Virus-(almost) free news: Cera’s $70m raise, Rx.Health’s RxStitch, remote teledentistry to rescue, Alcuris responds, Caravan buys Wellpepper, and Teladoc’s heavy reading

Keeping calm and carrying on (but taking precautions, staying inside, and keyboarding with hands that resemble gator hide), yes, there IS some news that isn’t entirely about COVID-19:

This Editor had put aside the $70 million funding by the UK’s Cera at end of February. What is interesting is that Cera Care is a hybrid–specializing in both supplying home-based care, including dementia care, and providing tech-enabled services for older adults. The funding announcement was timed with the intro of SmartCare, a sensor-based analytics platform that uses machine learning and data analytics on recorded behaviors to personalize care and detect health risks with a reported 93 percent accuracy. It then can advise carers and family members about a plan of action. This sounds all so familiar as Living Independently’s QuietCare also did much the same–in 2006, but without the smartphone app and in the Ur-era of machine learning (what we called algorithms back then).

The major raise supports a few major opportunities: 50 public sector contracts with local authorities and NHS, the rollout of SmartCare, its operations in England and Wales, and some home healthcare acquisitions. Leading the round was KairosHQ, a US-based startup builder, along with investors Yabeo, Guinness Asset Management, and a New York family office. Could a US acquisition be up next?  Mobihealthnews, TechEU

Located on NYC’s Great Blank Way (a/k/a Broadway), Rx.Health has developed what they call digital navigation programs in a SaaS platform that connect various programs and feed information into EHRs. The interestingly named RxStitch engine uses text messages (Next Gen Reminder and Activation Program) or patient portals to support episodes of care (EOC), surgeries, transitions of care (TOC), increasing access to care, telehealth, and closure of care gaps. Their most recent partnership is with Valley Health in northern NJ. Of course they’ve pitched this for COVID-19 as the COVereD initiative that supports education, triage, telehealth, and home-based surveillance as part of the workflow. Rx.Health’s execs include quite a few active for years in the NY digital health scene, including Ashish Atreja, MD.

Teledentistry to the rescue! Last summer, we focused on what this Editor thought was the first real effort to use telemedicine in dentistry, The TeleDentists can support dentists who are largely closing shop for health reasons to communicate with their own patients for follow up visits, screen new patients, e-prescribe, and refer those who are feeling sick to other telehealth providers. For the next six weeks, patients pay only $49 a visit. More information in their release. Hat tip to Howard Reis.

What actions are smaller telehealth companies taking now? Reader and commenter Adrian Scaife writes from Alcuris about how their assistive technology responds to the need to keep in touch with older people living alone at home. Last week their preparations started with giving their customers the option to switch to audio/video conferencing with their market teams. This week, they reviewed how their assistive technology and ADL monitoring can keep older people safe in their homes where they may have to be alone, especially after discharge, yet families and caregivers can keep tabs on them based on activity data. A smart way for a small company to respond to the biggest healthcare challenge of the last 30 years. Release

Even Caravan Health, a management services company for groups of physicians or health systems organizing as accountable care organizations (ACOs) in value-based care programs, is getting into digital health with their purchase of Wellpepper. The eight-year-old company based in Seattle works with health plans to provide members with outpatient digital treatment plans, messaging services, and an alert system to boost communication between care teams and patients. Purchase price was not disclosed, but Wellpepper had raised only $1.2 million in debt financing back in 2016 so one assumes they largely bootstrapped. Mobihealthnews

And if you’re stuck at home and are trying to avoid chores, you can read all 140 pages of Teladoc’s Investor Day presentation, courtesy of Seeking Alpha

Further ‘virtualization’ of industry meetings: DHACA Day, HITLAB, NAACOS, HXD, now ATA 2020 (updated)

Practically all events that this Editor has noted on the calendar for the next few months have been converted to virtual events or postponed due to emergency restrictions around COVID-19. 

Close to our Editors’ hearts is DHACA Day–a must-read update. Originally set for tomorrow 18 March, it is now planned as a virtual event on Wednesday the 25th starting at 10am. Editor Charles Lowe has an update on the DHACA website in his mid-March newsletter. The tentative theme is ‘The silver lining in the COVID-19 cloud’.

  • Charles is also compiling a list of “all the products that members make and services that members provide that will help the health services and patients cope with Covid.19 and the subsequent lockdown.” There are more ‘calls for assistance’ in the newsletter for everything from ventilators to technical help at Public Health England.

