TTA’s Autumn Action 6: winter’s preview lends a chill to Walgreens’ rumored leveraged buyout, Google’s Project Nightingale. NHS’ workaround for app vetting revealed.

 

 

BRRR! Winter’s preview hits the US East Coast. Walgreens Boots Alliance and Google’s Project Nightingale may be feeling the chill. And NHS tries to find a workaround for app vetting.

Walgreens Boots going private in the largest ever leveraged buyout: reports (Maybe too big for the market?)
Google’s ‘Project Nightingale’–a de facto breach of 10 million health records, on a bridge too far? (Is there no end to Google intrusion?)
A change of vetting for the NHS Apps Library by spring 2020 (Outsourcing the accreditation problem)

Leaves are turning–and falling–as fall gets on. Getting on, many face the care gap that happens after a hospital discharge. Teladoc looks healthier, but Walgreens is rethinking its clinic strategy. Outcome Health avoids a reckoning with the DOJ. And Charles sounds the last call for DHACA Day on 9 November.

Short takes: Outcome Health pays up, Teladoc’s up in double-digits, Walgreens closing 40% of clinics, a health kiosk for hospital employees?
The biggest care gap: the fear of going home after discharge (What do you do–when you can’t do for yourself? The British Red Cross is applying some answers.)
Last call for DHACA Day on 9th November, plus an excellent RSM event on 3rd December (Editor Charles’ reminders)

Autumn’s more pleasant this week. As leaves fall, questions on age tech rise. Dissatisfaction with healthcare continues despite digital health’s rise. Cleveland Clinic’s telehealth tieup with American Well, Amazon’s buy of Health Navigator, and more. And get away to a digital health conference in historic Trondheim.

Short Takes: Amazon buys symptom checker Health Navigator; Ettain Group acquires EHR consultant Leidos Health (Amazon’s new foray into Amazon Care)
Is ‘age-tech’ a stereotype that misses the larger mark–and market? (A pernicious belief that helps no one)
Over half of Americans of all ages use digital health tools, self-diagnose after internet search: ResMed/Edelman survey (High levels of dissatisfaction with healthcare despite digital tools)
Cleveland Clinic, American Well extend partnership to high-acuity telehealth services with ‘The Clinic’ (Health system growth pinned to telehealth–and virtual visits specializing in complex conditions)
Tyto Care partners with Avera eCARE for telehealth delivered to medically underserved populations (Tyto Care obviously building a use case)
Call for abstracts extended: ISG’s 12th World Conference of Gerontechnology (Norway) (A chance to visit Trondheim)

Autumn’s rainy days set the stage for much M&A, departures, and company moves from Appello, NHS Digital, Babylon Health, Verita, Tyto Care, and more. And slow gait=fast aging in Duke University five-decade study. 

News, moves and M&A roundup: Appello acquires RedAssure, Shaw departs NHS Digital, NHS App goes biometric, GP at Hand in Manchester, Verita Singapore’s three startup buys, Novant Health and Tyto Care partner
Slow gait speed at age 45 as an accelerated aging predictor–and result: Duke University study (A Must-Read if you are interested in aging and its causes)

As the Big Chill of Autumn sets in, there’s a new Hot List of Digital Startups, an IPO for the Bubble Watch, a fresh term for your lexicon, and a voice-activated EHR in your future. And Theranos’ Elizabeth Holmes can’t pay her legal bills. (Sigh)

CB Insights names a Top 150 of digital health startups (Quite attention-getting)
WOT with Proteus found equal to or better than DOT in TB medication adherence trial (Wirelessly Observed Therapy a new add to the lexicon)
The Theranos Story, ch. 61: Elizabeth Holmes as legal deadbeat (Priorities, priorities)
Health tech bubble watch: Alphabet-backed One Medical reportedly prepping for 2020 IPO (Letting the IPO dust settle?)
Does healthcare need a new EHR system? A major health system thinks so. (Updated) (Allscripts gets a Northwell boost, alla voce. Plus a new contract to 2027.)

We reflect in this fall season on the overuse of AI versus machine learning terminology–and why the TEC/telehealth boats aren’t rising with the market tide.

The confusion within TEC/telehealth between machine learning and AI-powered systems (AI is trendy, but trendy is not necessarily good when non-techies are buying your system)
If the market’s expanding, where’s the telecare and TEC boom? (A question we’ve been asking for years.)

Editor Charles jumps on the Analogue versus Digital Soapbox. (One of our most commented articles)

Telecare – time to sweat the analogue assets, not dump them (Editor Charles asks that you do your homework before you cart in that shiny new digital kit and throw the old out the window)


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Walgreens Boots going private in the largest ever leveraged buyout: reports

Even bigger than CVS-Aetna may be the leveraged buyout (LBO) being discussed by Walgreens Boots Alliance and private equity firm KKR. It’s conservatively valued at over $70 billion–$56 million in valuation accompanied with about $15 million in debt. 

There are highlights and consequences to going private, not all of which are favorable:

  • Walgreens Boots would have to sell a huge $55 billion of debt, not attractive to lenders both world markets and not even in the strong US market. Recent and far smaller debt packages have struggled to find lenders.
  • The CEO, Stefano Pessina, who is the company’s largest shareholder with a 16% stake, would likely have to roll his equity into the deal
  • The WBA strategy continues to be store-oriented, despite recent closures (150 clinics, 200 stores). It remains the largest retail pharmacy in the US and Europe, with more than 18,750 stores in 11 countries. Additional stores are being opened in retail outlets such as supermarkets.
  • Yet online retailers such as Amazon continue to cut into retail store and pharmacy share
  • Walgreens also has strong pharmacy management benefit relationships with insurers such as Blue Cross Blue Shield group. Would an LBO affect these relationships which often involve Federal and state programs?

