Care Innovations sells off Validation Institute. But is there more to the story?

The Health Value Institute, part of Woburn, Massachusetts-based conference organizer World Congress, announced late last week the acquisition of the Validation Institute from Care Innovations. Terms were not disclosed. The Health Value Institute and the Validation Institute recently partnered to validate the outcomes for the Health Value Award finalists and awards this past April at the 15th Annual World Health Care Congress. According to both parties, the acquisition will help to expand the membership of validated companies, and the present offerings for HR, broker, and benefit executives. Release.

The Validation Institute was launched with fanfare back in June 2014, when GE still had a chunk of the company and during the 2 1/2 year repositioning (revival?) led by Sean Slovenski from the doldrums of the prior Louis Burns regime. Mr. Slovenski departed in early 2016 to be president of population health at Healthways/Sharecare, which lasted a little over a year. However, today Mr. Slovenski made headlines as the new SVP Health & Wellness of Walmart, reporting directly to the head of their US business.  The hiring of a senior executive with a few years at Humana but with several years in healthcare tech and provider-side is certainly indicative of Walmart’s serious focus on healthcare provision.

But back to Care Innovations. Signs of a new direction–and a loss. The case can be made that the Validation Institute, the Jefferson College of Population Health, and validating individuals and companies was no longer core to their business which is centered around their RPM platform Health Harmony (with QuietCare still hanging in there!) However, this Editor notes the prominent addition of  ‘platform-as-a-service’ advisory services for those who are developing health apps, which appears to be a spinoff of their engineering/IT services. In June, Roche signed on with a strategic investment (undisclosed) as well as integration of the mySugr integrated diabetes management/app solution (release).

Looking around their recently refreshed website, there is an absence–that of the two or three pages previously dedicated to the Veterans Health Administration (VA) and the press release of the VA award. This tends to lend credence to the rumors that there was a second company that did not pass the Trade Adjustment Act (TAA) requirements that knocked out Iron Bow/Vivify Health or for another undisclosed reason bowed out of a potentially $258 million five-year contract. If so, that leaves for the VA Medtronic and 1Vision/AMC Health. It’s certainly a limited menu for the supposedly growing numbers of veterans requiring telehealth and a limited choice for their care coordinators–and not quite as presented to the public or the 2015 competitors in the solicitation. Hat tip to one of our ‘Industry Insiders.’

A finger-prick, 10 minute CBC test which actually works from Sight Diagnostics (Israel)

The Theranos Effect may have tainted innovation investments (versus easy puzzle-piece fits), but complete blood count (CBC) via small blood samples is hardly a dead idea. It’s very much alive with the scientists who founded Sight Diagnostics, an Israeli startup with a fit-on-a-desktop lab, Olo, which can run multiple CBC counts. Blood can be taken from a traditional or finger-stick draw, with the usual caveats on capillary blood. The technology works via machine vision to take images of the blood sample to identify and count the different types of cells with AI to do the analysis. The goal is to be able to install a lab in a doctor’s office and run the test in 10 minutes, not five days.

Sight was founded by Daniel Levner, an artificial intelligence expert who was a scientist at Harvard’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering (not a Stanford undergrad dropout), and Yossi Pollak, previously at Mobileye, an automotive computer vision developer that Intel bought for $15.3 billion last year–the largest Israeli tech exit ever. Oh, and they have an advisory board of Real Scientists.

Adding to Sight’s credibility is their CE Mark gained for Olo and completion of a 287-person clinical trial at Israel’s Shaare Zedek Medical Center, both announced this week. Webwire

The company is up to a Series B and has raised over $25 million since 2010 (Crunchbase)–a drop compared to Theranos, a subject where the founders are a little bit touchy, based on this Editor’s read of the Forbes article. While Olo is investigational in the US, their malaria test Parasight – which detects malaria using digital fluorescent microscopy and computer vision algorithms–has already sold over 600,000 units in 24 countries across Europe, Africa, and Asia–another major difference from Theranos. A significant investor is Eric Schmidt, formerly of Google, and head of Innovation Endeavors (SF Business Journal, slightly paywalled).

Video (01:56)

TTA’s Week: CVS-Aetna,, Cerner-Lumeris, NHS news roundup, and is telemedicine really a bust?

 

 

CVS-Aetna looks likely, FCC likes telehealth, Cerner takes a bite of value-based health, and is telemedicine really a bust–or are we not thinking right? 

