Oral health: more than a public health challenge, an opportunity for telehealth?

Untreated caries in permanent teeth was the most prevalent health condition in 2010, affecting 35% of the global population, or 2·4 billion people worldwide. In 2010, severe periodontitis was the sixth-most prevalent health condition, affecting 10·8% of people, or 743 million, worldwide.

Worldwide in 2015, dental diseases accounted for US$356·80 billion in direct costs and US$187·61 billion in indirect costs.

Is oral health the next big SDH (Social Determinant of Health)? A focus in this month’s Lancet is the neglect of global oral health. Most of our Readers know that oral self-care can be a challenge with older adults due to physical limitations, finances, and access, but oral  and periodontal disease affects nutrition, is a source of pain, tooth loss, consequent low self-regard, low quality of life, and can lead to other diseases such as sepsis and undiagnosed cancers.

The Lancet’s two articles, Oral diseases: a global public health challenge and Ending the neglect of global oral health: time for radical action (open access, registration required on these links) point out the current allopathic model does not fit the wider societal need,  and come down hard on the social and economic origins (very hard on Western dental practice, the sugar industry, and food providers). However, the articles are light on solutions other than universal health care and community based dental practice. Even in less-developed countries like India and Brazil, practitioners don’t migrate to poor, rural areas. It is true, however, that much of dentistry, at least in the US, has an increasing focus on cosmetic restoration.

Here is a wide-open area for telehealth development. Some areas to explore:

  • Creating wider access to dentistry that treats immediate problems
  • Greater access to proactive dental care, whether dental checkups and to encourage better self-care
  • Connecting rural fixed or mobile clinics staffed by technicians or locally trained staff with dentists for remote screening and scheduling care. 

Hat tip to Leah at The TeleDentists for these articles. The articles are also attached as PDFs here and here.

News roundup: docs dim on AI without purpose, ‘medtail’ a mall trend, CVS goes SDH, Kvedar to ATA, Biden ‘moonshot’ shorts out, and Short Takes

Docs not crazy about AI. And Dog Bites Man. In Medscape‘s survey of 1,500 doctors in the US, Europe, and Latin America, they are skeptical (49 percent-US) and uncomfortable (35 percent-Europe, 30 percent-Latin America). Only 20 percent fess up to actually using an AI application, and aren’t crazy about voice tech even at home. Two-thirds are willing to take a look at AI-powered tech if it proves to be better than humans at diagnosis, but only 44 percent actually believe that will happen. FierceHealthcare

This dim view, in the estimation of a chief analytics and information officer in healthcare, Vikas Chowdhry, is not the fault of AI nor of the doctors. There’s a disconnect between the tech and the larger purpose. “Without a national urgency to focus on health instead of medical care, and without scalable patient person-centered reforms, no technology will make a meaningful impact, especially in a hybrid public goods area like health.” The analogy is to power of computing–that somehow when we focused behind a goal, we were able to have multiple moon missions with computing equivalent to a really old smartphone, but now we send out funny cat videos instead of being on Mars. (And this Editor growing up in NJ thought the space program was there to market Tang orange drink.) HIStalk.

Those vacant stores at malls? Fill ’em with healthcare clinics! And go out for Jamba Juice after! CNN finally caught up with the trend, apparent on suburbia’s Boulevards and Main Streets, that clinics can fill those mall spots which have been vacated by retail. No longer confined to ‘medical buildings’, outpatient care is popping up everywhere. In your Editor’s metro area, you see CityMDs next to Walmarts, Northwell Health next to a burger spot, a Kessler Health rehab clinic replacing a dance studio, and so on. The clever name for it is ‘medtail’, and landlords love them because they sign long leases and pay for premium spots, brighten up dim concourses, and perhaps stimulate food court and other shopping traffic. Of course, CVS and Aetna spotted this about years ago in their merger but are working expansion in the other direction with expanding CVS locations and on the healthcare side, testing the addition of social determinants of health (SDH) services via a pilot partnership, Destination: Health with non-profit Unite Us to connect better with community services. This is in addition to previous affordable housing investments and a five-year community health initiative. Forbes, Mobihealthnews

ATA announces Joseph Kvedar, MD, as President-Elect. Dr. Kvedar was previously president in 2004-5 and replaces John Glaser, PhD, Executive Senior Advisor, Cerner. He will remain as Vice President of Connected Health at Partners HealthCare and Professor of Dermatology at Harvard Medical School. A question mark for those of us in the industry is his extensive engagement with October’s Connected Health Conference in Boston, one of the earliest and now a HIMSS event. ATA’s next event is ATA2020 3-5 May 2020 in Phoenix–apparently no Fall Forum this year.

