Telehealth and the response to COVID-19 in Australia, UK, and US: the paper

Published last week in the Journal of Internet Research (JMIR) is the study by Malcolm Fisk, PhD which TTA previewed last month on telehealth’s part in the two-week response, starting 12 March, in response to COVID-19 in Australia, UK, and the US. Malcolm Fisk, PhD, who our readers know as Senior Researcher at the De Montfort University in Leicester, led a group from Australia in comparing these three countries in including telehealth in their responses to the pandemic. It looks at how telehealth models were used, awareness of the role of telehealth in response, and how restrictions previously in place were dealt with. 

The study’s conclusions, briefly summarized:

  • Australia: immediately funded on 11 March with AUS $100 million (US $68 million) a “new Medicare service,” at no cost for patients, for telehealth consultations. Telehealth in Australia is well developed, particularly in rural areas, for health and social care needs. The added funding will aid in the rollout.
  • UK: at the same time, the UK was in a ‘containment’ phase with the PM’s admission that “many more families will lose loved ones before their time”. At that point, telehealth was not in the plans, but the Imperial College projections and recommendations on home quarantining and ‘social distancing’ severely affected the most vulnerable, older people. COVID wound up being quite a jolt to the NHS since telehealth is underdeveloped in most of the UK with the exception being Scotland. Clinicians to this point did not see a need, and many older people do not have access to smartphones, tablets, or the internet. Intents are good–NHSX and the Topol Report setting a framework for telehealth–but to this point telehealth rollout is limited.
  • US: 17 March could be called ‘Telehealth on Steroids’ Day, as CMS announced the ‘dramatic’ expansion of telehealth services via non HIPAA compliant platforms such as Skype and Facetime for Medicare, retroactive to 6 March. Telehealth mushroomed starting 11 March in hospitals first, reporting 15 and 20-fold increases in telehealth consults. Then CDC and the AARP got on board. The US has an uneven system, between differences in state parity reimbursement, Medicare concentrating on rural health, state Medicaid, private pay, and integrated hospital systems’ approaches. What holds telehealth back are providers and areas in the US that simply do not have the internet connectivity that telehealth consults demand.

Good reading. Telehealth in the Context of COVID-19: Changing Perspectives in Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States Hat tip to Dr. Fisk for sending it our way!

Babylon Health leads a $30 million Series B for Higi health kiosks, continuing US push

Here’s an interesting investment by Babylon Health. Earlier this week, diagnostic/symptom checking app Babylon Health was reported to lead a $30 million Series B investment in Higi. Higi has about 10,000 health monitoring kiosks (Smart Health Stations) placed in various US retail locations like supermarkets (Stop & Shop, Shop Rite), pharmacies (Walgreens), workplace and community locations. A user can check their blood pressure, pulse, weight, and BMI for free, along with uploading data from one of 80 connected devices and apps. What then happens is that Higi stores that data on their platform for the user, who can log in and access it from the Higi app on their computer or smartphone.

Higi claims 62 million people have used a Higi device for a total of 372 million tests. This Editor has seen them in some local stores, usually in a corner, sitting forlornly or with an out-of-service sign. (Sanitization, of course, is a real concern.) 

So what is Babylon’s interest in Higi? The US health data, of course, which Babylon can put into their database and improve their modeling. Babylon also is gaining a foothold in the US with high-profile partners such as Mount Sinai in NYC and with health plans in Missouri, New York, and California. For Higi, the tie with Babylon increases their clinical data information base and adds access to a symptom checking app. 