News roundup: FCC RPM/telehealth push, NHS EHR coding breach, unstructured data in geriatric diagnosis, Cerner-Lumeris, NHS funds social care, hospital RFID uses 
A mHealth refutation of ‘Why Telemedicine is a Bust’ (Mobiles will conquer all)
Department of Justice won’t challenge CVS-Aetna merger: report (Finally, a healthcare mega-merger that goes through)

The ‘record-breaking first half’ in funding that wasn’t. More ‘Bad Blood’. And GP at Hand’s disruption may be a good thing for UK’s GP practices, according to the RCGP chair. 

RCGP chair at The King’s Fund: destroy Babylon Health’s GP at Hand ‘amazing model’, the present financial model–or both (A whole lot of disrupting going on)
The Theranos Story, ch. 52: How Elizabeth Holmes became ‘healthcare’s most reviled’–HISTalk’s review of ‘Bad Blood’ (A Must Read)
Rock Health’s ‘Another record-breaking first half’ in digital health funding is actually–flat. (With a Soapbox Extra!) (Don’t believe the spin, dig in)

Still wondering how Atul Gawande will continue medical practice and be a CEO? Will Google be the ‘Medical Brain’ powering hospitals and clinicians? News from early stage to mature companies. 

News roundup: Paradromics; Cerner’s trials with DOD, VA; Medtronic; Babylon Health; NHS’ private data
Google’s ‘Medical Brain’ tests clinical speech recognition, patient outcome prediction, death risk (Billions of data points to a lot of outcomes)
Some more views on (and by) Atul Gawande on the JP Morgan-Berkshire-Amazon health combine (Not what you think)

The pick of a noted healthcare innovator and theoretician to head the JP Morgan Chase-Berkshire Hathaway-Amazon health leviathan induces skepticism. Theranos is back–in the courts, and its principals are facing prison time. 

The 50,000 foot pick as CEO of the JP Morgan Chase-Berkshire Hathaway-Amazon health joint venture (A great theoretician and gadfly, but not a herder of a million cats)
Instant GP, don’t even add water; Babylon Health taps into the corporate market via insurer Bupa (UK) (A budding revolution from the payer side?)
The Theranos Story, ch. 51: how Holmes wasn’t Steve Jobs despite the turtlenecks–a compare and contrast (Aping Steve Jobs won’t make you successful. But it will get you press!)
The Theranos Story, ch. 50: DOJ indicts Holmes, Balwani for fraud (updated) (What you need to know right here)

 

Following up with ‘old friends’: Babylon’s Big Deal with Samsung, VA’s Home Telehealth awards. An analysis of analogue versus digital telecare. And Theranos’ Holmes is ‘The Woman Who Came to Dinner’ and won’t leave.

Rounding up the news: Babylon’s Samsung Health UK deal, smartphone urine test debuts, a VA Home Telehealth ‘announcement’, Aging 2.0’s NY Happy Hour (Babylon’s big chance, VA HT’s worst kept secret revealed, Salford Royal trials Healthy.io)
CMS urged to further reimburse telehealth remote patient monitoring with three new CPT codes (How codes can change the profit picture of health tech)
The Theranos Story, ch. 49: CEO Holmes reportedly raising funds for a new company–and feeling like Joan of Arc (John Carreyrou’s Theranos book is just out; Elizabeth Holmes isn’t Monty Woolley and not St. Joan either)
OnePerspective: Analogue telecare is a dead horse: stop flogging it (And go digital–the perspective from the CEO of Communicare247)


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News roundup: FCC RPM/telehealth push, NHS EHR coding breach, unstructured data in geriatric diagnosis, Cerner-Lumeris, NHS funds social care, hospital RFID uses

click to enlargeFCC backs post-discharge RPM plan. The “Connected Care Pilot Program” proposed by FCC commissioner Brendan Carr would provide $100 million for subsidies to hospitals or wireless providers running post-discharge remote monitoring programs for low-income and rural Americans such as those run by the University of Mississippi Medical Center. The goal is to lower readmissions and improve patient outcomes. The proposal still needs to be formalized so it would be 2019 at earliest. POLITICO Morning eHealth, Clarion-Ledger, Mobihealthnews

NHS Digital’s 150,000 patient data breach originated in a coding error in the SystmOne EHR used by GPs. Through the error by TPP, SystmOne did not recognize the “type 2 opt-out” for use of individual data in clinical research and planning purposes. This affected records after 31 March 2015. This breach also affects vendors which received the data, albeit unknowingly, but the duration of the breach makes it hard to put the genie back in the bottle, which NHS Digital would like to do. Inforisktoday, NHS Digital release

Unstructured data in EHRs more valuable than structured data in older adult patient health. A new study in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society compared the number of geriatric syndrome cases identified using structured claims and structured and unstructured EHR data, finding that the unstructured data was needed to properly identify geriatric syndrome. Over 18,000 patients’ unstructured EHR notes were analyzed using a natural language processing (NLP) algorithm.

