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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

UPDATED 5 and 12 March

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Original article follows:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Digital health on the front lines of coronavirus checking, treatment and prevention (updated 2 Mar)

Coronavirus (COVID-19), which originated in Wuhan, China and has spread to at least 40 countries and 80,000 victims, with 2,700 fatalities, has been roiling both financial and healthcare markets. The stock price of payers in the US have been hit hard due to an anticipated uptick in illness, but interestingly, Teladoc has been up quite smartly in the past few days. Teladoc reported that one of eight virtual visits in January was due to flu, which isn’t atypical–but half had not used Teladoc before. Analysts do expect that there’s an opportunity for telehealth and telemedicine providers to attract new users due to what this Editor has dubbed ‘conscious contact’–that if you even feel remotely sick, you’re going to turn to a virtual visit.

COVID-19 is not remotely near a pandemic outside of China. The three hallmarks of a pandemic are cross-seasonal outbreaks (so far only in China), cross-geography (done), and most importantly, attacking the well. The fatalities have been among those with compromised immune systems, not among the young and healthy who do get it. It’s alarming, like SARS, because of the origination in animals, and the ease of person-to-person transmission via travel, as the outbreaks in Iran, South Korea, Italy, and on cruise ships visiting Asia have confirmed. In the US, the CDC is reporting that it is not currently spreading in the community, but is preparing for that scenario including containment, and has been since January.

But beyond the virtual visit, there are other areas where digital health is part of dealing with COVID-19:

  • Preventing the spread to the patient’s family members. Avaya has been working in China since January to provide enterprise customers with home agents to prevent the spread of the virus. For hospitals, they have donated equipment to enable remote consultation services and remote visiting video at the hospitals, including observation of isolation wards. They have provided a case study of their work with the Tongxiang Hospital at the Tongxiang Branch of Zhejiang Province People’s Hospital. (Photo at left courtesy of Avaya.) 
  • Another is remote patient monitoring. Sheba Medical Center in Tel Hashomer, Israel, is using Tyto Care to monitor the 12 Israeli returnees from the Diamond Princess cruise ship, who continue to be in isolation. The patients will perform the tests on themselves, especially respiratory tests. Jerusalem Post 
    • Update 2 Mar: A representative from Sheba, the largest hospital system in the Middle East, was kind enough to contact me with additional information on their RPM program for COVID-19. For patients requiring isolation in that stage of treatment, Sheba has implemented a modular ‘field hospital’ setup, similar to what the Israeli (and US) military use, which can be set up in any open area. This isolation is to protect immunosuppressed patients from disease spread in the main hospitals. Telehealth being used in addition to Tyto are the Vici telemedicine robot and the Datos Health app for home treated patients. This Editor believes that both European and US public health systems are looking at the Sheba and Israeli approach.
  • Robots–actually a telehealth cart–are being tested for patient self-testing, much like Tyto Care’s use at Sheba. Robots could also deliver food (although they could also carry germs) and sweep streets.
  • Other monitoring can be done via symptom checkers (Babylon, K, and others). 98point6 released a coronavirus screening chatbot app as early as January, but what they’ve turned up so far is more cases of the flu. STAT
  • Data analytics can pinpoint outbreaks. The Epic, Athenahealth, and Meditech EHRs have released new guidance, testing orders and screening questions (e.g. around travel and contacts) that will help to identify outbreaks.

Update 28 Feb: This Editor would like to know more about UV disinfection being used versus coronavirus for large spaces such as in hospitals and aircraft. If you have information on technologies such as PurpleSun which have been tested against hospital pathogens also being used against coronavirus, please contact Editor Donna.

Healthcare technologies which weren’t around during the SARS and swine flu epidemics may make a big difference in the spread, treatment and mortality rate of COVID-19. Healthcare Dive, HealthTechMagazine

UPDATE 28 FEB

As a service to our Readers, we are providing the following health service update links:

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

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

US Centers for Disease Control (CDC)

World Health Organization (WHO) main website on coronavirus:https://www.who.int/health-topics/coronavirus

Health Canada’s main page: http://ow.ly/bLtF50yfJb7

Is the bloom off the consumer DNA business? It’s past time for a Genomic Bill of Rights. (updated)

Perhaps a bit of sanity enters. Ancestry, the largest vendor of home-based tests for genetic testing to trace ancestry and seek health information, announced layoffs of 6 percent, or about 100 people, from its Utah and California offices. This follows on post-New Year layoffs at chief rival 23andMe of 14 percent of its staff, also about 100 people.

