicians to 100 independently-devised symptom sets in the MRCGP, with Babylon achieving a much-publicized 80 test score. A letter published in the Lancet (correspondence) questioned the study’s methodology and the results: the data was entered by doctors, not by the typical user of Babylon Health; there was no statistical significance testing and the letter claims that the poor performance of one doctor in the sample skewed results in Babylon’s favor.  [TTA 8 Nov]. 

The real questions raised by the Lancet correspondence and the article are around establishing standards, testing the app around existing standards, and accurate follow up–in other words, if Babylon were a drug or a medical device, close to a clinical trial:

  • Real-world evaluation is not being done, following a gradual escalation of steps testing usability, effectiveness, and safety.
  • How does the checker balance the probability of a disease with the risk of missing a critical diagnosis?
  • How do users interact with these symptom checkers? What do they do afterwards? What are the outcomes?

Former Babylon staffers, according to the Forbes article, claim there is no follow up. The article also states that “Babylon says its GP at Hand app sends a message to its users 24 hours after they engage with its chatbot. The notification asks about further symptoms, according to one user.” Where is the research on that followup?

Rectifying this is where Babylon gets sketchy and less than transparent. None of their testing or results have been published in peer-reviewed journals. Moreover, they are not helped by, in this Editor’s view, their chief medical officer stating that they will publish in journals when “when Babylon produces medical research.” This is a sad statement, given the crying need for triaging symptoms within the UK medical system to lessen wait times at GPs and hospitals. But even then, Babylon is referring patients to the ED 30 percent of the time, compared to NHS’ 111 line at 20 percent. Is no one there or at the NHS curious about the difference?

And the chatbot is evidently still missing things. (more…)

3rings’ well-handled transition to their March shutdown (updated)

In late summer [TTA 19 Sep] we learned that one of the most innovative UK companies in sensor-based assistive technology, 3rings, was ceasing operations as of March 2019’s end. We noted it was a planned shutdown that gave subscribers nearly six months to switch over to other technologies. Steve Purdham and his team have recommended three companies that in their estimation are good alternatives to 3rings in both their original electrical Plug (electric usage as a proxy for being up and around) and cloud-based IoT service. Three companies are recommended in detail based on needs. 3rings presents all three in detail with special offers, including a handy ‘how to’ on transitioning services.

  1. Clever Contact from Alertacall–a daily contact and reminder service
  2. Canary Care--motion sensor/IoT service which is fairly close to the way that 3rings developed. Canary Care has reorganized since last summer with new ownership [TTA 8 Nov].
  3. PPP Taking Care–pendant alarm

When asked to comment on Canary Care’s recent release (PDF) related to their service as a close fit to 3rings, Steve remarked that “As we plan our graceful close the key for us was to give all our customers significant notice of our intentions (almost 6 months) and where possible provide guidance as to ways forward. We also wanted to help as many of our customers to transition to technologies that would help them continue looking after their loved ones after March 1st 2019. Looking after all our customers means a lot to us so providing this help made sense. The team at Canary wanted to do a press release regarding their deal and I was happy to support it.”

The 3rings closing is regrettable, but the transition of their services to protect their customers deserves a ‘Well Done’. (Undoubtedly we will be hearing from Steve and the 3rings team in future.) Hat tip to Steve, Nicola Hughes of Canary Care/Lifecycle Software, and James Batchelor of Alertacall.