Cerner buying a share in population health/value-based care management company Lumeris through purchasing $266 million in stock in Lumeris parent Essence Group Holdings. The angle is data crunching to improve outcomes for patients in Medicare Advantage and other value-based plans. Lumeris also operates Essence Healthcare, a Medicare Advantage plan with 65,000 beneficiaries in Missouri. Fierce Healthcare

NHS Digital awarding £240,000 for investigating social care transformation through technology. The Social Care Digital Innovation Programme in 12 councils will be managed by both NHS and the Local Government Association (LGA). Projects to be funded span from assistive technologies to predictive analytics. Six winners from the original group of 12 after three months will be awarded up to a further £80,000 each to design and implement their solutions. New Statesman

Curious about RFID in use in healthcare, other than in asset management, access, and log in? Contactless payments is one area. As this is the first of four articles, you’ll have to follow up in Healthcare IT News

A mHealth refutation of ‘Why Telemedicine is a Bust’

Worth your time over a long coffee is David Doherty’s lengthy analysis of a recent article published on the CNBC website on the ‘failure’ to date of what was supposed to revolutionize healthcare, the telemedicine ‘video visit’. Mr. Doherty counters point-by-point that the concept of telemedicine is already out of date–that the future of healthcare is with mobile devices, such as the EKG-taking KardiaMobile. He points to the distrust of large telemedicine companies such as Doctor on Demand and American Well as being heavily wedded to health insurers (the prevalent business model), selling/trading patient information, and breaking the individual doctor-patient relationship.

Mr. Doherty sees the future of telemedicine enabling individual doctors to better serve their patients on several levels–video consults, monitoring, and via high-quality apps–seamlessly.  But the insurer-employer-practice model is hard to break indeed, as American Well, Teladoc, and Doctor on Demand–all of which started with a DTC model–found out. And reimbursement is improved, but discouraging. mHealth Insight

Department of Justice won’t challenge CVS-Aetna merger: report

DOJ, stay away from our doors! The $69 bn CVS Health and Aetna mega-merger looks like it will go sailing down that river, if Mr. Market is right. Shares in both companies enjoyed a nice bump on today’s report that the DOJ won’t challenge this merger. The local Hartford Courant is relieved that Aetna plans to stay in their longtime HQ city (since 1853), conveniently omitting their long-standing plan to set up a big shop in NYC. CNBC

What a difference from a year ago when two mega-mega-mergers, Aetna-Humana and Anthem-Cigna, were shot d0wn–nay, riddled with bullets–in the Senate and in two courts [TTA 9 Feb 17]. Cigna is still living with the hangover of their bad breakup with Anthem, with a fight over a nearly $1.9 bn breakup fee [TTA 17 May 17] continuing in the Delaware Chancery Court in 2019.  Cigna nixed any other insurers in a horizontal merger and sought out Express Scripts, a pharmacy benefits manager (PBM) which was reeling a bit after its largest client (coincidentally) Anthem departed. Anthem sued its PBM, Express Scripts, for $15 billion, alleging the PBM overcharged it by $3 billion annually The merger will cost them over $550 million in transaction cost and that is just the beginning. That $1.9 bn would sure come in handy. Modern Healthcare 

RCGP chair at The King’s Fund: destroy Babylon Health’s GP at Hand ‘amazing model’, the present financial model–or both

A whole lot of disrupting goin’ on. At The King’s Fund’s June conference on ‘Reimagining general practice’, Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) chair Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard at the opening plenary seemingly did the impossible–praising Babylon Health’s GP at Hand while wishing its destruction, along with the present UK practice payment method. First, health leaders had a ‘lot to learn’ from the GP at Hand model–and that NHS IT systems at present were inadequate in meeting patients’ needs. “‘Let’s have tech that works and use innovative ways of consulting. Because the reality is we’re looking foolish and people are looking for alternatives. The rise of the private GP health sector is not a coincidence – it’s an inevitable consequence of the NHS not keeping up.”

If you cannot beat them, join them–and figure out a new way of paying GPs. ‘[We] have to totally adopt that technology right throughout the NHS for everybody so it destroys [Babylon’s] business model and it is normal across the whole of general practice – tech tsunami stuff. Or we have to tear up the financial model by which we pay [practices]. And one of those things has to happen fast. I would suggest we need to do both.’   

Her remarks are in the face of GP at Hand cresting at over 30,000 patients, with over 3,000 signing up in May.