The slowdown in the consumer appeal of genetic testing is apparently across the board. While one hears of genetic tests being given for holidays and birthdays, there is little repeat need. The market was easily saturated: the early adopters have done their testing; the second wave of consumers which normalize a technology now are increasingly aware of and have privacy concerns about their genetic information being misused. This Editor would add a lingering wave of silly TV and online commercials with wide-eyed folks imagining their connection to ancient royalty or swapping out lederhosen for kilts after their testing report comes back. 

The bright spot for both companies is where they were really heading–healthcare data. AncestryHealth is not being cut back. As previously noted, GSK owns half of 23andme.

This Editor in 2018 advocated a Genomic Bill of Rights where before testing, a genetics testing client would be told how their genomic data is being used and being protected, informed about de-identification, and easily able to opt-out of commercial use. And the revelations about matching to others in the database or health revelations should be done not only with circumspection and respect for the disruption which may happen in the client’s life, but also held to the highest standard of testing. Sometimes that discovery is the equivalent of tossing a hand grenade into a person’s life. There also hasn’t been a lot said about making de-identifiable data identifiable through the ‘nefarious use’ of genomic data sets available through research networks.

DNA is being used for so much advanced medicine and even home testing (example–Cologuard in the US for colon cancer). It’s regrettable that the most public face of genetic testing rests with two companies whose main sell on your past and health has had unintended consequences, and whose main chance lies in the sale of their consumer data. The Verge, CNBC

Considering 2019’s digital health investment picture: leveling off may be a Good Thing

2019 proved to be a leveling-off year for digital health investment. The bath may prove to be more cleansing than bubbly.

We noted that the always-fizzy Rock Health engaged in some revisionist history on its forecasts when the final numbers came in–$7.4bn in total investment and 359 deals, a 10 percent drop versus 2018. When we looked back at our 2019 mid-year article on Rock Health’s forecast [TTA 25 July], they projected that the year would end at $8.4 bn and 360 deals versus 2018’s $8.2 bn and 376 deals. That is a full $1bn under forecast and $0.8 below 2018. Ouch!

In their account, the 10 percent dip versus 2018 is due to average deal size–decreasing to $19.8M in 2019–and a drop in late-stage deals. Their analysts attribute this to wobbliness around some high-profile IPOs, citing Uber, Lyft, and Slack, as well as the near-collapse of WeWork right before its IPO towards the end of 2019.

New investors and repeat investors increased to 627 from 585 in 2018, with no real change in composition.

The headliners of 2019 were:

  • Amazon’s acquisition of Health Navigator adding symptom-checking tools to its health offerings
  • Google’s buy of Fitbit
  • Optum’s purchase of Vivify Health, which gives it a full remote patient monitoring (RPM) suite (right when CMS is setting reimbursement codes for RPM in Medicare)
  • Best Buy’s addition of Critical Signal Technologies for RPM
  • Phreesia, Livongo’s and Health Catalyst’s IPOs. For Livongo and Health Catalyst, current share prices are off from their IPOs and shortly after: past $25 for LVGO and $31 for HCAT. Phreesia closed today at a healthy $33, substantially up from PHR’s debut at $15. (Change Healthcare, on the other hand, is up a little from its IPO at $16, which isn’t bad considering their circumstances on their financing.)

Rock Health only counts US deals in excess of $2 million, which excludes the global picture, but includes some questionable (in this Editor’s estimation) ‘digital health’ players like Peloton, explained in the 25 July article.

Rock Health’s analysts close (and justify their revisions) through discussions with VCs expecting further headwinds in the market–then turn around and positively note the Federal backing of further developments in building the foundation for connected health as tailwinds. No bubbly forecasts for 2020–we’ll have to wait.

Is this necessarily bad? This Editor likes an occasional dose of reason and is not displeased at Rock Health’s absence of kvelling.

Confirming the picture is Mercom Capital’s analysis which also recorded a 6 percent dip 2019/2018: $8.9bn with 615 deals, dropping from the $9.5bn and 698 deals in 2018. Their ‘catchment’ is more global than Rock Health, and encompasses consumer-centric and patient-centric technologies and sub-technologies. Total corporate funding reached $10.1bn.

Comings and goings, wins and losses: VA’s revolving door spins again, NHS sleep pods for staff, Aetna’s Bertolini booted, Stanford Med takes over Theranos office

VA’s revolving door spins again with #2 person fired, but VistA replacement implementation moves on. James Byrne, deputy secretary, was fired on 3 Feb “due to loss of confidence in Mr. Byrne’s ability to carry out his duties” according to secretary Robert Wilkie. Mr. Byrne, a Naval Academy graduate and former Marine officer, had been VA general counsel, acting deputy secretary starting August 2018, then confirmed five months ago.

