3rings assistive tech will be ringing off next March (UK) (updated)

click to enlargeAnother assistive technology/TECS company decides that they have reached the end of the road.

Mark Smith, one of our Readers and Business Development Director of 3rings, which has been featured more than a few times in these pages over the past six years from Kickstarter days, this morning passed along the sad news that 3rings is closing. From Steve Purdham, the founder and chairman (and updated by him today 19 September):

It is with great regret and sadness that we have to inform you that we will be bringing the 3rings Care plug and Internet of Things sensor service to a close. 

After a journey of 6 years we have taken this decision because the technology adoption within the Social care market is extremely slow moving, which means that we are not able to attain a sustainable business model that would give the quality, and daily operational support that we believe is the minimum we would expect to deliver, to look after you, our customers.

Our customers including individuals, regional council’s and housing association’s that use 3rings as a safety net of care, are very important to us and this is the reason why we haven’t waited until the last moment to notify you of our decision.

With this in mind, we will be maintaining support for the 3rings care service, including the Plug and IOT sensors platform until Friday 1st March 2019.

Given the extended notice period we feel that this provides enough time for you to make alternative arrangements.

The 3rings team strongly believe in the world of IoT sensors and true digital solutions to provide a safety net of care, 3rings has always evangelised this as our goal, we know that digital safety nets of care will change the face of social care in the future. With that in mind we are still exploring alternatives and should anything change we will inform you at the earliest opportunity.

We are truly sorry to have to deliver this message, but can I personally thank you for your support, we are immensely proud to have helped so many families and vulnerable people, and to have saved lives through the 3rings service.

Your support for the 3rings product range made a massive difference, and we thank you for your understanding and commitment to providing to the safety net of care for your loved ones or clients.

Should you wish to clarify anything or have any comments then please don’t hesitate to contact me directly either by email on steve@3rings.co.uk or call me on 01260-222853 or my mobile 07899 803555.

Yours sadly
Steve
Steve Purdham · Chairman

Steve, in his separate note to this Editor, explained that they chose this four-month plus winding down in order to responsibly look after their customers so that they have enough time to transition to other monitoring systems. Individual users of 3rings will be separately notified as well.

It was, as Mark said, a shock, but as this Editor noted in the Canary Care article from earlier today, in many ways the TECS/AT/telehealth business has not progressed much since 2006. The funding, technology, and consumer acceptance are all better since the early 2000s, but there is a lot more competition with not enough market takeup to warrant it. Even 3rings’ integration with the very trendy Amazon Echo and the IoT space showed innovation, but not the reward.

The social care area is more developed in the UK than the US as a concept. In the US, we speak more about ‘social determinants of care’, with one determinant–transportation–getting most of the action and the money. When you look at the truly disproportionate amounts of investment in certain hot companies with sexy tech, for instance a few ‘unicorns’–the now expired Theranos being the Poster Child–where far smaller amounts funding tech that works in real companies with real customers would do immediate good and would change things in the long term (longer than 18 months, which is the usual VC horizon), one wonders if we haven’t gone a little bonkers.

Yet those of us in the industry remain hopeful. As Steve Purdham said to me in a separate note, “the market has all the tools to change face of social care but the families and the existing structures are so glacial in the acceptance of this change. It will come and it will make a massive difference when it does.” We’re all trying.

We wish Steve, Mark, and the 3rings team all the best–and perhaps a White Knight will Save the Plug. Hat tip to Gerry Allmark of UK Telehealthcare as well for the information.

Weekend reading: the deadly consequences of unpredictable code

The Guardian’s end of August post-bank holiday/pre-Labor Day essay on how algorithms are morphing beyond the familiar if/then/else model we learned in coding school or in the IT engineers’ bullpen as you strained to understand how the device you sought to market actually worked is scary stuff, especially read in conjunction with the previous article about Click Here to Kill Everybody. We may be concerned with badly protected IoT, cybersecurity, and the AI Monster, but this is actually much nearer to fruition as it drives areas as diverse and close to us such as medicine, social media, and weapons systems.