HITLAB is going virtual indefinitely. Dr. Stan Kachnowski’s emailed update today notes that the Women’s Health Tech Challenge on 16 April is on as a virtual event, and virtually free. Remaining Seminar Series events will be virtual–and these extend into August. This Thursday’s (19 March) seminar will be a virtual town hall to discuss digital solutions which can help patients and physicians in the age of the coronavirus, with an international cast–panelists from Scripps Translational Institute, Ugandan Health, and more. Registration here (free).

The National Association of Accountable Care Organizations (NAACOS) has officially converted its annual meeting scheduled for 1-3 April to a virtual event, date TBD.

MAD*POW Health Experience Design Conference 2020 (HXD) 14-15 April will be fully virtual. Quite relevant is a webinar being held noon ET Wednesday 18 March on Interventions to Encourage Social Distancing, based on a 12 March survey of Italians to gauge the effectiveness of government communications on staying at home and social distancing.

UPDATE: The sole outlier up until mid-week was the American Telemedicine Association’s ATA 2020 that was going to be in Phoenix 3-5 May. It won’t be a cure for cabin fever in the sun, as ATA’s announcement of a 100 percent virtual conference is up here. Details to come.

CMS clarifies telehealth policy expansion for Medicare in COVID-19 health emergency, including non-HIPAA compliant platforms (US)

Today (17 March), the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) issued a Fact Sheet and FAQs explaining how the expanded telehealth provisions under the Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act and the temporary 1135 waiver will work. The main change is to (again) temporarily expand real-time audio/video telehealth consults in all areas of the country and in all settings. The intent is to maintain routine care of beneficiaries (patients), curb community spread of the virus through travel and in offices, limit spread to healthcare providers, and to keep vulnerable beneficiaries, or those with mild symptoms, at home. Usage is not limited to those who suspect or already are ill with COVID-19.

Previously, only practices in designated rural health areas were eligible for telehealth services, in addition to designated medical facilities (physician office, skilled nursing facility, hospital) where a patient would be furnished with a virtual visit. 

The key features of the 1135 telehealth waiver are (starting 6 March):

  • Interactive, real-time audio/video consults between the provider’s location (termed a ‘distant site’) anywhere in the US and the beneficiary (patient) at home will now be reimbursed. The patient will not be required to go to a designated medical facility.
  • Providers include physicians and certain non-physician practitioners such as nurse practitioners, physician assistants and certified nurse-midwives. Other providers such as licensed clinical social workers (LCSW) and nutritionists may furnish services within their scope of practice and consistent with Medicare benefit rules.
  • Surprisingly, there is ‘enforcement discretion’ on the requirement existing in the waiver that there be a prior relationship with the provider. CMS will not audit for claims during the emergency. (FAQ #7)
  • Even more surprisingly, the requirement that the audio/visual platform be HIPAA-compliant, as enforced by the HHS Office of Civil Rights (OCR), is also being waived for the duration (enforcement discretion again), which enables providers to use Apple FaceTime, Facebook Messenger video chat, Google Hangouts video, or Skype–but not public-facing platforms such as Facebook Live, Twitch, or TikTok. Telephones may be used as explicitly stated in the waiver in Section 1135(b) of the Social Security Act. (FAQ #8) More information on HHS’ emergency preparedness page and OCR’s Notification of Enforcement Discretion.
  • On reimbursement, “Medicare coinsurance and deductible would generally apply to these services. However, the HHS Office of Inspector General (OIG) is providing flexibility for healthcare providers to reduce or waive cost-sharing for telehealth visits paid by federal healthcare programs.”

Concerns for primary care practices of course are readiness for real-time audio/video consults, largely addressed by permitting telephones to be used, as well as Skype and FaceTime, and what services (routine care and COVID-19 diagnosis) will be offered to patients.

This significant expansion will remain in place until the end of the emergency (PHE) as determined by the Secretary of HHS.

In 2019, CMS also expanded telehealth in certain areas, such as Virtual Check-Ins, which are short (5-10 minute) patient-initiated communications with a healthcare practitioner which can be by phone or video/image exchange by the patient. This could be ideal for wound care where this Editor has observed, in one of her former companies, how old phones are utilized to send wound images to practices for an accurate ongoing evaluation via special software. E-Visits use online patient portals for asynchronous, non-face-to-face communications, initiated by the patient. These both require an established physician-patient relationship. Further details on both of these are in the Fact Sheet, the FAQs, and the HHS Emergency Preparedness page with links.