Mr. Byrne’s responsibilities included the Cerner implementation replacing VistA and other IT projects (HISTalk), of which Mr. Wilkie stated in a press conference today (5 Feb) “will not impact it at all” (FedScoop). The termination comes in the wake of a House staff member on the House Veterans Affairs committee, herself a Naval Reserve officer, stating that she was sexually assaulted at the VA Medical Center in Washington (NY Times). Axios claims that the White House was disappointed in the way the VA handled the investigation. At today’s presser, Mr. Wilkie denied any connection but attributed the dismissal to ‘not gelling’ with other team members. The launch of Cerner’s EHR is still on track for late March. The turnover at the VA’s top has been stunning: four different secretaries and four more acting secretaries in the last five years. Also CNBC, Military Times.

NHS’ sleep pods for staff to catch a few ZZZZs. A dozen NHS England hospitals are trialing futuristic-looking ‘sleep pods’ for staff to power nap during their long shifts and reduce the possibility of errors and harm by tired clinicians. Most of the locations are in the A&E unit, doctors’ mess, and maternity department. They are available to doctors, nurses, midwives, radiographers, physiotherapists, and medics in training. The pods are made by an American company, MetroNaps, and consist of a bed with a lid which can be lowered along with soothing light and music to aid relaxation. The pods may cost about £5,500 each but are being well-used. Other hospitals are fitting areas out with camp beds and recliner chairs. The sleep breaks take place both during and end of shifts before returning home and average about 17-24 minutes. Everything old is new again, of course–dorm areas were once part of most hospitals some decades back and doctors’ lounges with sofas were popular snooze-gathering areas. Guardian (photo and article)

Mark Bertolini bumped off CVS-Aetna Board of Directors. The former Aetna CEO, who was the engineer of the sale to CVS Health two years ago, isn’t going quietly out the door with his $500 million either. The high-profile long-time healthcare leader told the Wall Street Journal that he was forced off the BOD. He maintains the integration of the Aetna insurance business is incomplete, contradicting CVS’ statement that it’s done. Mr. Bertolini and two other directors are being invited out as CVS-Aetna reduces its board following, it says, best practices in corporate governance. Looking back at our coverage, Mr. Bertolini had hits, bunts (ActiveHealth Management) and quite a few misses (Healthagen, CarePass, iTriage). According to the WSJ, the contentious nature of the statement plus the departure of the company’s president of pharmacy is raising a few eyebrows. And recently, an activist shareholder, Starboard Value LP, has taken a stake in the company. CVS is demonstrating some innovation with rolling out 1,500 HealthHubs in retail locations as MinuteClinics on steroids, so to speak.  Hartford Courant (Aetna’s hometown news outlet) adds a focus on how many jobs will be remaining in the city with a certain skeptical context on CEO Larry Merlo’s promises. 

Stanford taking over Theranos Palo Alto HQ space. HISTalk’s Weekender had this amusing note (scroll down to ‘Watercooler Talk’) that the 116,000-square-foot office building in Stanford Research Park will now house the Stanford medical school. Theranos had been paying over $1 million per month in rent for the facility. The writer dryly notes that Elizabeth Holmes’ bulletproof glass office remains. This Editor humbly suggests the floor-to-ceiling application of industrial-strength bleach wipes and disinfectant, not only in the lab facility but also in that office where her wolf-dog used to mess.

The LA Times reports that Ms. Holmes is also defending herself without counsel in the Phoenix civil class-action lawsuit against Theranos. On 23 January, she dialed in to the court hearing’s audio feed and spoke for herself during that hour. One has to guess that she doesn’t have much to do other than read legal briefs. (Perhaps she sees herself as a cross between Saint Joan and Perry Mason?) Last fall, Ms. Holmes was dropped by Cooley LLP for non-payment of fees [TTA 9 Oct 19]. Williams & Connolly continues to represent her in the criminal DOJ suit, where prison time looms. 

A Practice Fusion coda: an insider’s perspective on the pressure to ethically breach an ‘objective’ service for revenue

From both sides: an insider at Practice Fusion, then a regulator at ONC. Mentioned briefly in POLITICO Morning eHealth is a blog posting from a former ONC (Office of the National Coordinator, HHS) official, Jacob Reider, MD, about Practice Fusion. Before he was Deputy National Coordinator of Health IT, he was CMIO of Practice Fusion circa 2009-11. His blog has some interesting insights on even ten years ago, how aggressive pharmaceutical companies were in wanting to ‘bend’ (Editor’s term) clinical decision support (CDS) in the EHR to promote a drug category, and in a young, growing, and revenue-hungry company, the temptation for ‘growth’ teams to do so. Fast forward a few years, and Dr. Reider is working to write the certification requirements for EHRs and the evidence (via citations) for CDS. His conversations with the then-CEO, Ryan Howard, about the ethics of their advertising model and their rationale illustrate the conflict between ethics and revenue–as in right up to the line and looking over. While this is familiar to any media observer–after all, why buy advertising if not to change behavior?–when decisions are being guided by an EHR, the CDS shouldn’t be rigged, visibly or invisibly. Dr. Reider places the crossing of the line after Mr. Howard’s departure with a new pharma-minded team. The evidence in the CDS lies in the citations funded by–pharma and biomed companies. The inevitable result: Allscripts, now the owner, settling for $145 million with the DOJ and having ‘kickbacks’ attached to their business. Dr. Reider is now CEO of the Alliance for Better Health in Albany, NY. Docnotes: When sponsored CDS is a crime

