Care Technology Landscape Review: Socitm Advisory for Essex County Council (UK)

A independent report on the UK care technology market was released earlier this month which has both UK and international implications. Commissioned by Essex County Council and produced by Socitm Advisory, it is must reading for those engaged in the procurement and development of local care technology. In a wider sense, the study is part of a larger international trend around community-based health and wellbeing, data utilization and digital tools to promote self-care, mitigate acute illness, and better management of chronic conditions, including social determinants of health (SDH). Digital tools are integrated into care and measured on enabling outcomes, versus being ends in themselves as they tend to be today.

The envisioned emerging care technology solutions framework looks like this: Adrian Scaife of Alcuris Ltd was kind enough to send a link and hard copy of this study, which we are pleased to provide to our Readers (PDF). (You may also download it from Socitm’s website.) He has written a blog post in HousingLIN, Is it time for the next generation of telecare?, which provides a more detailed analysis of the 52-page study and its implications. 

‘Ask Alexa’ if you’re sick, says the NHS

The latest in the NHS’ ‘digital first’ effort in the Long Term Plan is to add Amazon Alexa’s voice search capability to the NHS’ online advice service. Using Amazon’s search algorithm, UK users will be able to ask Alexa about their scratchy throat, sneezing, flu symptoms, or headache with information sourced from the NHS website. In the announcement, Secretary of State for Health and Social Care Matt Hancock said that “We want to empower every patient to take better control of their healthcare and technology like this is a great example of how people can access reliable, world-leading NHS advice from the comfort of their home, reducing the pressure on our hardworking GPs and pharmacists.” 50 million GP consultations each year are estimated to be unnecessary; the NHS is actively campaigning for patient awareness on self-care to reduce the patient load on practices (GP). NHSX is also planning of making more NHS services available to all patients through digital technology. 

Physicians have expressed concern that what seems to be a minor symptom could be the start of something big, like an underlying illness. For instance, heart rate monitors which are present in smartwatches and gym equipment have driven many to their doctor because of normal heart rate fluctuations, but that visit could be also picking up the early symptoms of atrial fibrillation.

The Alexa voice assistant adoption by the NHS makes search information more accessible for those with limited mobility or sight, which can help them feel more connected and enhance safety. It also assumes that internet is both available, affordable, and understandable by these users.

This Editor wonders if Alexa will have an emergency feature which calls for assistance or to a GP if the user indicates a worsening condition or is in distress. Voice recognition, as Readers know, is imperfect; Alexa may be puzzled by regional accents, phrasing, or speech impediments.

Current estimates on voice search fluctuate. The oft-repeated ’50 percent by 2020′ assumes an accuracy in digital voice recognition and Alexa/Echo/Android/Siri usage and sales that at this stage are simply not there. An excellent discussion of the voice search market that cuts through the hyped-up predictions is by Rebecca Sentance on the eConsultancy website.

More on NHS and Alexa: Telegraph, Wired UK

Another round this Wednesday in the CVS-Aetna merger hearings

This time, five states are speaking up loudly. California, Florida, Hawaii, Mississippi, and Washington petitioned the DC Federal District Court’s Judge Richard L. Leon for a hearing on the CVS-Aetna merger, which will be held this Wednesday 17 July. The five states were original supporters of and advisory participants in the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) settlement with Aetna to sell its Medicare Part D business. As co-plaintiffs, the states’ regulators are defending their position that the sale would avoid harmful horizontal market concentration.

Both Judge Leon and the American Medical Association debated in June whether the divestiture of Part D was enough to ensure competition in Part D, since both maintained that WellCare Health Plans was too small to compete with CVS Caremark as a pharmacy benefits manager. Yet WellCare is being acquired by larger Centene, another government-sponsored health plan organization, in a transaction expected to close, pending Federal and state approvals, in 1st Quarter 2020. That merger weakens that argument.