In the Series B, Babylon Health was joined by Higi’s Series A investors, 7Wire Ventures, Flare Capital Partners, Jumpstart Capital, Rush University System for Health, and William Wrigley Jr. Confusingly, on Crunchbase, these investors are listed as a Series C,  not a Series A. They list a B funding round with lead partner Blue Cross Blue Shield Venture Partners, without a funding amount, with the previous round as venture, so possibly the Series B failed. Higi’s funding to date is over $61 million not including the new round. TechCrunch, Higi blog

News roundup: LabCorp CRO boosts Medable, Propeller Health gains 510(k), EU’s 34 medtech startups, Amazon’s healthcare moves, Google’s Arizona privacy lawsuit

It does seem ages since our last one! One major winning category for digital health is clinical trials. LabCorp has one of the largest CROs (contract research organization), Covance. LabCorp has partnered with startup Medable, a Palo Alto-based company that decentralizes the gathering and analysis of clinical trial data from recruited participants through apps and telemedicine. Mobihealthnews  Confirming this trend: earlier this month, Medable cleared a $25 million venture round from GSR Ventures. Crunchbase  This does make rival CRO PRA Health Science’s pickup of Care Innovations from Intel late last year, for an undisclosed amount, look like a prescient (and likely a bargain) purchase.

Propeller Health, which specializes in digital respiratory health with sensors connected to inhalers and apps, gained 510(k) FDA clearance for a sensor/app for use with AstraZeneca’s Symbicort inhaler. This medication is used for asthma and COPD. It does not seem that long ago (2014) that the startup was at trade shows like NYeC and mHealth Summit with an exceedingly modest display of popups and brochures. Their 2019 acquisition by ResMed for the stunningly premium price of $225 million made news in late 2018. Mobihealthnews

In Europe, COVID-19 has boosted at least 34 medtech startups, including 11 in UK alone, followed by Switzerland and Sweden. This is based on a study by Oxford University data visualization spin-out Zegami. One of them happens to be Zegami on a project in using a limited dataset to distinguish between x-rays of COVID-19 infections and infections caused by viral or bacterial pneumonia, as well as images of healthy lungs. On the list are (naturally) Babylon Health and the slightly mysterious Medopad. Sweden’s Kry (LIVI in the UK) is also on the list. Kry/LIVI last made some news when Juliet Bauer of NHS Digital ankled to Kry in early 2019, Med-techInnovationNews, Mobihealthnews

Amazon’s latest stretches into healthcare are noted in a brief Becker’s Health IT article which notes AWS’ deals with Cerner and addition of healthcare-specific features with hospitals using AWS. Mayo Clinic has partnered with Alexa for voice responsive ‘Mayo Answers’. Some Amazon employees now have access to telehealth benefits (this Editor wonders why not all, beyond those Seattle warehouse workers). Industry research company CB Insights is projecting that Amazon’s next move will be a benefits marketplace for employers and payers. Meanwhile, their partnership with JP Morgan Chase and Berkshire Hathaway, Haven, has stumbled with its CEO Atul Gawande, MD, leaving the post to return to practice after less than two years. Executive turnover has been high, and the company has yet to announce a major initiative. FierceHealthcare 

Meanwhile, Arizona’s attorney general has sued Google for violating state privacy laws. Seems like Android users are trackable, even if they turn off location on their phones, through Google apps like Maps and Weather. The lawsuit also charges that Google changed its default tracking settings without informing users, using data for targeted ads. Becker’s Health IT 

NHS’ COVID contact tracing service started today–but where’s the app? Australia? (with comments)

To paraphrase the burger chain Wendy’s long-past spokeswoman, Clara Peller, ‘Where’s The App?’. The NHS debuted a contact tracing scheme for COVID, but it is a manual system dependent upon–people. If you test positive for the virus, you will receive a call from the NHS’ test and trace system. The person will ask for information about your recent contacts with others, and then asked to self-isolate for 14 days. Those names you provide will be contacted as well.

The NHSX-developed Bluetooth LE app remains in beta test on the Isle of Wight, which started on 5 May [TTA 5 May]. Reportedly there were 52,000 downloads in week one, which for an island with only 80,000 households is pretty impressive. 