Both Professor Stokes-Lampard and following speaker Professor Steve Field, CQC chief inspector of general practice, pointed to a model such as GP at Hand ‘cherry picking’ primarily healthy patients rather than a broad population and destabilizing surgeries. Both agreed that the disruption had major implications for ‘the financial contracting model in general practice’.

Earlier, GPonline exclusively revealed that market research firm Ipsos Mori is investigating–at a cost of £250,000–the impact of GP at Hand, including its long-term implications for the sustainability of traditional general practice.

The Theranos Story, ch. 52: How Elizabeth Holmes became ‘healthcare’s most reviled’–HISTalk’s review of ‘Bad Blood’

click to enlargeA Must Read, even if you don’t have time for the book. During the brief Independence Day holiday, this Editor caught up with HISTalk’s review of John Carreyrou’s ‘Bad Blood’, his evisceration of the Fraud That Was Theranos and The Utter Fraud That Is Elizabeth Holmes. Even if you’ve read the book, it’s both a lively recounting of how the scam developed and the willingness–nay, eagerness!–of supposedly savvy people and companies to be duped. The reviewer also reveals that Mr. Carreyrou wasn’t the first to raise questions about Theranos after raves in the press and kudos from the prestigious likes of Eric Topol. Mr. Carreyrou’s first article was in October 2015 [TTA 16 Oct 15] whereas Kevin Loria wrote the first exposé in Business Insider on 25 April 15 which raised all the fundamental questions which Theranos spun, hyped, or otherwise ignored–and Mr. Carreyrou eventually answered. (Our blow by blow, from him and other sources, is here.)

The review also picks out from the book the scabrous bits of Ms. Holmes’ delusions; her makeover to become the blond Aryan female Steve Jobs mit Margaret Keane-ish waif eyes–something she took far too literally; the affair between her and Sunny Balwani, certainly in violation of the usual ethics–and her Hitler in the Bunker, April ’45 behavior as Theranos collapsed around her. 

The review concludes by telling the healthcare community something we need said plainly, often, and written in 50-foot letters:

Theranos is a good reminder to healthcare dabblers. Your customer is the patient, not your investors or partners. You can’t just throw product at the wall and see what sticks when your technology is used to diagnose, treat, or manage disease. Your inevitable mistakes could kill someone. Your startup hubris isn’t welcome here and it will be recalled with great glee when you slink away with tail between legs. Have your self-proclaimed innovation and disruption reviewed by someone who knows what they’re talking about before trotting out your hockey-stick growth chart. And investors, company board members, and government officials, you might be the only thing standing between a patient in need and glitzy, profitable technology that might kill them even as a high-powered founder and an army of lawyers try to make you look the other way.

In other words, what you (the innovator, the investor) is holding is not a patient’s watch, it could be his heart, lungs, or pancreas. (Musical interlude: ‘Be Careful, It’s My Heart’)

The Theranos Effect is real in terms of investment in small companies out there on the ‘bleeding edge’. The cooling is mostly salutory, and we’ve been seeing it since late last year (see here). But…will we remember after it wears off, after the fines are collected, the prison time is served?

Rock Health’s ‘Another record-breaking first half’ in digital health funding is actually–flat. (With a Soapbox Extra!)

The Breathless Tone was the clue. “It’s déjà vu for digital health, with yet another record breaking half for venture funding.” It was déjà vu, but not of the good sort. This Editor hates to assume, so she checked the year-to-year numbers–and first half 2018 versus 2017 broke no records:

  • 2018:  $3.4 bn invested in 193 digital health deals 
  • 2017: $3.5 bn invested in 188 digital health companies [TTA 11 July 17]

But ‘flat’ doesn’t make for good headlines. Digging into it, there are trends we should be aware of — and Rock Health does a great job of parsing–but a certain wobbliness carried over from 2017 even though the $5.8 bn year finished 32 percent up over 2016, analyzed here [TTA 5 Apr 18]. Their projection for 2018 full year is $6.9 bn and 386 deals.