While publications like Barron’s and the New York Post consider it a foregone conclusion that Judge Leon will, after he runs out of hearings, nix the merger [TTA 13 June], whether he actually can under the Tunney Act (1974) is debatable. The Tunney Act has been rarely invoked to stop a merger–especially a merger which is about half-done and a sale transaction which is an important part of the value of the acquiring company in its own acquisition.

The Hartford Business Journal makes the excellent point that every time the industry thinks Judge Leon’s hearings are wrapping up, they continue. This Editor will be surprised if there are any bombshells from this round. On to the next!

Come and listen to Julian Hitchcock talking regulation next Wednesday 17th July!

Julian Hitchcock, ably assisted by Zac Fargher, has kindly agreed to spend an evening updating people on the regulation of medical and in vitro devices at a joint DHACA/Heath Technology Forum London meeting on Wednesday 17th July.

This comes at a time of huge uncertainty so Julian and Zac’s advice will be especially important for members: in addition to Brexit, the Notified Body capacity crisis is imperiling the implementation dates of both the MDR in 2020, and the IVDR after that.

Anyone following this editor’s recommendations will already be aware of Julian’s presentational clarity and depth, and his very humourous style.

Booking is here. Please try to arrive at 6.15 pm on 17th July so we can get started promptly at 6.30 pm. Julian and Zac will speak until 8pm, after which there will be time for networking drinks, kindly sponsored by Bristows, who are also generously hosting us for the evening.

Do come and join us!

A measured look at the uncertainty around the CVS-Aetna merger

Within two to three weeks, we will know whether Judge Richard Leon of the Federal District Court will–or can–block the CVS-Aetna merger. Already a fait accompli, the merger itself would have to unwound if this is the decision–and uncertainty reigns on whether this actually can be done, as the companies have been merged for several months and have divested what DOJ requested (e.g. PDP to WellCare).

The CVS-Aetna vision is for HealthHubs–combined stores, data, MinuteClinics, kiosks, and the retail business, ultimately combined at a macro level with pharmacy benefit management, external data, and also Aetna’s insurance business. While the HealthHubs are in test, the reach of CVS on both the national and local/individual levels will be huge, if only starting with the data and analytics side. And the retail side is no slouch. Their growth on the retail pharmacy side has been over three times the industry.

In the prescription drug plan (Medicare PDP) market, that horse already left the barn. 70 percent of the PDP market is controlled by three companies: CVS Health, Express Scripts (Cigna), and Optum (UnitedHealth Group). The concerns expressed at the hearings about premiums rising and reduction of competition has already largely happened, with a market not truly private and highly restricted.

Uncertainty may very well be the theme of the rest of the year as it has been since last fall. The smart money is betting that Judge Leon will block the merger on anti-competitive grounds, leading to another round of court actions. Both companies are healthy and will fight it. If forced to part, the  Seeking Alpha analyst bets on CVS doing just fine long term, which leaves little in choices for Aetna with its way forward in merging with other insurers blocked.

Malaysia to spend over $360M for EHRs over the next five years

Obviously no burnout fear here! The Malaysian Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad announced in Parliament in Kuala Lumpur that the government will spend RM1.5 billion ($362.3M or £287.7M) on implementing EHR systems in all government hospitals and clinics over the next five years. The open tender will be announced this year and may be awarded to more than one system in different phases.

Malaysia currently has some information systems at work in its health systems. According to the article in The Edge Markets, out of 145 government hospitals, 35, or 25 percent, have Hospital Information Systems (HIS) such as Cerner, iSoft, Fisicien, Profdoc, and Patient Management System. 7 percent, or 118 out of 1,703 government clinics, have  Clinical Information Systems (CIS) such as Teleprimary Care (TPC), Oral Health Care Information System (OHCIS), and TPC-OHCIS. The Health Ministry is also evaluating proposals from 60 companies prior to opening the tender. The wide-open-spaces where global EHRs could conquer are growing fewer and fewer.