The original rollout date set by Health Secretary Matt Hancock and NHSX chief Matthew Gould to the House of Commons’ science committee was mid-May, which has come and gone. The new date is now sometime in June. However, Baroness Dido Harding, the new director of NHS’s Test and Trace program, would not confirm that date–as we’d say, tap dancing quite hard. Digitalhealth.net, Telegraph

The US has been hiring contact tracers by state from Alaska to New York. A recent study in preprint in MedRxiv (PDF) by Farzid Mostashari of ACO management company Aledade and others found that in order to reduce the transmission rate by 10 percent, a contact tracing team would have to detect at least half of new symptomatic cases, and reach at least half the people with whom they were in close contact. MIT Technology Review 

Apps have been deployed in Australia (COVIDSafe) and Singapore (TraceTogether) and are in development in Switzerland and Germany. Most use BTE, but South Korea, India, Iceland, and some US states including North Dakota and Utah are using GPS phone location. China has been the most ruthless in using GPS data to monitor citizen locations and activity, to restrict their movements. Previously mentioned here [TTA 19 May] are UnitedHealth Group and Microsoft’s ProtectWell, PWC’s homegrown app–and Google and Apple announced in April a BTE app which hasn’t debuted yet. The Verge

Why ‘masking up’ isn’t such a great idea–more than a false sense of security, a possible gateway to harm

The signs and reminders to wear a mask outside the home, lest those COVID-19 germs get in (or out), are everywhere. You could be strolling on the beach, with hardly anyone in sight, or in a park with everyone more than 6′ away, and you’re made to feel guilty for wanting to breathe fresh, unimpeded air. This Editor has seen people driving cars solo–with masks on, steaming up their glasses, and restricting their vision (and apparently hearing as one hears mainly one’s breathing) for a dangerous combination in driving safety. And even in a short visit to a supermarket, a fabric mask of the type most common to us civilians can make you feel a little light-headed, as you breathe in less O2 and more of your own CO2, like breathing in and out of a paper bag–as you touch the cheese and the detergent. It all begins to appear a little less than logical, a belief shared with medical professionals with whom I’ve spoken.

Along comes the BMJ to confirm exactly these concerns–and add a few more. A team from University College London and UCL Institute of Epidemiology and Health Care responded to a BMJ editorial that advised that “surgical masks should be worn in public to prevent some transmission of covid-19 [sic], adding that we should sometimes act without definitive evidence, just in case, according to the precautionary principle”. The authors of the ‘Rapid Response’ article note that the ‘precautionary principle’ also should prevent the neglect of potentially harmful side effects of any intervention, including the wearing of masks in public.

The two acknowledged (by most) side effects are: a false sense of security that may lead some to neglect proven infection control measures like hand (and face–Ed.) washing and inappropriate use of a face mask including facial touching and infrequent washing. The writers added five others:

  • Speech is compromised, leading people to come closer simply to hear each other, and increasing contact risk
  • The face mask propels exhaled air into the eyes, leading a person to touch their eyes and possibly contaminate them
  • “Face masks make breathing more difficult. For people with COPD, face masks are in fact intolerable to wear as they worsen their breathlessness.” The rebreathed CO2 also may increase breathing frequency and deepness, thus more contaminated air exhaled in the infected, and conversely increasing their viral load.
  • If face masks are already infected, these points are amplified
  • Reduction in innate immunity that limits the spread of pathogens through the body. “If face masks determine a humid habitat where the SARS-CoV-2 can remain active due to the water vapour continuously provided by breathing and captured by the mask fabric, they determine an increase in viral load and therefore they can cause a defeat of the innate immunity and an increase in infections.”

In short, despite all the ‘stay safe’ and ‘mask up’ admonishments, there are both positive and negative effects of mask-wearing–and risks –and they certainly are not the cure-all for COVID spread. (We will, of course, see if COVID outbreaks in the next few weeks appear in the cities where demonstrations have been rampant and mask-wearing/physical distancing have been noticeably absent.–Ed. Donna)

Reflections of a TechForce19 Participant

Ever wonder what it’s like to successfully apply for, and then to deploy your program, as part of a high-stakes challenge? Reader Adrian Scaife, Business Development Manager of Alcuris Ltd., has been on an eight-week merry-go-round on hyperdrive (to mix a few metaphors). We invited him to tell us what it was like after the reports were handed in, and his impressions follow. Thank you, Adrian!