Let’s take a look at their trends:

  • “The future of healthcare startups is inextricably linked to the strategies of large, enterprise-scale healthcare players—as customers, partners, investors, and even potential acquirers.” It’s no mistake that the big news this week was Amazon acquiring tiny, chronic-conditions specializing prescription supplier PillPack after a bidding war with Walmart for an astounding $1bn, making its 32 year-0ld founder very rich indeed and gaining Amazon pharmacy licenses in 49 states. (Prediction: Walmart will be pleased it lost the war as it will find its own solutions and alliances.) 
    • Enterprise healthcare players are cautious, even by Rock Health’s admission, but the big money is going into deals that vertically integrate and complement, at least for a time–for example, Roche’s purchase of Flatiron Health. And when it doesn’t work, it tends to end in a whimper–this May’s quiet sale by Aetna of Medicity to Health Catalyst for an undisclosed sum. Back in 2011, Aetna bought it for $500 million. (Notably not included in the Rock Health analysis, even though they track Health Catalyst and the HIE/analytics sector.)
  • The market is dependent on big deals getting bigger. If you are well-developed, in the right sector, and mature (as early-stage companies go), you have a better shot at that $100 million B, D, E or Growth funding round. B rounds actually grew a bit, with seed and A rounds dipping below 50 percent for the first time since 2012. 
  • The Theranos Effect is real. Unvalidated, hyped up claims don’t get $900 million anymore. In fact, there’s real concern that there’s a reluctance to fund innovation versus integration. The wise part of this is that large fundings went to companies validating through clinical trial results, FDA clearance (or closing in on it), and CDC blessing.
  • The dabbling investor is rapidly disappearing. 62 percent of investors in first half had made prior investments in digital health including staying with companies in following rounds.
  • Digital health companies, like others, are staying private longer and avoiding public markets. Exits remain on par with 2017 at 60. Speculation is that Health Catalyst and Grand Rounds are the next IPOs, but there hasn’t been one since iRhythm in October 2016. The Digital Health public company index is showing a lot less pink these days as well, which may be an encouraging sign.
  • Behavioral health is finally getting its due. “Behavioral health startups received more funding this half than in any prior six-month period, with a cumulative $273M for 15 unique companies (nearly double the $137M closed in H1 2016, the previous record half for funding of behavioral health companies). Of these 15 companies, more than half have a virtual or on-demand component.”

Keep in mind that Rock Health tracks deals over $2 million in value from venture capital, excluding government and grant funding. They omit non-US deals, even if heavily US funded. 

Their projection for 2018 full year is $6.9 bn and 386 deals. Will their projection pan out? Only the full year will tell!

A Soapbox Extra!

Rock Health, like most Left Coast companies, believes that Vinod Khosla is a semi-deity. This Editor happens to not be convinced, based on predictions that won’t pan out, like machines replacing 80 percent of doctors; making statements such as VCs have less sexual harassment than other areas, and even banning surfers off his beach. He was at a Rock Health forum recently and made this eye-rolling (at least to this Editor) statement:

Is there one area in the last 30 years where the initial innovation was driven by an institution of any sort? I couldn’t think of a single area where innovation—large innovation—came from a big institution. Retailing wasn’t disrupted by Walmart, it was by Amazon. Media wasn’t changed by CBS or NBC, it was by YouTube and Twitter. Cars weren’t transformed by Volkswagen and GM—and people said you can’t do cars in startups—but then came Tesla.

Other than making a point that Clayton Christensen made a decade or more ago, the real nugget to be gained here is that formerly innovative companies that get big don’t grow innovation (though 3M tends to be an exception, and Motorola didn’t do too badly with the cell phone). They can buy it–and always have. 

Go back a few more decades and all of these companies were disrupters–and bought out (or bankrupted) other disrupters. CBS and NBC transformed entertainment through popularizing radio and then TV. VW created the small car market in the US and saved the German auto industry. GM innovated both horizontally (acquiring car companies, starting other brands) and integrated vertically (buying DELCO which created the first truly workable self-starting ignition system in 1912).

YouTube? Bought by innovator Google. Twitter? Waiting, wanting to be bought. Innovation? Khosla is off the beam again. Without Walmart, there would be no Amazon–and Amazon’s total lifetime profit fits nicely into one year of Walmart’s. Tesla is not innovative–it is a hyped up version of electric car technology in a styled package that occasionally blows up and remains on the borderline of financial disaster. (Model 3, where art thou?)

I’d argue that Geisinger, Mayo Clinic, and Intermountain Healthcare have been pretty innovative over the last 30 years. Mr. Khosla, read Mr. Christensen again!