The American Medical Association issued a statement today approving of the policy changes, and encouraged private payers to also cover telehealth. The American Telemedicine Association didn’t expand upon its 5 March statement praising the passage of the Act but advocated for increased cross-state permission for telehealth consults.

Additional information at HISTalk today and Becker’s Hospital Review.

News roundup: Kompaï debuts, Aging Tech 2020 study, Project Nightingale may sing to the Senate, Amwell, b.well, Lyft’s SDOH, more on telehealth for COVID-19

Believe it or not, there IS news beyond a virus!

France’s Kompaï assistance robot is finally for sale to health organizations, primarily nursing homes and hospitals. Its objective, according to its announcement release, is to help health professionals in repetitive daily tasks, and to help patients. It’s interesting that the discussion of appearance was to achieve a ‘slightly humanoid’ look, but not too human. The development process took over 10 years. (Here at TTA, Steve’s first ‘in person’ with the developers was in May 2011!) Kompaï usage mentioned is in mobility assistance and facility ‘tours’ and public guidance. Here’s Kompai in action on what looks like a tour. Press release (French/English)

Not much on robotics here. Laurie Orlov has issued her 2020 Market Overview Technology for Aging Market Overview on her Aging and Health Technology Watch, and everyone in the industry should download. Key points:

  • In 2020, aging technologies finally nudged into the mainstream
  • The older adult tech market has been recognized as an opportunity by such companies as Best Buy, Samsung, and Amazon. Medicare Advantage payers now cover some tech.
  • Advances plus smart marketing in hearing tech–one of the top needs in even younger demographics–is disrupting a formerly staid (and expensive)
  • The White House report “Emerging Technologies to Support an Aging Population” [TTA 7 March] first was an acknowledgment of its importance and two, would also serve as a great source document for entrepreneurs and developers.

The study covers the demographics of the older adult market, where they are living, caregiving, the effect of data breaches, optimizing design for this market, the impacts of voice-driven assistants, wearables, and hearables.

Project Nightingale may be singing to some US Senators. The 10 million Ascension Health identified patient records that were transferred in a BAA deal to Google [TTA 14 Nov 19], intended to build a search engine for Ascension’s EHR, continue to be looked into. They went to Google without patient or physician consent or knowledge, with major questions around its security and who had access to the data. A bipartisan group of senators is (finally) looking at this ‘maybe breach’, according to Becker’s. (Also WSJ, paywalled)

Short takes:  b.well scored a $16 million Series A for its software that integrates digital health applications for payers, providers, and employers. The round was led by UnityPoint Health Ventures….Lyft is partnering with Unite Us to provide non-emergency patient transportation to referred health appointments. Unite Us is a social determinants of health (SDOH) company which connects health and community-based social care providers….What happens if you’re a quarantined physician due to exposure to the COVID-19 virus? Use telehealth to connect to patients in EDs or in direct clinic or practice care, freeing up other doctors for hands-on care. 11 March New England Journal of Medicine….American Well is finally no more, long live Amwell. Complete with a little heart-check logo, American Well completed its long journey to a new name, to absolutely no one’s surprise. It was set to be a big reveal at HIMSS, but we know what happened there. Amwell blog, accompanied with the usual long-winded ‘marketing’ rationale They are also reporting a 10 to 20 percent increase in telehealth consults by patients (Becker’s)….Hospitals and health systems such as Spectrum Health (MI), Indiana University Health, Mount Sinai NY, St. Lukes in Bethlehem PA, and MUSC Health, are experimenting with COVID-19 virtual screenings and developing COVID-19 databases in their EHRs. The oddest: Hartford (CT) Healthcare’s drive-through screening center and virtual visit program. Is there an opportunity to cross-market with Wendy’s or Mickey D’s? After all, a burger and fries would be nice for a hungry, maybe sick, patient before they self-quarantine.

Update: healthcare/digital health conferences canceled/postponed due to COVID-19 include SXSW, Naidex, EPIC (updated 13 Mar).