Now the Rapid Feasibility stage has been completed and outcome reports submitted, it’s a good time to sit back and take stock of the last 8 weeks.

It all started in late March when Matt Hancock asked for innovative tech companies to support vulnerable people during the Covid crisis around three themes, Optimising Staffing in Care and Volunteering Sectors, Mental Health and Remote Care. The funding available totalled £500,000 and was planned to be shared across 20 companies.

Even at the start the ambition, the scale and the pace of the initiative were very clear.

Looking back, it is apparent that the initiative has become a brand–TechForce19 – a great name, logo and its own website. The benefit to all is a set of unifying objectives, direction, urgency, and something that people and organisation can come together to support.

The sheer number of organisations involved in the initiative was breath-taking. Funding was from the Department of Health and Social Care along with the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government. It was run by NHSX supported by Public Ltd., the Academic Health Science Networks including the Health Innovation Network in London and other experts from a variety of organisations.

The application process was at speed with a launch date of 24th March and application submission by noon 1st April (and that was the extended deadline!). The application form was thorough in the questions asked particularly around how you would conduct a two-week test to demonstrate that you can solve the challenge(s). We also knew it was going to be scored based on Solution feasibility, Company credibility, Impact, and Digital maturity.

The selection process was equally fast with feedback on the next stage due Friday 4th April. Friday came and went, and we feared the worst. Little did we know at the time that over 1,600 applications had been received. Just before midnight on Saturday an email was received announcing we were through to the interview stage and ours was on Monday. 60 interviews were completed over the next few days.

Just over a week later, confirmation that our proposal had been accepted, one of just 18 participants. Time to deliver on our plan. Just 10 days to plan the project in detail, provide partner training, deliver the hardware, for our partners to collect their referrals and then to deploy the Memo Connected Care Suite. Two weeks of live running. Evaluation and an outcomes report to be submitted by the 18th May.

I must give enormous praise and thanks to our partners for their commitment to deliver when all around them the pressures on their services due to Covid were unbelievable.

So now the Feasibility and Outcomes report has been submitted. We have received some terrific feedback both from families and Social Care staff. Did the project go according to plan? Well not entirely but when do they ever, especially during a national crisis.

One surprise that I shall never forget is Nasdaq, the American stock exchange, wanted to applaud digital innovators globally who were supporting the Covid fight. They promoted the work of TechForce19 on their seven storey Nasdaq Tower in Times Square, New York by highlighting each of the 18 participants.

TechForce19 is an NHSX Covid-19 response initiative, supported by PUBLIC and the AHSN Network. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily those of NHSX or its partners.

PUBLIC’s website has profiles on the 17 other TechForce19 participants, including many names familiar to our Readers, such as Just Checking and Buddi. Our earlier article is hereHat tip to Reader Alistair Appleby.

 

 

Optum buys naviHealth for reported $1 billion; Amwell raises $194 million in Series C

In non-COVID-19 news, Optum has confirmed to industry press that they have acquired post-acute management company naviHealth. Becker’s HealthIT cites sources that the purchase price is in the vicinity of $1 billion. Continuing their PAC-MAN path, this pharmacy benefit, population health, and care services wing of UnitedHealth Group in the past six months finalized the purchase of DaVita Medical Group from renal treatment giant DaVita for over $4.3 bn and is reportedly closing on a full acquisition of virtual behavioral health provider AbleTo [TTA 29 Apr] for a less stunning $470 million.

naviHealth provides post-acute care clinical decision-making tools that manage pre and post-acute care as part of value-based care programs such as the Bundled Payments for Care Improvement (BPCI) program with CMS. Their customer base includes health plans (4.5 million members within Medicare Advantage alone), over 140 hospitals, and post-acute care providers such as nursing homes, LTC facilities, rehabilitation, and home health. The company will retain current management and staff, and operate as a stand-alone company within OptumHealth. It’s a well-paid exit for Cardinal Health and Clayton, Dubilier & Rice. Also MedCityNews

Amwell raises $194 million in a second Series C. The former American Well did not need telehealth to receive a gratifying boost from its investors Allianz X and Takeda Pharmaceuticals. This follows on a February $60 million venture round from Chetrit Ventures (BostInno). Amwell has raised $711 million in nine funding rounds (Crunchbase). Their main business has been with payers, health systems, and employers. In April, they added a branded program, Amwell Private Practice, for practices under 100 providers for these mostly shuttered offices to reach their patients at home and to continue care. Release, Mobihealthnews.