This is hardly the first instance of the blurring of boundaries between ethics and revenue. All those paying to get their genetic history from 23andme or Ancestry.com ought to consider that they may also be signing on to have their information used by a medtech company for research. It may be stripped of PII and ‘de-identified’, but there are ways of cross-referencing some of that information. Why else would GSK own 50 percent of the company? [29 Aug 19, 31 Oct 15

Allscripts’ $145 million settlement with DOJ on Practice Fusion’s ‘kickbacks’ on opioid prescribing, other charges

The US Department of Justice announced on 27 February that it reached a $145 million settlement with Practice Fusion on what DOJ termed “kickbacks from a major opioid company in exchange for utilizing its EHR software to influence physician prescribing of opioid pain medications”. Allscripts, which now owns Practice Fusion, will be paying out penalties of $25.4 million in criminal fines, $113.4 million to the Federal Government, and up to $5.2 million to individual states, as well as forfeiting criminal proceeds of nearly $1 million from the ‘kickback’. The specific charges relate to two felony charges related to the Anti-Kickback Statute (AKS) and for conspiring with its opioid company client to violate the AKS.

The opioid company is widely believed to be Purdue Pharmaceutical, manufacturers of Oxycontin, according to HISTalk. The high dudgeon generated in the DOJ press release is related to opioid prescriptions and physician usage which are and remain highly controversial. Apparently, Purdue wasn’t the only pharma company that benefited from this type of influence.

In this Editor’s analysis, ‘kickbacks’ is a legalism to prosecute under the AKC what marketers would term a sponsorship deal. Practice Fusion was from inception advertiser supported. What is different here from pop-up screen adverts is that Practice Fusion created sponsorship packages in which not only advertising was featured, but also clinical support decision (CDS) alerts were created, aimed at increasing prescription sales of companies’ products. In addition, Practice Fusion allowed companies to participate in the design of the CDS software. These sponsorships took place between 2014 and 2019. None of this is unusual in AdLand in general, but in pharma and healthcare which play by far stricter rules about marketing programs, this goes against the expectation (and regulation) that an EHR is unbiased.

Allscripts had ‘leaked’ this back in August on their Q2 investor call. Buried in the DOJ release after the opioid ire is the settlement of Practice Fusion’s violations of Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) regulations concerning the voluntary health IT certification program, and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) regulations around EHR incentive programs, presumably Meaningful Use certifications and payments. This was the origin of the earlier announcement of a $145 million settlement on Allscripts’ Q2 2019 investor call, which in retrospect strikes this Editor as a nice try at minimizing far more serious charges. [TTA 14 August] CDS favoring opioid prescription is far more disturbing.  

It does seem that Allscripts bought itself a bargain basement of trouble with Practice Fusion. Mobihealthnews, TechCrunch

News roundup: Proteus dissolves with Otsuka, EHRs add 16 min. per patient, DrChrono mobile EHR raises $20M, CareBridge LTSS launches, ‘flyover healthtech’ soars

The much-touted partnership of Proteus Digital Health with Otsuka Pharmaceutical of Japan for a digital version of Abilify has ended prematurely. Abilify MyCite was the first drug cleared by FDA with a digital tracking system in November 2017 [TTA 14 Nov 17]. Otsuka was also going to fund Proteus for further development of drug tracking.

In the payout for the Proteus license, Otsuka has the right to use Proteus’ technology for its own mental illness drug research. Proteus will abandon its research in mental illness and cardiovascular conditions and concentrate on digital meds in cancer and infectious disease. Before the holidays, we saw reports that ‘Proteus may be no-teous‘ and that layoffs and office closures were in the works. STAT reports that the Proteus-Otsuka breakup is one of several recently: Sandoz and Pear Therapeutics, Sanofi and Alphabet’s Onduo.