The King’s Fund Digital Health & Care Congress next week on 10-11 July

Time has flown by since this Editor first mentioned this event and now it’s next week. This year’s meeting features case studies in creating the right culture for large scale digital change, using digital technology to improve quality of care, prevention and changing behaviors, population health informatics, tools for self-management, reducing clinical variation, mobile working in community services, and much more. Featured speakers include Matthew Swindells of NHS England, the Rt Hon Paul Burstow of TSA, Ruth Rankine of the Care Quality Commission, and more. See the agenda here for Day 1 and Day 2. (TTA’s own Charles Lowe will be chairing Breakout T2B: Quality improvement 11:45am on Tuesday 10 July.) Two very full days 10-11 July, Tuesday and Wednesday, at The King’s Fund’s London location. For more information, click the advert in the right sidebar or here

News roundup: Paradromics; Cerner’s trials with DOD, VA; Medtronic; Babylon Health; NHS’ private data

click to enlargeConnecting the brain with medical devices is Paradromic’s USP. Their brain-machine interface technology is seeking to power prosthetics to assist the blind, deaf, and paralyzed, and in future brain diseases. Their current project is to enable the paralyzed to communicate through a computer in real time. Their seed round of $7 million was led by Arkitekt Ventures and Synergy Ventures. Crunchbase. Mobihealthnews

The US Department of Defense’s replacement of the ancient AHLTA EHR with a Cerner-Leidos system, MHS Genesis, has been having a rough test period at Fairchild Air Force Base, Oak Harbor, and Naval Station Bremerton. No one is happy. Congress will exercise its right under the just-passed HR 4245 for the House Veterans Affairs Committee to review the implementation and to receive quarterly updates. POLITICO’s Morning eHealth for 6/25  Over at the VA, Cerner’s EHR will roll out starting in October in three hospitals in Washington state, to be completed by March 2020. The VA Committee has been asking some tough questions on the feedback that VA doctors have been providing, the fact that VA is under-strength on the modernization and that there is no permanent head of the implementation. POLITICO’s Morning eHealth for 6/27

Medtronic, the 9,000 elephant of healthcare devices, is partnering with AI-based nutrition platform Nutrino, an AI-powered personalized nutrition platform. Nutrino’s FoodPrint Report technology will integrate into Medtronic’s iPro2 myLog app that connects to their continuous glucose monitor. Users log their food by taking a picture of each snack or meal. The patient’s sensor glucose data is integrated with the food data for a Pattern Snapshot report and a FoodPrint report. Nutrino recently gained $8 million in Series A funding. Mobihealthnews

Babylon Health passes the test–the British GP test. Babylon recreated the MRCGP (Member of the Royal College of General Practitioners) exam based on publicly available questions. Its AI system passed with a score of 81 percent. A separate test subjected Babylon and seven primary care physicians to 100 independently-devised symptom sets, and Babylon passed with an 80 score. GPs…it’s coming. Mobihealthnews 

The NHS will be partnering with a repository of private healthcare data, the Private Healthcare Information Network (PHIN), to integrate their data with NHS Digital. PHIN has committed to reporting 750,000 privately funded hospital “episodes” to NHS Digital each year through the Acute Data Alignment Programme (ADAPt), Mobihealthnews

Google’s ‘Medical Brain’ tests clinical speech recognition, patient outcome prediction, death risk

Google’s AI division is eager to break into healthcare, and with ‘Medical Brain’ they might be successful. First is harnessing the voice recognition used in their Home, Assistant, and Translate products. Last year they started to test a digital scribe with Stanford Medicine to help doctors automatically fill out EHRs from patient visits, which will conclude in August. Next up, and staffing up, is a “next gen clinical visit experience” which uses audio and touch technologies to improve the accuracy and availability of care.

The third is research Google published last month on using neural networks to predict how long people may stay in hospitals, their odds of re-admission and chances they will soon die. The neural net gathers up the previously ungatherable–old charts, PDF–and transforms it into useful information. They are currently working with the University of California, San Francisco, and the University of Chicago with 46 billion pieces of anonymous patient data. 

A successful test of the approach involved a woman with late-stage breast cancer. Based on her vital signs–for instance, her lungs were filling with fluid–the hospital’s own analytics indicated that there was a 9.3 percent chance she would die during her stay. Google used over 175,000 data points they saw about her and came up with a far higher risk: 19.9 percent. She died shortly after.

Using AI to crunch massive amounts of data is an approach that has been tried by IBM Watson in healthcare with limited success. Augmedix, Microsoft, and Amazon are also attempting AI-assisted systems for scribing and voice recognition in offices. CNBC, Bloomberg

Some more views on (and by) Atul Gawande on the JP Morgan-Berkshire-Amazon health combine

Often the best indicator of the success of a person in a new venture is to examine their own words. An interview with Dr. Gawande in STAT a few days after the Big Reveal of his new position as CEO of the JPM-BH-Amazon healthcare nonprofit indicates that he has an excellent grasp of the task before him. His main points:

  • Before accepting the position, he established that the healthcare company would be an independent entity and not part of the three companies
  • It is also non-profit and not expected to return money to those companies
  • He will be devoting 100 percent to the new job and have it be the number one priority, but he will be with patients and his surgery through at least the summer
  • “My job for them is to figure out ways that we’re going to drive better outcomes, better satisfaction with care, and better cost efficiency with new models that can be incubated for all. That is a tall fricking order. But what they’re saying to me is that resources won’t be the problem. Human behavior will be. And achieving scale will be.”