The article explains in depth how code piled on code has created a data universe that no one really understands, is allowed to run itself, and can have disastrous consequences socially and in our personal safety. “Recent years have seen a more portentous and ambiguous meaning emerge, with the word “algorithm” taken to mean any large, complex decision-making software system; any means of taking an array of input – of data – and assessing it quickly, according to a given set of criteria (or “rules”).” Once an algorithm actually starts learning from their environment successfully, “we no longer know to any degree of certainty what its rules and parameters are. At which point we can’t be certain of how it will interact with other algorithms, the physical world, or us.”

What’s happening? Acceleration. What’s missing? Any kind of ethical standards or brakes on this careening car. A Must Read. Franken-algorithms: the deadly consequences of unpredictable code

IoT=Cyberdisaster, if we don’t chill innovation and secure it. It’s hip to be scared!

It’s hip to be scared and chill out innovation till we can secure it. That is the plain thought behind the new book Click Here to Kill Everybody, Bruce Schneier’s take on how IoT is going to wreck our lives. Basically, if it can be hacked, it will be, and the more we make dumb things smart, the easier this mischief will be able to hurt us–not our data, but our lives, health, and property.

As our Readers know, TTA has been calling out the threat to humanity since The Gimlet Eye lampooned Internet Thingys doing things against their will back in 2015 and more seriously here. (And yes, parking meters can be paid on a smartphone app in the resort burg of Cape May, NJ.) We have explored, for instance, how easy it is for Black Hats to exploit medical devices and to get into networks via fax machines and all-in-one printers.

Mr. Schneier is not a Luddite. For starters, he is a fellow at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University and a lecturer in public policy at the Harvard Kennedy School. He is on the board of the Electronic Frontier Foundation and is chief technology officer of IBM Resilient, which helps companies prepare to deal with potential cyberthreats. But he can’t buy an unconnected new car (think of that eight-year-old Black Hat waiting to sabotage your steering) and you can’t get an unconnected DVR. It’s getting near-impossible to buy a dumb TV that doesn’t spy on you and to live a lifestyle that is fully disconnected unless you go ‘Life Below Zero.’

So what he is proposing is to ‘chill innovation’ as we do with medical devices and pharmaceuticals for safety’s sake. (Editor’s emphasis)

There’s no industry that’s improved safety or security without governments forcing it to do so. Again and again, companies skimp on security until they are forced to take it seriously. We need government to step up here with a combination of things targeted at firms developing internet-connected devices. They include flexible standards, rigid rules, and tough liability laws whose penalties are big enough to seriously hurt a company’s earnings.

Yes, they will chill innovation—but that’s what’s needed right now! The point is that innovation in the Internet+ world can kill you. We chill innovation in things like drug development, aircraft design, and nuclear power plants because the cost of getting it wrong is too great.

Thoughtful writing and point of view. This Editor would also make the argument about public sanitation, public water supplies, and somewhat in housing, although I would argue that the automotive industry pushed for ease of use (the self-starter) and safety long before the government was engaged, and we are sure Readers can cite more examples.

Just because we can do it technologically does not mean it is the safe, beneficial, and moral thing to do. The more you know about technology, the more you realize it’s good to be more fearful and less trusting of technology, an odd sentence for an health tech Editor to write. But she does like living in one peaceful piece. Think about that when you hear the next Rhapsody about All-Electric Self-Driving Cars, Trucks, and Scooter and How Wonderful They Will Be. MIT Technology Review

Best Buy update: ‘Assured Living’ assuredly up and running. And was this Editor’s in-store experience not typical?