DHACA home testing webinar 20th May 10am–next one 3 June

DHACA is running its eighth WebinarWednesday on 20th May 10am on the topic of home testing. One of the two main themes of our webinars to date has been how technology can minimise face:face clinical interactions with patients whilst simultaneously improving patient outcomes and reducing costs.

This webinar continues that theme by showing how after electronic triage and remote consultation, a growing number of tests, of blood, urine, skin etc., can continue to be used to minimise face:face engagement, as well as improving patient access to prompt testing. We will look at the challenges and the benefits through the eyes of four brilliant speakers.

More details here, register here.

From Editor Donna: DHACA will have its ninth #WebinarWednesday on 3 June at 10am UK time. The topic is how best to promote technology to carers in the light of the pandemic. Editor Charles will be part of a panel discussion. More details and registration are right here.

Post-COVID back to work: for workplace screening, testing, contact tracing, there’s an app for that

If you’re looking forward to going back to the office without the children and the dog barking, and seeing people other than your family, don’t expect to go back to “The Office” Normal with kibitzing over the divider and in the kitchen/break room. Chances are the latter will be locked, and the nearest person over the divider will be six feet away. There will not only be serious physical changes to the office, starting with many fewer people there, but also apps to track your health and who you come in contact with. Your employer will be managing your potential risk for infection of yourself and others.

  • UnitedHealth Group and Microsoft’s ‘ProtectWell’ app will screen your health everyday (using Microsoft’s COVID-19 triaging Healthcare Bot and Azure. If there’s a risk of exposure or if you are exhibiting symptoms, it will direct you to a COVID-19 testing process that enables closed-loop ordering and reporting of test results directly back to employers, managed (of course) by UnitedHealth. The app will also provide guidelines and resources for a safer work environment, including physical distancing, personal hygiene, sanitation, and more. UHG and Microsoft are furnishing the app to employers at no charge. UHG has already implemented this ‘contact tracing lite’ for frontline workers and will roll out to its over 320,000 employees; Microsoft will do the same for its US-based workers. Release
  • Enterprise software company Appian released Workforce Safety and Readiness, an app to enable HR departments to plan and maintain a return to work for employees and to maintain a safer workplace. This ’employee re-entry’ app as their CEO Matt Calkins put it, is not for every company. The app will quiz employees on factors such as health data, possible virus exposures, and details about their jobs to determine when and how they should return, based on their jobs plus CDC and state guidance, both of which keep shifting; state and local guidance in particular is keeping more than one law firm quite busy. The app can then push information to workers about their new hours, area, and similar. When the employee is back to work, they can then use the app to provide feedback on crowding and lack supplies such as hand sanitizer or wipes. The app is built on a HIPAA-compliant system and originated with a self-reporting disease app. Appian is targeting larger companies with thousands of employees on a $5,000 per month subscription model. Appian page, The Protocol
  • Companies large and small have devised their own mass testing procedures for current workers and those returning, as early as the next two weeks. This next article from Protocol details several approaches, mostly around detecting the imminently ill.
  • PWC has already set up a contact tracing system for returning workers, an app that tracks contacts with the phones of others of a person who self-reports being ill. While the privacy seems pretty robust–it works on employee self-reporting and his or her AD ID on my phone, then all the other phones it had contact with over the past X days via Bluetooth. As PWC’s David Sapin of their connected solutions area put it, “But if you’re going to come back into the workplace, you need to accept having this type of app on your phone.”
  • For a really dystopian view, see this article in Bloomberg. You may be scanned thermally, have an elevator operator (back to the past!), and lots and lots of sensors monitoring your comings and goings. Facilities departments will be retrofitting for anti-microbial surfaces and plexiglass guards. Before you are allowed to return, if you are allowed to return, you may be pre-assessed for risk before you are allowed to, with bonus point for antibodies. And when you’re back in your ‘six feet office’, you’ll have many more rules governing daily desk coverings, how you interact with your colleagues, walk in the hall, go to the bathroom. Hint: buy acrylic polycarbonate manufacturer stock. ZDNet