The Biden Cancer Initiative has shut down after two years in operation. This spinoff of the White House-sponsored ‘moonshot’ initiative was founded after the death of Beau Biden, son of Democrat presidential candidate Joe Biden. Both Mr. Biden and wife Jill Biden withdrew due to ethics concerns in April. According to Fortune, the nonprofit had trouble maintaining momentum without their presence. However, the setup invited conflict of interest concerns. The Initiative engaged and was funded by pharmas and other health tech companies, directly for Initiative support but mainly for indirect pledges to fund research. Most of these organizations do business with Federal, state and local governments. Shortly after the formal announcement, Mr. Biden the Candidate announced a rural health plan to expand a federal grant program to include rural telehealth for mental health and specialized services. Politico   But isn’t that already underway with the FCC’s Connected Care Pilot Program, coming to a vote soon? [TTA 20 June]

And…Short Takes

  • Philips Healthcare bought Boston-based patient engagement/management start-up Medumo. Terms not disclosed. CNBC
  • London’s Medopad launched with Royal Wolverhampton NHS Trust (RWT) in a three-year RPM deal. DigitalHealthNews
  • Parks Associates’ Connected Health Summit will be again in San Diego 27-29 August with an outstanding lineup of speakers. More information and registration here.

And in other news, Matt Hancock holds tight to his portfolio as UK Secretary of State for Health and Social Care in the newly formed Government under new PM Boris Johnson. Luckier than the other 50 percent!

 

 

Call9: we’ll be back — with a different model!

“It wasn’t viable in the way that we did it,” Peck said. “We were very far ahead of the curve.”

Call9‘s founder, Tim Peck, MD, interviewed by local business publication Crain’s New York Business, shed a bit more light on the company’s planned reorganization as Call9 Medical. According to Dr. Peck, Call9 Medical will be in a much larger network of nursing homes and add primary care physicians to its services. The reopened company will be backed by its Silicon Valley lender, Western Technology Investment, which apparently forced the closing issue when the company’s cash on hand fell below the amount lent by WTI. No timing for resumption was given.

In the interview, Dr. Peck returned to reasons why the Call9 original model did not work. Insurers would pay for fee-for-service based telemedicine visits in nursing homes but not pay on their operating concept of fewer hospitalizations and better health outcomes that saved money, which had a longer-term payoff. 

Apparently this led to a standoff with controlling (over 50 percent) funder Redmile, which encouraged the FFS revenue stream. “We had to do services in a particular way that in no way brought value to our model,” Peck said. The ‘change in funders’ as noted in TTA’s article on the shutdown now is in a fuller context; Redmile will not be participating in the repositioned company. Confirmed in the article is that a few former investors, WTI, and some former employees will be part of it.

In this Editor’s view, Call9 had trouble accommodating both payment tracks, perhaps because they were overly invested in their concept. In the real world, it seems odd in a company of this size and investment level, which at one point employed close to 200 people and was about 100 at shutdown. Young companies, if anything, learn to be flexible when it comes to getting profitable cash flow into the exchequer, including standing their ground against ‘pilot-itis’–especially when their major investors encourage it.

One of their earliest customers also warned them of another flaw in their model. The author interviewed the CEO of one of Call9’s earliest clients, ArchCare, a Catholic nonprofit LTC organization in New York. ArchCare was able to “get its patients’ hospitalization rates low enough on its own that paying the startup no longer made sense.” “Their model wasn’t able to move the needle sufficiently to justify the ongoing expense,” CEO Scott LaRue explained. 

One hopes that Call9 Medical will avoid those pitfalls in being too far ahead of the curve and recast their telemedicine model to improve health outcomes for our most frail, vulnerable, and poorly served. Hat tip to HIStalk.