EHR system-generated emails/inbasket messages contributing to burnout in 36% of doctors: study

That crispy feeling is real. Unlike the overflowing paper forms, charts, and faxes of olden days (!), doctors and clinical staff now not only deal with paper, but also with what physicians call their ‘electronic masters’. The volume is astounding and has led to numerous studies of physician burnout. One of the latest has been published in Health Affairs (free access), a directional study which will not cheer up anyone concerned with doctor health and retention in the field.

A study of over 900 physicians at the Palo Alto Medical Foundation found that almost half (114, 47 percent) of the 243 weekly in-basket messages received per physician, on average, were algorithmically generated out of their Epic EHR. This far exceeded emails from colleagues (53), from themselves (31, e.g. reports), and patients (30). Other findings from the study:

  • 36 percent of the physicians reported burnout symptoms
  • 29 percent intended to reduce their clinical work time in the upcoming year
  • 45 percent with burnout symptoms received greater-than-average numbers of weekly EHR-generated in-basket messages
  • Receiving more than the average number of system-generated in-basket messages was associated with 40 percent higher probability of burnout and 38 percent higher probability of intending to reduce clinical work time
  • EHR message volume was highest for internal medicine, family medicine, and pediatrics

While this is only one group of physicians in one location, and limited by specialties,this excerpt from the concluding discussion tends to say nearly all:

Therefore, both perceived and realized loss of autonomy over their work schedules could leave physicians feeling defeated, even though some of these system-generated messages have been shown to improve certain processes of care for patients with chronic illnesses.

Health care organizations need to reconsider some of their approaches to improving the quality of care and population health. Physicians might not be the most appropriate recipients of some system-generated messages. Payers and government regulators may need to be part of the solution in enabling physicians to practice at the top of their license. EHR design engineers also need to reconsider whether system-generated automatic messages are the best way to ensure quality of care. It may be time to examine whether every reminder to order routine chronic disease management lab tests (for example, periodic glycosylated hemoglobin A1c tests) must be signed and placed by a physician.

Health care organizations may benefit from engaging with their physicians in creating optimal policies on email work, in addition to helping them with such work. (e.g delegation to non-physician clinicians–Ed.)

Add to that phone calls and endless prior authorizations from insurers–should we have a ‘Be Kind To Your Doctor Week’? Hat tip to HIStalk.

The GreatCall Lively Mobile Plus Federal District Court lawsuit–and TTA

Eight emails and two comments later, your Editor wonders why the full court press on TTA. Our Readers may have noted that at the end of our last article on Best Buy [TTA 25 June] and their expansion into digital health, there was a brief reference to a recall of their subsidiary GreatCall’s Lively Mobile Plus and a related lawsuit:

This is not without pitfalls. Earlier this month, Best Buy was sued for a defect found in its GreatCall Lively MobilePlus mobile PERS that in action failed to detect falls as described, after GreatCall discontinued the device in mid-May in what a letter from their CEO David Inns described as an “important safety recall,” offering buyers a Jitterbug flip phone or a full refund. 

The link above was to a fairly comprehensive 3 June article in Mobihealthnews on a Federal District Court-Central District of California class action lawsuit filed by firm Bisnar Chase on 22 May on behalf of plaintiff Scott Barnes of San Luis Obispo, California (document via Mobihealthnews).

  • Mr. Barnes purchased the device on 21 April.
  • In early May, Mr. Barnes fell twice but the device did not detect the fall and automatically alert emergency services. Mr. Barnes is a disabled veteran and relied on the device to detect falls. The lawsuit states that he suffered unspecified damages as a result.
  • In a letter from David Inns as we noted above, GreatCall notified purchasers/subscribers dated 15 May (letter) that it was recalling all devices. It acknowledged fault in a quality issue. It also asked customers to stop using the device immediately and return it for a full refund plus additional considerations.

More on this is from a Morning Call (Allentown PA) article (picked up from the San Diego Union-Tribune) provided by Mr. Barnes to this Editor. It makes the cogent point that the device as a PERS did not require FDA 510(k) clearance. Fall detection does not fall under Class I or II medical device regulation as it does not monitor vital signs.