Of course, one wonders if Unintended Consequences will be to very firmly establish a remote workforce, which is anathema to some companies, or encouraging further outsourcing of work to offshore entities.

Founder of Call9 springing back with Curve Health for nursing home telemedicine

Tim Peck MD, founder of Call9, which provided in-facility emergency care staff with telehealth capability for nursing homes, announced a new venture also targeted to nursing home/skilled nursing home (SNF) and rehabilitative health. Curve Health will provide telemedicine and health information exchange technology to SNFs and physician groups. Physicians calling on SNF patients will be able to access patient information before a telemedicine visit. According to Dr. Peck, Curve Health’s telehealth and HIE software are built on that of Call9’s. POLITICO Morning e-Health.

Call9 closed operations last July after four years and $34 million in investment. It achieved some success in New York state, covering 3,700 beds and a total of 11,000 patients treated. While they experienced measurable success–in a 200-bed SNF, they achieved a 50 percent reduction in ER admissions and a savings of $8M per year–made inroads with major payers like Anthem and Healthfirst plus expanded into community telemedicine, it ran into a funding wall all too common with this sector. While the book of business was decent and they had gone through two well-funded rounds, Call9 could not move easily into a Series C. Value-based care is a great buzzword and beloved by CMS, but it is a long payout curve, too long for many investors. More discussion on this is in our article 26 June 2019

It is a shame as New York has been the epicenter of COVID-19 nursing home fatalities, due to a foolish (and this Editor is understating) state mandate of returning recovering patients right back to their nursing homes, which could not provide the level of care or isolate them. These patients often worsened, but also infected other patients and staff. Perhaps this could have been mitigated by Call9 or similar–but likely not.

Sadly, there’s a spotlight on nursing homes, rehabs, and LTC because of this pandemic. We look forward to more news from Dr. Peck and Curve Health in this specialized and underserved area of telehealth.

The Theranos Story, ch. 63: 12 new wire fraud, conspiracy, forfeiture charges for Holmes, Balwani

The Fraud That Is Theranos manages to stay in the news, despite a global pandemic, with more fraud charges. Only a few weeks ago, things were looking up for former executives Elizabeth Holmes (left, in the Female Steve Jobs days) and ‘Sunny’ Balwani. The defense insisted that they couldn’t prepare a proper defense without breaking shelter-in-place executive orders, which built their case for delaying the original August trial date. Prosecutors are requesting 27 October; the defense 2021. In February, the nine counts of wire fraud and two counts of conspiracy were reduced by the judge, who dismissed the two conspiracy charges related to defrauding patients who did not pay directly (e.g. insurance payment) and directing doctors to misrepresent Theranos to patients. 

Now Federal prosecutors have filed 12 fresh counts of wire fraud and conspiracy against Holmes and Balwani, plus forfeiture, in the Federal US District Court, Northern District of California, in San Jose. The superseding information (link to PDF) filed on 8 May details the very public splash and claims on their capabilities made by Holmes to the media, on their website, in their Walgreens partnership, and in advertising, from 2013 to 2015. Revealed today (12 May), the expansion of charges include 12 counts of:

  • Wire fraud against Theranos investors, including conspiracy to defraud investors through false representations of their revenue, financial models, and technology, going back to 2010
  • Wire fraud against Theranos patients, through representing to doctors that the tests were accurate while knowing they were not
  • Six additional charges of wire fraud through using electronic media and electronic transfers of funds
  • Four additional charges of wire fraud in transmitting through phone and internet laboratory and blood test results, plus payments for the purchase of nearly $1.3 million in ads targeting patients and doctors for the Wellness Centers

Wrapping this up is a demand for forfeiture of proceeds (which were at least $700 million).