Your Editor has been offline since Monday to this afternoon (EDT) due to a Fios network outage, not a health outage due to COVID-19. Since last week and the HIMSS20 cancellation, major conference and meeting cancellations and reschedulings are multiplying like fig buttercups in the spring. And yes, WHO has declared it a pandemic as Italy closes down and the US bans travel and even trade from Europe for the next 30 days, but not the UK. (There are additional relief measures including a requested payroll tax reduction, tax deferrals and assistance to small businesses. Many schools and businesses are going remote and long-term care residences, a nexus of infection, are being strongly encouraged to defer non-medically necessary visitors.)

Below are some of the majors and of interest to Readers in the digital health area. Most are the largest conferences with international attendees:

What’s on? The DHACA Day on 18 March at Brown Rudnick in London. Agenda and registration hereUpdates at @DHACA_org.

Additional updates 13 March

Running lists are up at Forbes (including sporting events such as the NBA, Broadway, and every major St Patrick’s Day parade; happily the NY International Auto Show is moved to 28 August) and MedPage Today. Healthcare IT News has a list of government and academic information resources led by the CDC, the WHO, and the NHS. We’ll repeat the NHS pages from our earlier article:

The UK Department of Health and Social Care and Public Health England has provided the following links to coronavirus guidance (hat tip to DOHSC via LinkedIn):

👩‍⚕️ Health: http://bit.ly/37qkWaV
🚂 Transport: http://bit.ly/2HDOFBW
👩‍🎓 Education: http://bit.ly/38KT41O
👨‍💼 Employers: http://bit.ly/2TfwpUT
🏡 Social care: http://bit.ly/2VhBIG9

$8bn COVID-19 supplemental funding House bill waives telehealth restrictions for Medicare beneficiaries (US)

The House of Representatives, which controls appropriations, has passed H.R. 6074, the Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act. The bill provides $8.3 billion in new funding that includes a significant telehealth waiver for Medicare. From the bill summary on Congress.gov:

Within the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the bill provides FY2020 supplemental appropriations for

the Food and Drug Administration,
the Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention,
the National Institutes of Health, and
the Public Health and Social Services Emergency Fund.

In addition, the bill provides supplemental appropriations for

the Small Business Administration,
the Department of State, and
the U.S. Agency for International Development

The supplemental appropriations are designated as emergency spending, which is exempt from discretionary spending limits.

The programs funded by the bill address issues such as

developing, manufacturing, and procuring vaccines and other medical supplies;
grants for state, local, and tribal public health agencies and organizations;
loans for affected small businesses;
evacuations and emergency preparedness activities at U.S. embassies and other State Department facilities; and
humanitarian assistance and support for health systems in the affected countries.

The bill also allows HHS to temporarily waive certain Medicare restrictions and requirements regarding telehealth services during the coronavirus public health emergency.

Sponsored by retiring Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY), it was introduced and passed in the House 415-2.

In the text of the bill, the telehealth-pertinent portion permitting CMS to waive restrictions on telehealth for Medicare beneficiaries during this emergency is Division B, Sections 101-102. This cost is estimated at $500 million by The Hill.

The bill went to the Senate yesterday (4 Mar) for final approval. There is already an amendment proposed by Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) to offset the $8 bn of the bill with unobligated, non-health related foreign aid funds (FreedomWorks). Whether this is the ‘offset’ for telehealth that is mentioned in The Hill as under negotiation is not revealed.

The American Telemedicine Association (ATA) approved of the waiver. Ann Mond Johnson, the ATA’s CEO, urged “CMS to implement its waiver authority as soon as possible to ensure health care providers understand any requirements and help speed the deployment of virtual services” and pledged “The ATA and its members will continue to work with federal and state authorities, including HHS and the CDC, to address the COVID-19 outbreak and ensure resources are appropriately deployed for those individuals in need of care and help keep health care workers safe.” ATA press release, Hat tip to Gina Cella for the ATA heads-up

Breaking News: HIMSS20 canceled; Naidex update; what is the outlook for other major conferences? (updated)

UPDATED 5 and 12 March

At 12.25 pm today, according to an email visible on HISTalk, HIMSS has canceled HIMSS20. This cancellation is the first in the 58-year history of the conference.

Quick facts are on HISTalk at the link above, on the HIMSS announcement, and on their FAQs.

The advisory panel recognized that industry understanding of the potential reach of the virus has changed significantly in the last 24 hours, which has made it impossible to accurately assess risk. Additionally, there are concerns about disproportionate risk to the healthcare system given the unique medical profile of Global Conference attendees and the consequences of potentially displacing healthcare workers during a critical time, as well as stressing the local health systems were there to be an adverse event.