Mr. Barnes has written five separate emails to this Editor within less than ten minutes, with another three after our reply. Obviously, this matter is important to him. Moreover, our email is public and we welcome direct contact (including confidential contact) from our Readers with pertinent information. We also welcome comments on articles and don’t mind it being lively.

However, there were two comments at the end of our earlier article on Best Buy’s acquisition of Critical Signal Technologies that are, in the opinion of this Editor, marginal. One from ‘Scott’ implied that there was a relationship between this publication and Best Buy: “What is your companies relationship with the Recalled Great Call/Best Buy Mobile Lively Plus defective device that is now under a Federal Legal Action and Lawsuits.” (My answer was, of course, is that we report on these two companies, and other than that, have no relationship.) The other from ‘Kennie’ was phrased as ‘Be Warned’ and made certain assertions about the device and the company which have yet to be proved in court. This was published with some trepidation.

We ask commenters to be respectful of other Readers, of the facts, and understand that we report–and comment–as we see it.

News roundup: Phreesia’s IPO, Chiptech enters UK telecare market, PatientsLikeMe goes to UHG, Medopad-Tencent UK Parkinson’s pilot, Oxford VR goes to HK, Cigna Singapore’s telehealth intro, HIMSS exiting Cleveland

Patient check-in tablet Phreesia is preparing for an IPO, filing of its S-1 form this week. The number of shares and pricing is not yet announced. Phreesia, which specializes in patient intake in the office via a rugged PhreesiaPad tablet and software that integrates with major EHRs such as Epic, Cerner, and Allscripts, has survived not only 14 years, but also in New York City. Phreesia has enjoyed a relatively low profile on the health tech scene, yet it has raised close to $100 million through a Series D (Crunchbase) and maintained much the same founding leadership (Chaim Indig, Evan Roberts, Michael Weintraub). Their business includes 1,600 health firms and 70 million patient intakes annually, for $100 million in revenue in its last fiscal year, up 25 percent from previous. Timing of the IPO is not yet forecast. Mobihealthnews, Business Insider.

Coming to the UK and Europe markets are New Zealand’s Chiptech telecare systems. Chiptech has both traditional in-home and mobile monitored PERS, pill dispensers, and a smartphone-based lone worker alert device. According to their website, they are the leading provider of monitored personal alarms in Australasia. Chiptech also announced a new CEO, veteran David Hammond, whose background includes leadership roles at UTC and Chubb. 

In M&A news, UnitedHealth Group bought the contested PatientsLikeMe, which runs an online service that helps patients find people with similar health conditions. PatientsLikeMe had raised $100 million in 2017, selling a majority stake to Shenzhen-based iCarbonX, backed by Chinese giant Tencent. That investment put the company under scrutiny by CFIUS–Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States. CFIUS is especially looking at Chinese investment in companies that deal with sensitive data, trade secrets, and national security–and coming down hard. Companies like Tencent are working with the Chinese government to amass millions of patient records and data points, with no regard for consent, and to build massive medical databases [TTA 17 Apr].

Tencent has multiple strategic investments in data-driven health companies, including an interesting Parkinson’s clinical trial in the UK with London startup Medopad, which developed an app that tests cognitive abilities across a series of tasks and captures it into what’s dubbed the Markerless Motion Capture and Analysis System (MMCAS). It is being tested on about 40 patients at a private mental health clinic in London called (appropriately) Dementech Neurosciences. Forbes

Mental health is hot, and Oxford VR, a spinout of Oxford University, is pairing with AXA HK and the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) to develop treatments for common mental health conditions such as social avoidance, anxiety and depressive symptoms. ‘Yes I Can’ uses virtual reality (VR) sessions over three to six weeks. In the true Chinese model (it’s free, but you don’t control where your data goes), it will also be offered to AXA’s corporate customers as part of their employee benefits services to drive better mental health outcomes in Asia. Mobihealthnews