Health tech bubble watch: Rock Health’s mid-2019 funding assessment amid Big IPOs (updated: Health Catalyst, Livongo, more)

Updated for IPOs and analysis. The big time IPOs add extra bubbles to the digital health bath. Rock Health’s mid-year digital health market update continues its frothy way with a topline of $4.2 bn across 180 deals invested in digital health during the first half of 2019. 2019 is tracking to last year’s spending rate across fewer deals and is projected to end the year at $8.4 bn and 360 deals versus 2018’s $8.2 bn and 376 deals.

This year has been notable for Big IPOs, which have been absent from the digital health scene for three years. Exits come in three flavors: mergers and acquisitions (43 in their count so far), IPOs, and shutdowns (like Call9). IPOs are a reasonable outcome of last year’s trend of mega deals over $100 million and a more direct way for VCs to return their money to investors. So far in 2019, 30 percent of venture dollars went to these mega deals. (Rock Health tracks only US digital health deals over $2 million, so not a global picture.)

Reviewing the IPOs and pending IPOs to date:

  • Practice intake and patient management system Phreesia closed its NYSE IPO of 10.7 million shares at $18 per share on 22 July. The company earned approximately $140.6 million and the total gross proceeds to the selling stockholders were approximately $51.6 million for a value over $600 million. The market cap as of 26 July exceeded $949 million with shares rising past $26. Not bad for a company that raised a frugal $92.6 million over seven rounds since 2005.  Yahoo Finance, Crunchbase
  • Chronic condition management company Livongo’s picture is frothier. Their 22 July SEC filing has their IPO at 10.7 million shares at $24 to $26 per share offered on NASDAQ. This would total a $267.5 million raise and a $2.2 bn valuation. This is a stunning amount for a company with reportedly $55 million at the end of its most recent reporting period, increasing losses, and rising cash burn. Livongo raised $235 million since 2014 from private investors. Crunchbase 
  • Analytics company Health Catalyst’s IPO, which will probably take place this week on NASDAQ with Livongo’s, expects to float 7 million shares. Shares will be in a range of $24 to $25 with a raise in excess of $171 million. Their quarterly revenue is above $35 million with an operating loss of $9.8 million. Since 2008, they’ve raised $377 million. IPO analysts call both Livongo’s and Health Catalyst’s IPOs ‘essentially oversubscribed’. Investors Business Daily, Crunchbase
    • UPDATE: Both Livongo and Health Catalyst IPOs debuted on Thursday 25 July, with Livongo raising $356 million on an upsized 12.7 million shares at $28/share, while Health Catalyst’s 7 million shares brought in $182 million at $26/share.  Friday’s shares closed way up from the IPOs Livongo at $38.12 and $38.30 for Health Catalyst. Bubbly indeed! Investors Business Daily, Yahoo Finance
  • Change Healthcare is also planning a NASDAQ IPO at a recently repriced $13 per share, raising $557.7 million from 42.8 million shares. With the IPO, Change is also offering an equity raise and senior amortizing note to pay off its over $5 bn in debt. The excruciating details are here. Investors here are taking a much bigger chance than with the above IPOs, but the market action above will be a definite boost for Change.
  • Connected fitness device company Peloton, after raising $900 million, is scheduled to IPO soon after a confidential SEC filing. (UPDATED–Ed. Note: Included as in the Rock Health report; however this Editor believes that their continued inclusion of Peleton in digital health is specious and should be disregarded by those looking at actual funding trends in health tech.) Forbes

Rock Health itself raised the ‘bubble’ question in considering 2018 results. Their six points of a bubble are:

  1. Hype supersedes business fundamentals
  2. High cash burn rates
  3. High valuations decoupled from fundamentals
  4. Surge of cash from new investors
  5. Fraud or misuse of funds
  6. Unclear exit pathways

This Editor’s further analysis of these six points [TTA 21 Jan] wasn’t quite as reassuring as Rock Health’s. As in 2018, #2, #3, and #6 are rated ‘moderately bubbly’ with even Rock Health admitting that #2 had some added froth. #3–high valuations decoupled from fundamentals–is, in this Editor’s experience, the most daunting, as as it represents the widest divergence from reality and is the least fixable. The three new ‘digital health unicorns’ they cite are companies you’ve likely never heard of and in ‘interesting’ but not exactly mainstream niches in health tech except, perhaps, for the last: Zipline (medicine via drone to clinics in Rwanda and Ghana), Gympass (corporate employee gym passes), and Hims (prescription service and delivery).