Also from the announcement: “HIMSS20 exhibitors and attendees will be contacted with further information regarding booth contracts and registrations. Please contact exhibitors@himss.org for immediate booth concerns.”

The CHIME (College of Healthcare Information Management Executives)/HIMSS CIO Forum symposium on Sunday 8th-Monday 9th is also canceled, per a comment on HISTalk. The only indicator on their website as of now is a large ‘CANCELLED’ on their event list. Later this month is the 5G Executive Forum on 25-26 March in Plano, Texas; is that now being reevaluated?

Neither will be rescheduled for this year. Further chatter on the 3/6 HISTalk centers on what to do with all the promotional items and after-action assessments of losses to marketing and sales. There are companies which center their annual budget and marketing efforts on HIMSS, perhaps not the best ‘eggs in one basket’ strategy, but one that many follow. Hat tip to HISTalk and their ace staff

For our UK and European Readers, Naidex is one of the largest conferences for independent living and healthcare. So far, it is on at Birmingham NEC from 17–18 March, they are taking a long list of precautions based on guidelines set by the WHO and local authorities, but according to their site statement by the event director, it is a fast-moving situation and may change based on those advisories. POSTPONED 10 March–see 12 March update.

Original article follows:

There is a growing list of exhibitor and attendee cancellations for HIMSS20 in Orlando, Florida, starting next Monday the 9th. HIMSS is one of the largest global healthcare conferences, and is a ‘must attend’ for a wide swath of healthcare-related companies, including clinical and monitoring technologies, software from the giants (Microsoft, Cisco) to the startups, hospital systems, payers, telecoms, and all sorts of governmental entities like CMS. (When the opening keynote speaker is President Trump, you know it’s important.)

Health IT website HISTalk, a regular exhibitor at HIMSS, has been tracking the cancellations as of today, doing their own research and following reader leads and public announcements, with a follow up article dated tomorrow. It’s well above 50, with major companies like Humana, Siemens, IBM, and the aforementioned Cisco and Microsoft, on the list. Modern Healthcare has an update.

Based on the comments and HIMSS’ own advisory, HIMSS is accepting cancellations from the CDC’s Level 3 or 4 alert countries, but other cancellations are not being refunded (likely pushed to 2021). Hotels/airlines may not be refundable based upon policies and the clout of travel bookers. Onsite, HIMSS is preparing onsite medical offices for care and screening, as well as promoting the HIMSS elbow bump in lieu of the handshake. It’s regrettable as there are hundreds of staff involved year to year who are responsible for all the planning, marketing, logistics, and security for HIMSS and any conference of this size.

The major reason? Many companies, including healthcare companies, have indefinitely canceled non-essential travel across the board for the next 30 to 60 days as a matter of institutional policy. The large destination conferences taking place March-June are the most affected by this. Consider that for the immunocompromised, attending any large conference is dicey, but COVID-19 is one large red flag.

IBM has canceled Think 2020 in May, which regularly attracts 30,000 attendees to San Francisco. Mobile World Congress Barcelona, the largest in the telecom sector which crosses over to mobile-based healthcare, canceled two weeks before starting on 24 February. The American Physical Society (physics) canceled this week’s conference in Denver the day before it started. The LA Times has a roll call of canceled conferences including Facebook and Google I/O. Others remain on, but monitoring the situation:  the American College of Healthcare Executives Congress on 23 March and EPIC 2020 in Croatia 19-21 March [TTA 16 Jan].

Small, local conferences and meetings are the least affected, so you’re probably safe in London and NYC. The King’s Fund has a full roster of London meetings, including the Digital Health and Care Congress 2020 on 20-21 May. Upcoming are also DHACA Day on 18 March and the NYC meetings listed last week. (Don’t go if you’re sick, steer clear of the inconsiderate, avoid buffets, and wash your hands!)

HISTalk’s 5 March article (scroll down) reports on the findings from the leader of the WHO team which spent two weeks in China studying their COVID-19 response. China is moving patients from their best hospitals to ‘routine care’ to accommodate COVID-19 patients. Children do not seem to become infected or be carriers. The trend in infection there is trending down. Overall, it seems to be a series of global outbreaks, not a global pandemic. And they came away with a fatality rate in China of 1-2 percent, which seems low based on other reports.