Elsewhere in Asia-Pacific, Cigna Singapore launched a telemedicine service, Cigna Virtual Clinic, where users can access real-time doctor consults via a mobile app. Cigna is using Doctor Anywhere for the service. Telemedicine in Singapore is supervised by the Singapore Ministry of Health’s Licencing and Adaptation Programme (LEAP), “a regulatory sandbox initiative that allows the safe development of new and innovative healthcare models to be piloted in a controlled environment”. Insurance Business Asia

Back in the US, HIMSS is exiting its 30,000 square foot bricks-and-mortar office in downtown Cleveland’s Global Center for Health Innovation (a/k/a the Medical Mart). The exit will be over the next year. This is after a three-year extension of its lease inked in 2018. According to Crain’s Cleveland Business, their sources “described the move as a shift in strategy by the nonprofit that has gone through a leadership change.”

VA’s REACH Vet uses algorithms and AI to predict critical mental health needs–including suicide risk

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has been using artificial intelligence and patient data as part of a suicide prevention program for veterans–a top clinical priority for VA. The REACH Vet program, started in 2017, uses predictive algorithms to identify risk factors for suicide in millions of veteran patient records for medications, treatment, traumatic events, overall health, and other information. It then uses the information to determine the top 0.1 percent of veterans at any facility at the highest risk for suicide in the next year. Clinicians then call these veterans for about an hour’s conversation, offering to help them create a mental health care plan.

In its first year (2007-8), the program reached more than 30,000 veterans and identified about 6,700 active VA users a month. According to the short article on findings published by the Suicide Prevention Resource Center in 2018, “veterans who engaged with REACH Vet were less likely to be admitted to an inpatient mental health unit, and more likely to attend mental health and primary care appointments compared to those not in the program. REACH Vet infrastructure includes a coordinator at every VA facility and a national team of clinicians who provide overall program support.”

There are pros and cons to this proactive approach–the pros being a reduction in veteran suicides and evidence of higher suicide risk in the three-to-six months of starting–and ending–an opioid prescription; and the cons being that some of the algorithms may be inaccurate–a veteran could be inaccurately ‘dinged’ for risk or a traumatic involuntary hospitalization. VA is still refining its algorithms in areas such as changes in medication dosage (including opioids) and clinical notes for mention of negative personal issues. POLITICO Health Care

SNF emergency telehealth provider Call9 shuts down most operations, after $34M raise (updated)

Is it a symptom of a bubble’s downside? In an interview with CNBC, Dr. Timothy Peck, the CEO of Call9, profiled in TTA only a month ago, confirmed that his company will be shutting down operations. Call9 provided embedded emergency first responders in skilled nursing facilities (SNFs) on call to staff nurses. The first responders not only could provide immediate care to patients with over a dozen diagnostic tools, but also would connect via video to emergency doctors on call. 

Headquartered in Brooklyn, the shuttering of the four-year-old company has laid off over 100 employees as it winds down operations. They claimed 142,000 telemedicine visits and 11,000 patients who were treated via its services. In the past few months, Call9 had inked deals with Lyft for patient transportation and was expanding to Albany NY. They also operated a community paramedicine division utilizing their emergency doctor network.  

This Editor can now reveal that through a reliable industry source, I was informed of Call9’s difficulties earlier this month. Not wanting to ‘run with a rumor’, I contacted Dr. Peck. He confirmed to me information that later appeared in the CNBC article: that the company was refining its model in the face of a change in previous funders and working with some new partners to stay in a model with embedded clinical care specialists in nursing homes. While they would scale back, they still had current contracts. However, the changes in their model would mean that the company would be in a ‘bit of a stealth mode’. After we discussed the business situations that most early-stage health tech companies have faced with funding, we agreed to touch base in a few weeks when things developed.

CNBC, with a different source, had essentially the same information from Dr. Peck on the winding down of the company but in this case also confirmed layoffs, including a ‘pivot’ of the company into a different model around technology in nursing homes. They also confirmed that a part of the company, Call9 Medical, will remain in operations.