His speech at AHIP (America’s Health Insurance Plans) annual meeting a day after the announcement pointed out that unnecessary tests and treatments account for about 30 percent of healthcare spending, that our system fails the chronically ill in their needs to be asked about what they want to achieve through treatment, and for doctors to deliver the right and considerate treatment especially in end-of-life care. “Precision medicine has to be matched by precision delivery.”  Healthcare Finance

For the 1 million employees of the three companies, there may not be a lot of chronic illness or end-of-life consideration (people tend to fall out of the workforce under those circumstances). What kind of model will apply to them and save on the 25 percent of estimated healthcare spending which is wasted? The article in Forbes by another ‘big thinker’, Robert Pearl MD, sees a 5-10 year time frame for Dr. Gawande’s task: “…to fundamentally change how healthcare is structured, paid for and provided. He was hired to disrupt the industry, to make traditional health plans obsolete, and to create a bold new future for American healthcare.”

But in the meantime, how will those bank tellers, packers, IT workers, ice cream slingers, and railway workers fare with their health? What will they benefit from in two to three years time? And will the long-term backing and the promises to Dr. Gawande remain after Mr. Dimon, Mr. Buffett, and Mr. Munger (of BH, and possibly why Dr. Gawande is on board) are gone?

The 50,000 foot pick as CEO of the JP Morgan Chase-Berkshire Hathaway-Amazon health joint venture

US healthcare is abuzz at the choice that JP Morgan Chase-Berkshire Hathaway-Amazon made to head their healthcare JV: Dr. Atul Gawande, currently practicing general and endocrine surgery at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and teaching as a professor at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and Harvard Medical School. Dr. Gawande is presently an executive director of Ariadne Labs, a healthcare innovation center, a writer of four best sellers on healthcare and noted as an outspoken theorist on how the ‘broken’ healthcare system in the US can be fixed. (This Editor’s definition of ‘broken’ is slightly different, encompassing countries like Venezuela, Cuba, Zimbabwe, post-WWII Germany, and the Ceausescu-era Romania where the basics are simply not there for the average person.)

Dr. Gawande will transition to chairman of Ariadne and retain his surgical and teaching positions.

Praise for Dr. Gawande comes from many quarters. Andy Slavitt, the former head of CMS during the previous administration, said “There are few better people in health care” and praised his ‘moral leadership’ when approached by Messrs. Dimon, Bezos, and Buffett. Jeff Bezos: “We said at the outset that the degree of difficulty is high and success is going to require an expert’s knowledge, a beginner’s mind, and a long-term orientation. Atul embodies all three, and we’re starting strong as we move forward in this challenging and worthwhile endeavor.”

What is missing from this sterling public health advocate and practitioner’s resumé is obvious: real business management experience. Among his three soon-to-be-bosses, there is plenty of pontificating from 50,000 feet–for but one example, see this Editor’s POV on Jamie Dimon’s annual shareholder letter [TTA 10 Apr]. Here is what they stated as the purpose of the JV back in January: “partnering on ways to address healthcare for their U.S. employees, with the aim of improving employee satisfaction and reducing costs” and setting up an independent company “free from profit-making incentives and constraints. The initial focus of the new company will be on technology solutions that will provide U.S. employees and their families with simplified, high-quality and transparent healthcare at a reasonable cost.” And more in that vein. (Whew!) It was eye-rolling, even shortly after the announcement back in February.

But actually getting this done is not a TEDTalk. First, there is the hard in-the-trenches work to bring both the management and the 1 million employees of three very different companies onto the same page. Second, it is running the gauntlet of regulations on the national level (that CMS and HHS) plus in 50 states, if this combine chooses to operate as an insurer or PBM. Third, if they don’t, there is getting the cooperation of insurers (payers) who aren’t in business to lose money. There is not only regulation, but also what they are willing and can afford to do. This Editor noted back in January that large companies, including these three, “generally self-insure for healthcare. They use insurers as ASO–administrative services only–in order to lower costs. Which leads to…why didn’t these companies work directly with their insurers to redo health benefits? Why the cudgel and not the scalpel?”

This Editor would expect that a group of skilled senior, operationally focused executives will be hired to work under Dr. Gawande in Boston, where this unnamed-yet venture will be headquartered. There may be some more high-profile senior executives with unconventional backgrounds. From this (lower than 50,000 feet) perspective, Dr. Gawande will be the attention-getting CEO, spokesman, and pace-setter; others will be doing the heavy lifting behind the scrim. 