Where does a doctor’s time go? EHR use, for one. A study of 155,000 ambulatory medical subspecialists and primary care physicians in 2018 clocked EHR use per encounter at over 16 minutes on average, with chart review, documentation, and ordering functions accounting for most of the time (33, 24, and 17 percent, respectively). Percentages changed by subspecialty. PhysiciansWeekly,  ACP Annals of Internal Medicine (abstract only

Speaking of EHRs, DrChrono, one of the first mobile-friendly EHRs/practice management/revenue cycle platforms, raised $20 million in a Series B led by ORIX Growth Capital. Its total funding in nine years tops $48 million. Crunchbase, Mobihealthnews

Long term care (LTC) has been ‘about to be hot’ for at least 10 years. Where the real money may be made is in the ‘back end’. This week, a new long-term support services (LTSS) firm, CareBridge launched out of Nashville, backed with $40 million in fresh funding with a BOD helmed by a former US senator and physician, Bill Frist. Created in part through the acquisition of two other companies, HealthStar and Sinq Technologies, it will concentrate on electronic visit verification by caregivers for in-home service delivery, provide real-time sharing of clinical information, support members with enhanced tablet-based telehealth services, and is building a predictive model for service support. BusinessWire

Flyover tech soars, indeed. We note that CareBridge is in Nashville, which snobs on both coasts demeaningly call ‘flyover country’. Well, there’s gold in Middle America’s hills when it comes to health tech, with some of the choicest high flyers at this week’s JP Morgan Healthcare Conference from places like Nashville, Minneapolis, Ann Arbor, Denver, and Iowa. Utah alone has enough tech to earn it the nickname ‘Silicon Slopes’. Utah’s highlighted company is one this Editor found back in 2013Owlet–still (baby) socking it to them, cutely. Others, unfortunately, are wince-worthy–the prize goes to the Ōmcare med dispenser, which makes darn sure via two Wi-Fi-enabled interactive cameras that those pills are not only being taken, but also being swallowed. Really. Observer

CES roundup: what happened to the excitement around ‘innovation’, robots, VR, and voice assistants?

What’s missing? Some sense of excitement. It may be your Editor’s back-to-work deluge after the holiday, but it’s hard not to have a sense of Déjà Vu All Over Again when reading the reporting from CES Las Vegas. So much of it seems lukewarm, a variant of what felt exciting, new, and transformative Back When. And so little of it seems to break through to a wider market. Let’s pick through and see what a Gimlet Eye might.

AARP’s Innovation Labs had yet another showcase of technologies from largely small companies from its own Hatchery and other accelerators with which it works. This year it highlighted VR developer partnerships with Rendever, which creates experiences for LTC residents, and VRHealth’s physical therapy at home. SanaHealth has a pulsed light/sound pain reduction device and the VoiceItt speech recognition device which translates the speech of the severely impaired into intelligible language.

Robots continue to seek a market, albeit tinier and we confess, occasionally more amusing.

  • Samsung’s Ballie robot, about the size of an orange, will roll through your home minding your pets, monitoring your safety, and interfacing with your smart devices and apps to make absolutely sure you get enough exercise and track your fitness. That is, if you don’t step on it, mistake it for a tennis ball, or your dog doesn’t mistake it for a chew toy.
  • The Charmin Rollbot will deliver a pre-loaded roll when you most need it, navigating through your home, although no capability of climbing stairs in its current concept.
  • The Misty II robot is yet again one of those tabletop robots which are developer toys. This one propels itself and has a camera, a microphone and 3D sensors, and could be repurposed for fall detection, companionship, or to bring you a hot towel.
  • The Lovot is a Japanese robot at its second CES which moves around, responds, is red and quite cuddly-looking (except for that weird thing on the top of its head). This ‘happiness robot’ will set you back over ¥299,000 ($2,700) when it finally hits the market.

Babies need both monitoring and changing, and combining the two may actually happen. P&G’s Pampers and Verily Life Sciences brought to CES the Lumi smart diaper with a connected HD video monitor plus an activity sensor in the diaper. It will detect baby’s sleep, feeding and diapering patterns. (But no changing by the Charmin Rollbot)

Voice assistants are getting more ubiquitous to find a way into the home. The war between Amazon Alexa (and siblings) and Google Assistant continues with new applications in cars (a/k/a computers on four wheels) to appliances and a host of third-party devices like garage door openers. A lot of this is ‘sneaky tech’ to get past the hard core of people who have already realized that both always-on Alexa and Assistant collect a lot of behavioral data which one does not necessarily want collected, and that many of these connected devices like Nest have been hijacked through compromised passwords.

More in Fierce Healthcare 7 Jan, 9 JanMobihealthnews

Babylon Health criticized by Manchester CCG, cardiac activists in UK, Canada

News you may have missed. Over the holidays, Babylon Health took some hard knocks on two fronts, right after the announcement of their expansion into North America. 