Update: Skilled Nursing News had additional detail on Call9’s partnerships which included SNF providers Centers Health Care, CareRite, and the Archdiocese of New York’s long-term care arm, ArchCare. Their first client was Central Island Healthcare, where Dr. Peck lived for three months testing the model. The article goes on with Central Island’s executive director explaining that he is now seeking a telemedicine provider, as they adjusted their services to Call9’s capabilities.

Payer providers included Anthem, Blue Cross Blue Shield, and Healthfirst, plus some Medicare Advantage plans, splitting the savings from avoiding unnecessary ER admissions. Another appeal made by the company for its services was to keep in place higher acuity–sicker–patients in SNFs who would otherwise have to go into the hospital.

As our Readers know, these pages have covered the comings and goings of many health tech and app companies. Some succeed on their own, are acquired/combined with others and go on in different form, or are bought out at their peak, leaving their founders and some employees cheerful indeed. On the other hand, and far more common: the demise of some is understandable, others regrettable, and nearly none of them are cause for celebration in our field–Theranos and Outcome Health being exceptions. This Editor has been a marketing head of two of them (now deceased except for their technology, out there somewhere), and has discussed marketing, funding, and business models with more startups and early-stage companies than she can count.

If anything, investors have less patience than they did back in the Grizzled Pioneer period of the early 2000s, when a $5 million round put together from a few personally (more…)

Best Buy enlarges health tech footprint with Tyto Care expansion, connected fitness products (updated)

Best Buy is dramatically increasing its wellness profile with two announcements around digital health. The first is today’s announcement of a further rollout of retailing Tyto Care’s TytoHome device and platform in select Best Buy stores in California, Ohio, North Dakota, and South Dakota. This adds to the previously announced Minnesota locations [TTA 17 Apr] for a total of 30, as well as nationwide via BestBuy.com. In Minnesota, North and South Dakota, Tyto Care connects to Sanford Health doctors 24/7. In California and Ohio, as well as for online sales, Tyto Care partners with LiveHealth Online, part of American Well, except for users in Louisiana and Mississippi who will be covered by Ochsner Health System. Each visit is a maximum of $59, which may be less depending on the patient’s insurance plan or the type of visit. Tyto Care is also offering the plan through LiveHealth Online to select employers. Release.

Tyto Home is a handheld examination device with attachments that can examine the heart, lungs, skin, ears, throat, and abdomen, plus body temperature. The captured information can be sent or examined live by a primary care provider.

Best Buy is also betting that people also will flock to their stores to sample connected fitness, most with virtual classes and coaching. Last week they highlighted five: Flywheel Sports, an indoor cycle with online classes; Hydrow, a rowing machine with virtual classes on real-life bodies of water; NordicTrack, with a line of treadmills, bikes, rowers and strength training machines with virtual classes; NormaTec, a digital compression recovery system; and Hyperice, which produces a range of recovery tools like massagers. The digital fitness market is massive–estimated by Piper Jaffray at around $5 billion today, over double from 2016’s $2.1 billion. Mobihealthnews, CNN Business

This adds to a Best Buy digital health profile that includes the Big Buy of GreatCall last year and Critical Signal Technologies monitoring last month to add senior remote monitoring devices to their portfolio. This is not without pitfalls. Earlier this month, Best Buy was sued for a defect found in its GreatCall Lively MobilePlus mobile PERS that in action failed to detect falls as described, after GreatCall discontinued the device in mid-May in what a letter from their CEO David Inns described as an “important safety recall,” offering buyers a Jitterbug flip phone or a full refund. But Best Buy is hedging its bets on tech with higher price-point connected fitness exercise machines and wearables which will attract higher end buyers into stores and online.