Reader and Opinionator Laurie Orlov wrote this Editor to advise her that Assured Living was most definitely alive and well in Best Buy-land. The Assured Living page presents a variety of services, starting with a personal monitoring service (video) for an older adult that starts with a fairly standard pendant PERS (two way) and also creates an in-home network of motion sensors for doors, windows, and furniture installed by Geek Squad. These sensors send activity to a control panel which tracks activity and wellness patterns (sic!–as we know it’s algorithms and rules in the software). Within about a month, the system will send real-time automated alerts if something is out of the ordinary. The video then promises the usual ‘deeper insights’ into wellness and potential issues with the older person.

What doesn’t sound like QuietCare circa 2006, down to the need for installation, are the Wi-Fi camera in the doorbell and the automated remote door locks, the tie ins with the Mayo Clinic and UnitedHealthcare. 

We both speculated on the motion sensor set as being Lively Home (from GreatCall) –Laurie added possibly Alarm.com’s BeClose, which has supplied Best Buy in the past.

Assured Living is available only in limited markets (not listed) but you can get 10 percent off with AARP! But product packages go up to nearly $189.97 for a one time fee plus $29.99/month, not inclusive of that nifty doorbell camera and remote door locks.

One wonders if the reluctance of older adults to admit they need monitoring and consent to the installation is less than in 2006, when QuietCare’s and ADT’s sales people had difficulty overcoming the reluctance of a person living home on their own to be monitored by their (usually) child. Sometimes a sale would be made, the installer would come, and the installer would be shooed out after second thoughts. The genius of GreatCall was in making technology palatable to this market by assigning it a positive use, such as communicating with friends and direct personal safety, not someone minding her. Right now, the template is 2006 with a tech twist.

Drop in and visit Laurie Orlov on her Website We Like, Aging in Place Technology Watch. (She’s alarmed about chipping people too and frames it as more of a security and a moral issue than this Editor did, who prefers her chips to be chocolate and her cars to be driven by her alone.)

As to this Editor’s ghostly experience buying a TV in store, perhaps I should have invited a Best Buy rep over! Reader, former Marine flyboy, eldercare expert, and full time grandfather John Boden did and got a simple solution to an annoying problem. Read about it in comments on our prior article here.

Can Best Buy have an effective older adult strategy when they can’t sell a TV?

We noted last month that the acquisition of GreatCall by big box retailer Best Buy was the next step in a strategy targeting an older adult market niche, with goods and services promoting digital health and wellness, ‘solving technology problems and addressing key human needs across a range of areas.’ GreatCall will be managed as a separate division because, as their CEO admitted, ‘it is a different business’, presumably continuing to do what they do best–direct marketing. Longer term, what GreatCall was purchased for is to enable what they have touted to investors as “Best Buy 2020 that includes Assured Living, a program aimed at using the mobile web, sensors and other digital or smart-home healthcare technology to help adult children or caregivers remotely check in on the health and safety of aging residents at home.” The acquisition is expected to close this fall.  Digital Commerce 360/Internet Health Management  

But will this strategy, which requires a bit of personal service and problem solving, work in the field? The result of a simple search and transaction for a common electronic product wasn’t a promising predictor. This Editor went to a Best Buy in search of a new TV set to replace her aged and fritzing Panasonic (the kind with a cathode ray tube). It was a rainy Saturday night in Paramus NJ, the kind of night on which only Those Determined To Buy brave the traffic to shop. After a sweep of the aisles looking for that senior-oriented healthcare technology, finding none, she hit the TV displays, adjacent to the laundry dryers.

With space measurements and a tape measure in hand, she looked at smaller TVs. Having already determined that a 28″ would likely be best, but with no 28″ on display, she measured 32″ sets which maybe, maybe could fit the TV spot in the wall unit. Smart? Roku? What do these mean, and do I need them? 720 px? 1080 px?  This went on for about 30-40 minutes. In that time, not one blue-shirted salesperson stopped to assist a willing buyer who just needed a little help. So she went in search of one, finding exactly…none. Other shoppers looking at larger sets? Also non-assisted. After a few more sweeps of the aisles, stopping to marvel at an QLED’s resolution, feeling a bit ghostly and ghosted, she tapped out and left, vowing to buy a Samsung online–anywhere other than Best Buy.