The Manchester Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) rapped the developer of GP at Hand fairly hard on their expansion plans to this Northern city. “We are not convinced that Babylon GP at Hand’s model of care is sufficiently integrated with other local and national services to ensure safe and effective care for local people. Areas of concern include screening programmes and safeguarding. We therefore asked Hammersmith and Fulham CCG, the formal commissioner of BGPaH, to object to the Babylon proposal to begin operating in Manchester from early 2020.” There is a 1,001-person cap on registrations which may be lifted this month if Babylon can address and mitigate these patient concerns.

It should be said that Birmingham had similar concerns to Manchester, but a similar cap was lifted last month. Babylon’s stated strategy is to work with the CCGs on their concerns to successfully roll out the service to offer in-person appointments and 24-hour digital appointments by early 2020. Digital Health

There’s also been charges of gender bias in diagnosis of cardiac symptoms by Babylon’s chatbot. When presented with

identical cardiac symptoms, the chatbot reportedly will tell a man to seek immediate care, but a woman is advised that it may be a panic attack or even depression. Here’s the Twitter discussion between @DrMurphy11 and past TTA contributor Carolyn Thomas, the “Heart Sister”, on this bias. When asked, Dr. Keith Grimes, Babylon’s Clinical Innovation Director, replied: 

Ms. Thomas is a long-time Canadian writer and activist on women living with cardiac conditions, how they are often misdiagnosed (The Grinch’s Guide to Women’s Heart Attacks), and how women’s symptoms of cardiac disease differ.  Her blog is personal, interesting, and informative. (Do read her 22 December post on the Christmas truce of December 1914)

The last news roundup for 2019: ACA mandate unconstitutional, more $ for health research, PartnersHealthcare rebrands, Hackensack Meridian pays ransom, breaches>heart attack deaths, telepsychiatry merger, more

Well, it’s happy trails for 2019, until we meet again in 2020, paraphrasing a well-known Roy Rogers tune (Roy was a movie and TV cowboy singer in the US; his eponymous roast beef sandwich chain was an advertising client for one of this Editor’s first jobs). So we’ll round up the news as we and I trust most of our Readers will be off for most of the next two weeks to be observing the holidays with family, friends, de-stressing, defrosting, or attempting to catch up on work while it’s quiet before January Madness hits. It’s hard to believe that This Year of Grace is almost over.

Breaking News: In a somewhat split decision, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Wednesday evening that the (Un) Affordable Care Act’s (ACA)’s individual insurance mandate, compelling everyone to signup Or Else, is unconstitutional. Congress zeroed out the mandate charge in 2018’s tax law. A decision regarding severability of the mandate from the ACA law has been remanded to the District Court. FierceHealthcare, Healthcare Dive

Also here in the US, we have both an impeachment of a President (a House action which will fail utterly in the Senate, and regarded by ordinary folks as a political annoyance) and a Federal budget running out on Friday that hardly anyone notices because it’s been extended since October by two continuing resolutions (CRs). The new budget that has to be signed by President Trump on Friday is, according to this POLITICO report today, chock full of health research dollars for NIH, the All Of Us genomics initiative directed by Eric Dishman, the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute, or PCORI. and more. There’s some coal dust in the stocking for the national patient identifier initiative. Separately, CMS’ Blue Button 2.0 is offline due to a bug.

PartnersHealthCare rebranding, investing $100 million. Now called Mass General Brigham to better align with its parents (Massachusetts General Hospital and Brigham and Women’s Hospital, the Boston Globe reported that MGB will be spending $100 million for the first 18 months of a digital health initiative to improve the patient experience and the efficiency of care. Much will be around patient convenience, for example the ability to book appointments online, communicate with care providers via video and text, and providing online access to their medical records through OpenNotes. Efficiency initiatives will be focused on analytics and AI to manage patient flow and track revenue. The strategic plan and rebranding is promoted as a five-year project. Partners has been a pioneer in the field, with other large health systems following such as Novant Health (NC) and Mount Sinai (NY) with innovative partnerships and investments. FierceHealthcare

Hackermania in Hackensack continues. TTA reported last week that local New Jersey media identified Hackensack Meridian Health had been the victim of a ransomware attack starting on 5 December. The health system confirmed on Friday that it was a ransomware attack and they paid an undisclosed sum covered by insurance. The attack forced them back to paper records in all 17 of their hospitals, so with the insurance–and against law enforcement advice–they decided to pay up. Asbury Park Press, Healthcare IT News,Health IT Securitywhich also mentions the November attack on Oahu (Hawaii) Cancer Center. International hacker and ransomware attacks on vulnerable healthcare organizations are the subject of these year-end roundups: CISOMag, Becker’s Hospital Review.