Beyond the usual glowing coverage on CNBC and TechCrunch, those in the business of healthcare are already expressing more sanguine opinions on the enterprise and how Dr. Gawande will be leading it with multiple medical, teaching, and writing commitments. Modern Healthcare has a fairly balanced article.

Instant GP, don’t even add water; Babylon Health taps into the corporate market via insurer Bupa (UK)

click to enlargeIs digital health gaining some traction in the UK? One insurer is making the bet. Earlier this week, Babylon Health announced a UK partnership with Bupa’s corporate insurance area to open Babylon’s digital health services to corporate employees insured by Bupa.  Bupa’s Instant GP app offers these employees Babylon services, such as the ability to book virtual appointments with GPs, be transferred to specialists, and receive prescriptions. The app is free to download through the Apple App Store or Google Play for Bupa-covered employees.

Bupa and Babylon have been working together in a limited way since 2015–see this Bupa press release.

Some extras for employees in the program: unlimited 24/7 online GP consultations; Babylon’s clinical triage service, and access to the Babylon’s new “digital twin” service. This medical assessment method works with a smartphone tapping key parts of their body. It’s being previewed by Bupa and is scheduled to be released nationwide later this year.

Reportedly Bupa is seeking to provide Babylon services to their UK SME business (micro, small and medium-sized enterprises) later this year. Telegraph (paid access for full article), Digital Health News

For Babylon, it’s been an extraordinarily busy time. They have a new agreement with Samsung to be included in Samsung Health on smartphones [TTA 14 June], and China’s Tencent offering of Babylon through their WeChat platform. Babylon also recently announced passing the 26,500 patient mark with London NHS GP at Hand.

The Theranos Story, ch. 51: how Holmes wasn’t Steve Jobs despite the turtlenecks–a compare and contrast

click to enlargeDid Elizabeth Holmes ‘misunderstand’ Steve Jobs’ methods or was there something more deliberate at work? This article by tech entrepreneur Derek Lidow in Forbes gives her the benefit of the doubt but is still damning. His points in summary are:

  • Holmes ran Theranos with zero knowledge of how to run an organization, and ran Theranos like a dictator. Hiring people with real expertise came late in the day, and most of them left once they realized her style. Jobs knew he couldn’t run a company, generally hired the right people to do so, and then let them run it.
  • Jobs teamed with a genius engineer named Steve Wozniak in Apple’s formative years, and the Woz guided Jobs as much as anyone at numerous critical stages. Woz was the balance to Jobs, the behind the scenes versus the on-stage. Holmes did not work with anyone in that way, which is atypical for startup founders. Her co-founder was unqualified, she didn’t listen to her staff as problems came up, and her board was a waste of titles and people who were either wholly capable in other fields or superannuated.
  • Holmes’ goal of mini-blood assays was impossible, and she was unlike other visionary founders to pivot to what was possible. Jobs tempered his vision by using methods and technologies which already existed to leverage Apple into what he envisioned. (Jobs also had his fair number of stumbles, such as the Newton tablet where the vision exceeded the available technology. It was also too advanced, violating the Raymond Loewy maxim of ‘most advanced yet acceptable’.)
  • Delighting the customer? Where Jobs excelled in this not only with end users but also with developer partners, Holmes failed and more. With deceptive blood testing, she hurt sick patients and doctors who depended on accuracy. The vision and her self-promotion were far more important. She wasn’t doing this for people–she was doing this for herself.
  • Holmes was over the top on compartmentalizing Theranos’ technical development, straight to failure. Teams on the same project didn’t share knowledge or fundamentally communicate with each other. This led to bad testing of only parts of the system, not the whole system. While Jobs kept a tight lock on exposing Apple developments until they were ready, department teams on a given project intensively shared information. 

Wearing the black turtleneck, being a young female, blond, and with enhanced blue pop-eyes akin to a Bug-Eyed Austin-Healey Sprite can get you noticed, but then you have to deliver the goods for that $900 million you raised. Holmes was inexperienced and psychologically ill-equipped to be a tech founder. This Editor also wondered if she (literally) garbed herself in Jobs’ exterior trappings to deceive and gull everyone from the mighty and rich to the ordinary and often sick. (And now she tells people she is a marytr akin to Saint Joan?)

The Theranos Effect, for which Holmes is responsible, will sadly continue to hurt not only early-stage healthcare innovators but also the few women among them. The Theranos Scandal: What Happens When You Misunderstand Steve Jobs