If this can happen with a straight-forward electronic product with a relatively willing buyer…what will happen to a more complex sale with a lower level of understanding? Without a better level of customer service, all the corporate strategy talk will simply…flop.

Oh yes, that live link to Assured Living? It goes to a page that says “We’re sorry, something went wrong.” 

Soapbox: Big Genomics and DNA testing–why we need a Genomic Data Bill of Rights

click to enlargeThis week, consumer genomics testing company 23andMe announced that outside app developers would no longer have access to raw genomic data, as they have had since 2012. They will continue to have access to data through reports generated by the company. 23andMe cited privacy concerns–wisely, in this Editor’s opinion, to safeguard this burgeoning area of digital health. Seeking Alpha

TimiHealth is an affected firm that seeks to move customer data, with consent, to an allegedly more secure blockchain platform, TimiDNA, citing 23andMe’s monetization of their data and CMS’ Blue Button initiative, a recent meeting in which 23andMe participated as a developer. Blasting away, TimiHealth stated that “It flies in the face of the mission of CMS, and the MyHealthEData initiative and the goal of putting patients first.” Release

However, the consumer marketing of DNA testers such as 23andMe, Ancestry.com, and smaller competitor Helix, has already led to multiple privacy questions on how the data of millions are being used and sold. 

This Editor would feel safe in assuming that most customers do not know nor particularly care that GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) as of July owns 50 percent of 23andMe via a $300 million investment. Both have announced a four-year partnership to use the 23andMe genetic database for drug research. For instance, the LRRK2 gene has been linked to some forms of Parkinson’s disease. GSK needs about 100 for a trial sample of one, but 23andMe has already provided 250 Parkinson’s patients who have agreed to be re-contacted for GlaxoSmithKline’s clinical trials. Scientific American

While most data is de-identified, you can agree to be contacted for further use in clinical trials, which is fine–but most users do not know how to opt out. It’s a surprisingly tricky process, as outlined in this useful Business Insider article, and you may not be able to withdraw all your data or have your saliva sample destroyed.

Data can be hacked and reprocessed. Three years ago, TTA explored reports on exactly how de-identified genomic data could be made identifiable through the ‘nefarious use’ of genomic data sets available through research networks [TTA 31 Oct 15].

Despite the trite, simplistic, and condescending commercials by Ancestry.com on how someone found they had ethnic or national roots they never dreamed of, or were related to royalty, both giving meaning to their presumably mundane life, genetic info has value beyond the feel-good. It’s long past time for a plain language Genomic Data Bill of Rights.

  • Individuals should know how their personal genomic data is being used and how it is being protected
  • They should be able to opt out of use, identified and de-identified, easily–and not have to jump through hoops
  • Reporting/interpretation should also have integrity, consideration, and respect that it may upset a person or that it may not be interpreted correctly, which is a fundamental problem 
  • A more radical view is that the same individuals should be compensated when their data is used

This Editor will settle for the first two bullets, for now. 

Care Innovations sells off Validation Institute. But is there more to the story? And a side of Walmart Health action.

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

The Validation Institute was launched with fanfare back in June 2014, when GE still had a chunk of the company and during the 2 1/2 year repositioning (revival? resuscitation?) led by Sean Slovenski from the doldrums of the prior Louis Burns regime. Mr. Slovenski departed in early 2016 to be president of population health at Healthways/Sharecare, which lasted a little over a year. However, this week Mr. Slovenski made headlines as the new SVP Health & Wellness of Walmart, reporting directly to the head of their US business.  The hiring of a senior executive with a few years at Humana and a short time at Sharecare, another Walmart partner, coupled with several years in healthcare tech and provider-side is certainly indicative of Walmart’s serious focus on healthcare provision. It’s a fascinating race with Amazon and CVS-Aetna–with the mystery of what Walgreens Boots Alliance will do. Also Healthcare Dive.