Cyberbreaches increase fatal heart attacks? A Vanderbilt University study has also traced an uptick in patient mortality after heart attack to delayed care due to breaches. A survey of 3,000 Medicare-certified hospitals, about 10 percent of which had experienced a data breach, led to 36 additional deaths per 10,000 heart attacks. Krebs On Security blog

Short takes: the Sutter Health-Aetna partnership is adding home visits via Heal and telemedicine via 98point6 in Sutter’s Northern California area….Medtronic snapped up eating behavioral health startup Klue to reinforce a hybrid closed loop system to simplify diabetes management….Telepsychiatry is still niche, but InSight Telepsychiatry and Regroup Telehealth, two of the larger companies in the field, agreed to combine to be the single largest with a few hundred centers. Both American Well and Teladoc are encroaching on this area. 

We wish our Readers a Festive Holiday Season, whether you celebrate the week of Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, or

another holiday. Rest, reflect, and our best wishes for a happy, healthy New Year. We will be off except for perhaps an occasional article until after 2 January.

 

Outcome Health founders Shah, Agarwal plead not guilty in Federal court

As expected, the co-founders of in-office health information/advertising firm Outcome Health today (Monday) pleaded not guilty in the Northern District of Illinois Federal Court in Chicago. Of a total of 26 counts in the Federal indictment, Rishi Shah, the company’s former CEO, has been charged with six counts of mail fraud, 12 counts of wire fraud and two counts each of bank fraud and money laundering. Shradha Agarwal, the former president, has a somewhat lighter charge count of six counts of mail fraud, nine counts of wire fraud and two counts of bank fraud. Both were released on bond: $20 million for Mr. Shah, $10 million for Ms. Agarwal. Crain’s Chicago Business, may require free registration.

The charges relate to deception layered around company performance as detailed in our 3 December article–overstatement of advertising placement and delivery, manipulating third-party data on patient engagement on Outcome’s tablets, and fraudulently stating results to auditors. This was used to leverage nearly half a billion of a total $1 bn raise by major firms such as Goldman Sachs, Alphabet, and the Pritzker fund.

Last week, we covered the pleas of Ashik Desai, former EVP of business operations/chief growth officer (guilty) and Brad Purdy, former COO/CFO (not guilty). Mr. Desai, interrupted from his graduate studies at Wharton, is cooperating with the prosecutors; Mr. Purdy is blaming Mr. Desai.

A podcasted discussion on Crain’s Daily Gist has expressed the opinion that some in tech and healthcare, especially in Chicago, believe the list of charges and heavy penalties are ‘unusual’ and ‘extreme’ for a startup, considering that the revelations started four years ago, the accused stepped down two years ago. and restitution has been made to the defrauded companies. Moreover, the business and the model was not far fetched or pie-in-sky–it was a reasonable model, according to report John Pletz. The company continues in business, albeit scaled down. Mr. Pletz believes that the outcome of Outcome Health will be far more due diligence on investors’ part (accentuated by the WeWork/Softbank crash in the same car) on startups. “Failure is expected–fraud is not.” The resolution of the charges will also be far in the future, perhaps years, due to this being an extraordinarily complicated case. There will be further hearings in January, but do expect it to drag on. A mini-surprise in his commentary was stating that the analysts may turn their plea to guilty. 

News roundup: Philips allies with Humana for pop health, Dexcom’s outage outrage, Halamka ankles Lahey for Mayo, Google and NHS Wales changes, Agfa’s health sale, Victrix/WhatsApp, more

Insurer Humana is identifying high-acuity and chronic CHF Medicare Advantage members and deploying two support programs utilizing Philips PERS and remote patient monitoring (RPM) systems. The first program identifies at-risk older people with chronic conditions and offering them Philips Lifeline with AutoAlert, Lifeline’s fall detection technology, and their CareSage predictive analytics. Philips Lifeline is already offered in select Humana Medicare Advantage plans. The second is a pilot with telehealth RPM to monitor a select group of CHF patients. This will use a Philips interactive tablet and connected measurement devices for care teams to actively monitor congestive heart failure patients. The rationale in the press release is centered on population health management, quality of care, and positively influencing patient outcomes, with “more efficient resource utilization” a/k/a lowering cost of care. Philips release.