News roundup: The state of Finland’s health tech, American Well-Cisco team for TV consults, Tech for Quality Care in Manchester 9 July

Finland shows its sisu in health tech startups. It’s a country you wouldn’t think of readily as hospitable to startups, but they’ve leveraged their tech skills (think the pivots that Nokia has accomplished) to create patient outcome and remote patient monitoring companies that are making an impact in Europe. Some which are making an impact are Meru, Kaiku, and Navigil. Venture capital is ‘thinnish’ which leads to companies seeking seed and development funding from government sources and later on, foreign investors. Mobihealthnews is profiling these companies in conjunction with Business Finland, a government entity. HIMSS and Health 2.0 also had their European conference in Helsinki, and this article discusses how their national health service, Kanta Services, leverages digital health in e-prescribing, they have a national database called the Patient Data Repository that collect patient data records to make them accessible to providers and patients, and the My Kanta patient portal.

Back to the 1990s? Tech device maker Cisco is teaming up with American Well to convert TVs to a video portal via a set-top unit. This is targeted to older adults and those with multiple chronic conditions who may not be comfortable with laptops, tablets, or smartphones, but wouldn’t mind using their TV to connect to a doctor. How it work seems to require a ‘smart TV’–the patient would activate the device on the TV, connect it to Wi-Fi, and initiate the video consult with the doctor and caregiver. No information on timing, markets, or pricing at this time. CNBCWhy does this sound like a klutzy non-starter to this Editor, who went through the fad of interactive TV in the Mad ’90s? It seems to need more than just consults.  Mobihealthnews notes that Quil Health, a Comcast-Independence Blue Cross joint venture, is targeting pre- and post-care support through the TV. Comcast is also rumored to be working on an Alexa-like ambient sensor based device to monitor basic vital signs and fall detection.

Using Technology for Quality Care on 9 July is a free half-day conference/workshop at Kings House Conference Centre, Manchester. It is the first of a series of regional workshops in the North West region to learn from local areas where councils, care providers, and suppliers work together using technology to support care. More information is on this PDF and on the Local Government Association website. Hat tip to Reader Adrian Scaife who just recently joined Alcuris Ltd. as Business Development Manager.

FCC’s $100M Connected Care Pilot Program for rural areas up for July vote

Finally, a big boost for rural telehealth comes to the ‘yea or nay’ stage. The Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) Connected Care Pilot Program, which was approved to proceed last August [TTA 9 Aug 18] with comments on the creation of the program, now moves to the next stage with a formal FCC vote on 10 July on the program itself. The FCC vote was announced by FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr, the co-proposer of the program with Mississippi’s Senator Roger Wicker, during a visit on Tuesday to a rural health clinic in Laurel Fork, Virginia.

The three-year program increases support for telehealth efforts aimed at low-income Americans in underserved regions and who are veterans, to increase their access to health technologies. Providers would be assisted in securing both technology and broadband resources needed to launch remote patient monitoring and telehealth programs. 

Commissioner Carr quoted, in his rural health clinic visit, stats from multiple studies including the VA‘s long experience (since the early 2000s) with remote patient monitoring:

  • A study of 20 remote patient monitoring trials found reductions of 20 percent in all-cause mortality and 15 percent in heart failure-related hospitalizations.
  • A remote patient monitoring initiative (not attributed) reduced ER visits by 46 percent, hospital admissions by 53 percent, and in-patient stay length by 25 percent.
  • The Veterans Health Administration’s remote patient monitoring program had reductions of 25 percent in days of inpatient care and a 19 percent in hospital admissions.
  • In savings, a diabetes trial run by the University of Mississippi Medical Center (UMMC) saved nearly $700,000 annually in hospital readmissions. This extrapolated, based on 20 percent of Mississippi’s diabetic population, that Medicaid would save $189 million per year.

HealthLeaders Media also noted that at the July meeting, the FCC will vote on a notice of proposed rulemaking to seek comment on funding to defray the cost of healthcare providers joining the telehealth initiative and innovative pilot programs aimed at responding to critical health crises including diabetes management and opioids. Also mHealth Intelligence

Comings & goings: The TeleDentists go DTC, gains Reis as CEO; University of Warwick spinoff Augmented Insights debuts (UK); a new CEO leads GrandCare Systems

The TeleDentists leap in with a new CEO. A year-old startup, The TeleDentists, has announced it will be going direct-to-consumer with teledentistry consults. This will permit anyone with a dental problem or emergency to consult with a dentist 24/7, schedule a local appointment in 24-48 hours. and even, if required, prescribe a non-narcotic prescription to a local pharmacy. Cost for the DTC service is not yet disclosed. Currently, the Kansas City-based company has provided their dental network services through several telehealth and telemedicine service providers such as Call A Doctor Plus as well as several brick-and-mortar clinic locations.