A final consequence most of interest to those in health tech and looking for support. While an LBO frees a company from shareholders, it puts the company into a cycle of payments to lenders that must be made on time–and tends to put that first in company priorities. Innovation and new initiatives take a back seat.

Whether this will come to pass is debatable–and even pointed to as the end of the stock market rally. With this on the company’s agenda, WBA will likely put any health tech deals on the far back burner.  MarketWatch, Bloomberg, Reuters

Google’s ‘Project Nightingale’–a de facto breach of 10 million health records, off a bridge too far?

Breaking News. Has this finally blown the lid off Google’s quest for data on everyone? This week’s uncovering, whistleblowing, and general backlash on Google’s agreement with Ascension Health, the largest non-profit health system in the US and the largest Catholic health system on the Planet Earth, revealed by the Wall Street Journal (paywalled) has put a bright light exactly where Google (and Apple, Facebook, and Amazon), do not want it.

Why do these giants want your health data? It’s all about where it can be used and sold. For instance, it can be used in research studies. It can be sold for use in EHR integration. But their services and predictive data is ‘where it’s at’. With enough accumulated data on both your health records and personal life (e.g. not enough exercise, food consumption), their AI and machine learning modeling can predict your health progression (or deterioration), along with probable diagnosis, outcomes, treatment options, and your cost curve. Advertising clicks and merchandising products (baby monitors, PERS, exercise equipment) are only the beginning–health systems and insurers are the main chance. In a worst-case and misuse scenario, the data modeling can make you look like a liability to an employer or an insurer, making you both unemployable and expensively/uninsurable in a private insurance system.

In Google’s latest, their Project Nightingale business associate agreement (BAA) with Ascension Health, permissible under HIPAA, allowed them apparently to access in the initial phase at least 10 million identified health records which were transmitted to Google without patient or physician consent or knowledge, including patient name, lab results, diagnoses, hospital records, patient names and dates of birth. This transfer and the Google agreement were announced by Ascension on 11 November. Ultimately, 50 million records are planned to be transferred from Ascension in 21 states. According to a whistleblower on the project quoted in The Guardian, there are real concerns about individuals handling identified data, the depth of the records, how it’s being handled, and how Google will be using the data. Ascension doesn’t seem to share that concern, stating that their goal is to “optimize the health and wellness of individuals and communities, and deliver a comprehensive portfolio of digital capabilities that enhance the experience of Ascension consumers, patients and clinical providers across the continuum of care” which is a bit of word salad that leads right to Google’s Cloud and G Suite capabilities.

This was enough to kick off an inquiry by Health and Human Services (HHS). A spokesperson confirmed to Healthcare Dive that “HHS’ Office of Civil Rights is opening an investigation into “Project Nightingale.” The agency “would like to learn more information about this mass collection of individuals’ medical records with respect to the implications for patient privacy under HIPAA,” OCR Director Roger Severino said in an emailed statement.”

Project Nightingale cannot help but aggravate existing antitrust concerns by Congress and state attorneys general on these companies and their safeguards on privacy. An example is the pushback around Google’s $2.1 bn acquisition of Fitbit, which one observer dubbed ‘extraordinary’ given Fitbit’s recent business challenges, and data analytics company Looker. DOJ’s antitrust division has been looking into how Google’s personalized advertising transactions work and increasingly there are calls from both ends of the US political spectrum to ‘break them up.’ Yahoo News

Google and Ascension Health may very well be the ‘bridge too far’ that curbs the relentless and largely hidden appetite for personal information by Google, Amazon, Apple, and Facebook that is making their very consumers very, very nervous. Transparency, which seems to be a theme in many of these articles, isn’t a solution. Scrutiny, oversight with teeth, and restrictions are.

Also STAT News , The Verge on Google’s real ambitions in healthcare, and a tart take on Google’s recent lack of success with acquisitions in ZDNet, ‘Why everything Google touches turns to garbage’. Healthcare IT News tries to be reassuring, but the devil may be in Google’s tools not being compliant with HIPAA standards.  Further down in the article, Readers will see that HIPAA states that the agreement covers access to the PHI of the covered entity (Ascension) only to have it carry out its healthcare functions, not for the business associate’s (Google’s) independent use or purposes. 

A change of vetting for the NHS Apps Library by spring 2020

NHSX, the multi-department team from NHS England, the Department of Health and Social Care, and NHS Improvement established earlier this year [TTA 18 Apr], announced last week a new approach to the accreditation of digital health apps for the NHS Apps Library. The plan is to transition from the present direct assessment into accrediting independent assessors using an open standard. NHSX announced that they will undertake this change in a two-step process:

  • Create a digital health technology standard based on those existing for industry and health, combining present questions with other data and interoperability standards
  • Develop a clearer review, assessment and evaluation approach for digital health tools, including a list of external assessors who will be in turn accredited to apply the new standard

This approach to the perennial problem of app vetting is scheduled to be completed by spring of 2020, not too far away.

In related developments:

  • NHSX will also work with the Accelerated Access Collaborative on a pipeline to deliver digital products through to priority areas
  • NHSX’s departing (as of October end) director of digital development Dr. Sam Shah has been ranked fourth in the #IB100, a list of the top 100 most influential black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) leaders in the tech sector. HealthcareITNews Europe/UK

UKAuthority.com  Hat tip to Alistair Appleby of Wokingham Borough Council