Health tech is great, when it works–and Dexcom found out how serious it can get when it doesn’t. Dexcom, a continuous glucose monitoring system, experienced a server outage over the US Thanksgiving holiday weekend into Monday. It knocked out its updates in the Follow feature, frequently used by parents to monitor Type 1 diabetic children, and those with artificial pancreas devices that adjust insulin based on monitored BG levels. Dexcom was not only blasted by users on the server outage, which they attributed to ‘overload’, but also on its communications of the problem to users which depended on Facebook postings and not on real-time direct contacts or messaging. It was a ‘big surprise’ to their CEO, who also dismissed the possibility of a data breach, which seems a bit premature. Both Google and Microsoft provide cloud and tech services to Dexcom. CNBC 12/2, 12/3

Comings and goings: HIT pioneer, strategist, and general guru John Halamka is following the AI Star, leaving Boston’s Beth Israel Lahey Health to head up a machine learning/AI initiative at the Mayo Clinic in Minneapolis. Mayo this fall announced a 10-year high-level partnership with Google Cloud to store patient data and analysis. Modern Healthcare  According to the Healthcare IT News article, he’ll be returning on weekends to the Bay State to his 250-acre working farm….Also moving on to Google Health is Facebook’s Hema Budaraju, a product management director. Business Insider has annoyingly hid the news behind its paywall, leading to speculation in Mobihealthnews that she will be engaged in Google’s “social and environmental impact” efforts as she was at FB…And speaking of Google, founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin are stepping down at long last from active management. Google CEO Sundar Pichai will now be running Google and its corporate parent, Alphabet. See their letter on the GoogleBlog.DigitalHealth reports on changes at the NHS Wales Informatics Service. Helen Thomas is now interim director as NWIS director Andrew Griffiths is departing this month. NWIS is also transitioning to a new Special Health Authority….Agfa’s Healthcare Information Solutions and Integrated Care, plus their imaging division, are definitely going to Italy’s Dedalus Holdings S.p.A. for €975 million. It awaits approval from various authorities, their employee groups, and the usual closing conditions. Release, DigitalHealth.

UK healthcare analytics company Victrix Socsan has signed a licensing agreement last month with WhatsApp. Victrix will use Whats App for communications with beneficiaries as part of their furnishing proactive preventive care services and provide secure information. Release.

SEC, DOJ charges Outcome Health founders Shah and Agarwal, others, with $487 million fraud, 26 counts of indictment (updated)

All the points of information here. While we here in the US were enjoying our Thanksgiving feasts of turkey, steak, lobster, and lasagna, Outcome Health founders former Chief Executive Rishi Shah, former President Shradha Agarwal, and former executives Brad Purdy (COO/CFO), and Executive VP Ashik Desai, were being served a vastly different dish on 25 November. Underreported in the run-up to the holiday were two major legal actions against these individuals:

  • SEC charges of $487 million in investor fraud by “misrepresent(ing) the company’s business successes while raising hundreds of millions of dollars from unsuspecting investors”, billing clients (primarily pharmaceutical companies) for ads that never ran in medical offices, and manipulating third-party studies to make the company’s ad delivery look more effective than it actually was to create the impression of meteoric growth. The falsification trail was such that even they had trouble matching up their claims versus actual in their ‘selling of futures’.
  • 26 counts from a Department of Justice grand jury indictment on criminal charges of fraud relating to their capital raises of about $1 bn during 2011 into 2017 and their business practices. The indictment alleges deception of their investors, lenders, and their own auditors for profit and misrepresenting to advertisers their delivery of actual advertising in doctors’ offices which they may or may not have had, in extreme and additional detail to the SEC complaint. Arraignments for the defendants started on Tuesday 3 Dec.

Two young analysts, Kathryn Choi and Oliver Han, reported to Mr. Desai and are being charged with wire fraud. They are alleged to have created statements to deceive company auditors and providing advertisers with false patient engagement metrics on Outcome Health’s tablets. Both were hired in 2014 and placed on leave in late 2017. This action is highly unusual in reaching down to this level and naming two young subordinates.

One-time unicorn Outcome Health is, of course, still in business, selling advertising and educational materials at point-of-care, having settled with the SEC in October for $70 million in advertiser make-goods [TTA 31 Oct]. It also restructured/recapitalized in May by selling a majority stake to private equity firm Littlejohn & Co. In coming down to earth, the posturing of the executives should be less than two years ago, when Outcome was going to build its own Chicago office building–but this early October article from FiercePharma hardly moderates the healthcare change-agent hype for what is really POC advertising to inform and mostly distract patients who wait…and wait.

Additional information:

In this Editor’s view, once both SEC and DOJ are double-teamed on an indictment, avoiding Club Fed will be extremely difficult for the four main executives. (One assumes their US passports have been confiscated.) There is a huge amount of financial fraud leading to losses by some powerful companies. Even when losses are small, the Feds get their man most of the time. This Editor had a view of this at a distance, as the CEO of a company where she formerly worked was convicted of financial fraud in an enterprise formed after that company. He and his accomplice are serving five years in a Federal prison. Not even Elizabeth Holmes is facing the full fury of both Federal agencies, and she’s facing only nine counts in her indictment.