These felony charges carry a potential sentence of 20 years imprisonment, a $250,000 fine, three years supervised release, plus a $100 special assessment (ahem), in addition to whatever proceeds can be clawed back in what is now a worthless company.

The actual indictment needs a grand jury to be convened, which cannot happen until 1 June or later.

Additional information on The Register, BioSpace, and Fox Business.

Theranos’ fraudulent blood testing is even more relevant in this Age of COVID with reports of the proliferation and uneven performance of virus and antibody tests. Tyler Shultz, who worked at Theranos and was related to investor/advisor George Shultz, warned on 2 May that Theranos would have thrived in this hothouse. The UK alone ordered millions of kits from China, only to send them back due to poor sensitivity (ability to avoid false negatives) and specificity (ability to avoid false positives). Rapid testing kits have come under particular fire. The US opened the gates to non-FDA cleared tests in March, only to close them shut a few days ago. Only Belgium, with the highest rate of fatalities per 1,000 infections, has banned the rapid tests. Other tests are more accurate but they take more time to return results and cannot be administered at home. Many believe that they already had COVID and anxious to see if they have the antibodies (IgG) floating about in their plasma. Bloomberg

Important UK government guidance on safer workplaces during and after the COVID-19 pandemic

The UK Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy has issued on Gov.UK specific advisories on workplaces and to keep workers healthy during and after the peak of this pandemic. In addition to those who’ve had to work on-site through the lockdown, as we return to business, this guidance will be helpful in assessing risk and engaging staff in changes such as physical distancing, reconfiguring offices, creating barriers, and reconfiguring work teams.

Eight work situations are identified: 

  1. Construction and outdoor work
  2. Factories, plants, and warehouses
  3. Labs and research facilities
  4. Offices and contact centres
  5. Other people’s homes
  6. Restaurants offering takeaway and delivery
  7. Shops and branches
  8. Vehicles

While not strictly digital health, this is pertinent information for us in our businesses to keep safe, particularly #3-5. Most of us won’t be working remotely forever, and quite a few of us visit homes and other offices. For our US readers, this type of guidance will also be useful–and hasn’t been seen by this Editor from the state or Federal level.

Mount Sinai Health Partners (NY) launches Babylon Health telehealth app

Mount Sinai Health Partners, through New York Telemedicine Associates, has premiered Babylon Health’s telehealth app as part of its services with five large New York health plans: Empire Blue Cross Blue Shield Commercial and Medicare Advantage; Humana Medicare Advantage; Oscar Commercial, and Cigna Commercial. The coverage of these five plans is claimed to be in the millions. Mount Sinai’s network covers Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, and most of Long Island.

The app includes the Babylon chatbot and the opportunity to set video consults with a doctor. The app also has COVID-19 information and a chatbot app which leads you through a self-diagnosis menu, interactive advice, and will set up an appointment to speak to a healthcare professional. Release, Babylon Health US’ page on the Mount Sinai program   This Editor will add that Mount Sinai is rather late to the party, as rival NYU Langone has been promoting their telehealth Virtual Urgent Care program for months.

The Forbes article starts off like a glossy Babylon press release, but continues on to some of Babylon’s recent and controversial press, such as Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) participating in the last $550 million investment round and the tart feedback of many UK doctors on how much ‘care’ can be pushed off onto apps like ‘GP At Hand’. Not mentioned is the controversy around the accuracy of the chatbots when it comes to giving advice, which was the subject of Newsnight and @DrMurphy11 (Dr. David Watkins), who has been raising performance issues for some time. [TTA 27 Feb]

Is a COVID-19 ‘immunity passport’ next for the UK to get back to work?