Editor’s opinion: When there are too many companies with high valuations paired with a high ‘huh?’ quotient (#3)–that one is slightly incredulous at the valuation granted ‘for that??’–it’s time to take a step back from the screen and do something constructive like rebuild an engine or take a swim. Having observed or worked for companies in bubbles since 1980 in three industries– post-deregulation airlines in the 1980s, internet (dot.com) from the mid-1990s to 2001, first stage telecare/telehealth (2006-8), and healthcare today (Theranos/Outcome Health), a moderate bubble never, ever deflates–it expands, then bursts. The textbook #3 was the dot.com boom/bust; it not only fried internet companies but many vendors all over the US and kicked off a recession.

Rock Health also downplayed #5, fraud and misuse of funds. It’s hard to tell why with troubles around uBiome, Nurx, and Cleo in the news, Teladoc isn’t mentioned, but their lack of disclosure for a public company around critical NCQA accreditation only two months ago and their 2018 accounting problems make for an interesting omission [TTA 16 May]. (And absurdly, they excluded Theranos from 2018’s digital health category, yet include drones, gym passes, connected fitness devices…shall we go on?)

Rock Health’s analysis goes deeper on the private investment picture, particularly their interesting concept of ‘net liquidity overhang’, the amount of money where investors have yet to realize any return, as an indicator of the pressure investors have to exit. Pressure, both in healthcare and in early-stage companies, is a double-edged sword. There’s also a nifty annual IPO Watch List which includes the five above and why buying innovation works for both early-stage and mature healthcare companies. 

(Editor’s final note: The above is not to be excessively critical of Rock Health’s needed analysis, made available to us for free, but in line with our traditionally ‘gimlety’ industry view.)

The CVS-Aetna merger hearing draws to a dreary, weary close

The train is moving so slowly on the tracks that even Pauline is getting some shut-eye. The minimal coverage given to last Wednesday’s hearings in the Court of Judge Richard Leon on the CVS-Aetna merger is understandable, as the hearing trod the well-worn path without a hint of when this will all Wind Up:

  • The Department of Justice argued that the concerns over the merger were settled via divestiture of its pharmacy benefit management (PBM) operation
  • The amici curiae witnesses (AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF), the American Medical Association (AMA), Consumer Action and U.S. PIRG) countered that it’s nowhere near enough, that the PBM competition represented by a new company would not be enough and higher drug prices would result.
  • Anything said by the DOJ attorneys or the ability to call more witness after the earlier hearing was derided by Judge Leon as “phantasmagorical,” “violating the first rule of holes”, and typified by the generally favorable to the judge Columbus Dispatch as “scolding”.

This Editor found no mention of the five states–California, Florida, Hawaii, Mississippi, and Washington–which were supposed to participate in the hearing to support the DOJ position [TTA 17 June]. One has to presume that they were not very vocal or permitted to be so.

Instead much was made of the judge’s interest in the AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) remedies targeting relief for specialty and community pharmacies:

  • All rival pharmacies should have non-discriminatory access to CVS Caremark’s pharmacy networks at fair reimbursements that cover actual drug costs and dispensing costs.
  • Managed care plans should not be denied access to CVS Pharmacy networks, and that managed care plans’ access should be at a fair price.
  • All Aetna plan members must be allowed to opt out of any CVS/Caremark specialty or other mail order programs.

So the hearings wind down, with increased speculation that Judge Leon will simply disallow the merger sometime in the future, which will set up another round of court actions by the merged organizations on the merits and whether the Tunney Act can even be used in this way. And meanwhile, online pharmacies like PillPack scoop up the cream off CVS Caremark’s business. Healthcare Dive, Yahoo News.

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 review copy of this study to this Editor, the link which we are pleased to provide to our Readers. (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 NeurosciencesForbes

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…)