If dentistry sounds logical for telemedicine, consider that about 2 million people annually in the US use ERs for dental emergencies; 39 percent didn’t visit a dentist last year. Yet teledentistry is just getting started and is unusually underdeveloped, if you except the retail tooth aligners. Several US groups are piloting it to community health and underserved groups, with Philips reportedly considering a trial in Europe (mHealth Intelligence). This Editor notes that on their advisory board is a co-founder of Teladoc.  Release

The TeleDentists’ co-founder, Maria Kunstadter, DDS, last week announced the arrival of a new company CEO, Howard Reis. Mr. Reis started with health tech back in the 1990s with Nynex Science and Technology piloting telemedicine clinical trials at four Boston hospitals, which qualifies him among the most Grizzled Pioneers. He also was business development VP for Teleradiology Specialists and founding partner of The Castleton Group, a LTC telehealth company, and has worked in professional services for Accenture, Telmarc and SAIC/Bellcore. Most recently, he started teleradiology/telehealth firm HealthePractices. Over the past few years, Mr. Reis has also been prominent in the NY metro digital health scene. Congratulations and much success!  

In the UK, the University of Warwick has unveiled a spinoff, Augmented Insights Ltd. AI will be concentrating on machine learning and AI services that analyze long term health and care data, automating the extraction in real time of personalized, predictive and preventative insights from ongoing patient data. It will be headed by Dr. James Amor, whom this Editor met last summer in NYC. Long term plans center on marketing their analytics services to tech providers. Interested parties or potential users may contact Dr. Amor in Leamington Spa at James@augmentedinsights.co.uk |Congratulations to Dr. Amor and his team! 

And in more Grizzled Pioneer news, there’s a new CEO at GrandCare Systems who’s been engaged with the company since nearly their start in 1993 and in its present form in 2005. Laura Mitchell takes the helm as CEO after various positions there including Chief Marketing Officer and several years leading her own healthcare and marketing consulting firm. Nick Mitchell rejoins as chief technology officer and lead software developer. Founders Charlie Hillman remain as an advisor and Gaytha Traynor as COO. Their offices have also moved to the Kreilkamp Building, 215 N Main Street, Suite 130, in downtown West Bend Wisconsin. GrandCare remains a ‘family affair’ as this profile notes. Congratulations–again!

Best Buy buys Critical Signal Technologies, increasing telehealth footprint

Late last month, Best Buy with little fanfare bought Critical Signal Technologies (CST) of Novi, Michigan. CST is a device-agnostic telehealth monitoring and social work services platform through its Care Center, covering services such as PERS monitoring, medication management, and remote patient monitoring. Terms were not disclosed for this private company founded in 2006, but CST cares for 100,000 patients and has partnerships with 1,500 payers, including many Medicare Advantage plans. 

For those seeking the sunnier uplands of digital health, it’s surprising but gratifying to see Best Buy place another sizable bet in the home health area. The recent acquisition of GreatCall for $800 million is larger, but GreatCall is a turnkey, profitable company. The partnership with Tyto Care [TTA 17 April] to retail their system is relatively low risk, limited in scope, and follows their Midwest intro pattern (followed over 12 years ago with, believe it or not, QuietCare when owned by Living Independently).

Best Buy has gained kudos for moving into specialty areas in healthcare when its fellow retailers have been falling by the wayside. It covers both their bricks-and-mortar–where older adults still like to shop–and online, delivering a large slice of health tech directly to consumers. One asset, the tech-oriented Geek Squad, is a ready made unit for installing and walking older adults through using home tech. MedCityNews, MarketWatch