The Guardian is reporting that UK ministers are in talks with Onfido, a UK company which uses facial biometrics for identity verification. An ‘immunity passport’ would combine identity verification with a medical history on whether that person has had COVID-19. The government could use antigen tests, which show current infections, or a test that detects IgM antibodies. For past infections, the test would need to detect IgG antibodies. This passport would be several months in the future.

The question is if the tests work especially for past infections and access to reliable testing. For instance, the earliest instances of COVID-19 may have occurred in the US starting in late November. Will the IgG antibody still be present? These tests are still developing and are not widespread yet, despite many companies’ claims. Both Roche in the US and Quotient in Edinburgh have new lab-based tests that apparently have superior accuracy. Roche received emergency use approval from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for their test, while Quotient is claiming 99.8 accuracy for 36,000 antibody tests a day in 35 minutes.

The process that Onfido outlined works like this:

  1. Use an app to take a facial picture that you match to your government-issued id. The app matches the two to verify your identity and can also detect if the ID is fake.
  2. Get a test to determine whether you have had the coronavirus
  3. At work, you open the app at reception and take a picture of your face that generates a QR code. This is scanned by the receptionist and confirms whether you have immunity or not.
  4. If you have a match, you can enter the workplace.

Of course this discriminates against those with smartphones, and if your facial appearance has changed. Example: if your government ID was taken with a beard and you’re now clean-shaven, in this Editor’s estimation you will have a problem. Most government IDs also look like the pictures of missing appearing on milk cartons, so what your app takes could very well not match.

It’s also unknown whether the antibodies even confer immunity–and for how long.

Contact tracing in the UK: the biggest digital health test yet?

Is uncertainty over risk of data breaches and violation of data privacy in the NHS contract tracing app the real barrier to adoption? Or is the risk more complicated–the user perception of  app reliability for them to upend their life? A person might not want to have the government on record as telling them that they were “sufficiently near” a person diagnosed with coronavirus–and also believe that the app does not provide reliable information. The person receiving the alert very well may not be infected, but the risk is that they may be compelled to self-isolate and even test with repeated alerts that may or may not be accurate.

In other words, the ‘false positive’ alert syndrome. We go back to this syndrome to understand that the real test of confidence is the perception that the algorithms will, with a good deal of confidence, screen for the number and duration of contacts of other people with symptoms, and that the complex algorithms will create a correct evaluation.

With a system that relies on about 80 percent of adoption, according to a University of Oxford team, the real factor in a successful contract tracing app may be Human Behavior– how users with smartphones perceive the app as reliable in alerting them for enough risk to self-isolate, with privacy and security lesser concerns.  UKAuthority  Hat tip to reader Alistair Appleby

Telehealth and the response to COVID-19 in Australia, UK, and US: video

Malcolm Fisk, whom our Readers know as Senior Researcher at the De Montfort University in Leicester, was kind enough to forward information on a recent video interview with André Martinuzzi of the Living Innovation Project, a Europe-wide innovation group with 14 partners ‘co-creating the way we will live in 2030’.

This 17:30-minute video covers a lot of ground on the UK response to the coronavirus (the uncertainty as of mid-April), how the UK, US, and Australia have used telehealth in response, and how telehealth can ‘stick’ after the crisis, but only if we design an inclusive infrastructure. You can view the video on the Living Innovation page by clicking on ‘View Video’ on the upper right hand side, or go directly to YouTube.

There’s a brief preview in the video of Dr. Fisk’s paper (awaiting publication, co-authored with Anne Livingstone and Sabrina Pit) on ‘Telehealth in the Context of COVID-19: Changing Perspectives in Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States’. Telehealth was very rapidly put into use for diagnosis, monitoring, and home treatment of COVID patients. Restrictions were lifted and investments made in communicating the availability of telehealth. However, the infrastructure for telehealth is strained, especially in the US with a mixed, primarily private model dependent on payers or individuals paying per virtual visit. In the UK, health trusts have encouraged the use of telephonic and audio/video models. In Australia, telehealth, particularly in remote areas, is well established. TTA will keep Readers posted on the publication of this paper. A big hat tip to Malcolm Fisk.