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

Looking around their recently refreshed website, there is an absence–that of the two or three pages previously dedicated to the Veterans Health Administration (VA) and the press release of the VA award. This tends to lend credence to the rumors that there was a second company that did not pass the Trade Adjustment Act (TAA) requirements that knocked out Iron Bow/Vivify Health from the VA, or for another undisclosed reason CI bowed out of a potentially $258 million five-year contract. If so, that leaves for the VA Medtronic and 1Vision/AMC Health. It’s certainly a limited menu for the supposedly growing numbers of veterans requiring telehealth and a limited choice for their care coordinators–and not quite as presented to the public or the 2015 competitors in the solicitation. Who benefits? Who loses? (Disclosure: This Editor worked for one of the finalists and a VA supplier from 2003, Viterion.)  Hat tip to one of our ‘Industry Insiders’, but the opinions expressed here are her own.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s take a look at their trends:

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

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

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

A Soapbox Extra!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Theranos Story, ch. 49: CEO Holmes reportedly raising funds for a new company–and feeling like Joan of Arc

click to enlargeHere’s the place where your money will go if you’re an investor. John Carreyrou has now compiled his reporting for the Wall Street Journal on Theranos into a new book, Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup, and it is a Must Read for this Editor and anyone interested in the nexus of Tech, Healthcare, and Hype. (The link goes to AbeBooks, a worthy marketplace for independent booksellers.)

According to Mr. Carreyrou, the founder/CEO Miss Elizabeth Holmes–still leading the company despite settling with the SEC on fraud charges, surrendering her voting control, barred from serving as a public company director or officer for 10 years, and still fighting civil lawsuits–is raising fresh funds for a new venture.

Your eyes did not fool you.

Theranos was a Dogpile of Deceit. From hacking standard Siemens blood testing machines to work with tiny samples, falsifying test results, faking up the Edison test machine, to company financials, it was one lie on the other, chronicled for our Readers in nearly 50 chapters and multiple references. 

Mr. Carreyrou was asked by former Timesman and Vanity Fair reporter Nick Bilton whether, in this unmistakable pattern, Ms. Holmes was a sociopath. Mr. Carreyrou wisely refrained from diagnosis based on a used DSM-V, being a reporter and not her psychiatrist. From Mr. Bilton’s interview podcasted on ‘Inside the Hive’:

“At the end of my book, I say that a sociopath is described as someone with no conscience. I think she absolutely has sociopathic tendencies. One of those tendencies is pathological lying. I believe this is a woman who started telling small lies soon after she dropped out of Stanford, when she founded her company, and the lies became bigger and bigger,” Carreyrou said. “I think she’s someone that got used to telling lies so often, and the lies got so much bigger, that eventually the line between the lies and reality blurred for her.”

Mr. Carreyrou, and by inference anyone who doubted her, like her CFO, and especially those who went public with criticism–well, we are the Bad Guys:

“She has shown zero sign of feeling bad, or expressing sorrow, or admitting wrongdoing, or saying sorry to the patients whose lives she endangered,” he said. He explained that in her mind, according to numerous former Theranos employees he has spoken to, Holmes believes that her entourage of employees led her astray and that the bad guy is actually John Carreyrou. “One person in particular, who left the company recently, says that she has a deeply engrained sense of martyrdom. She sees herself as sort of a Joan of Arc who is being persecuted,” he said.

Mr. Carreyrou was set upon by this ‘martyr’s’ legal pitbulls, one David Boies, until he wisely exited stage left with a bushelful of worthless stock [TTA 21 Nov 16].

(And what is it about Stanford University that fosters people like Ron Gutman, recently ousted from HealthTap over employee abuse and intimidation charges in what may be a Silicon Valley First? [TTA 3 May] Here we have someone who plays with people’s lives and health in vital blood testing. Aren’t some ethics courses long overdue?) 

Mr. Bilton makes the extremely fine point that Silicon Valley will continue to be magnetically attracted to founders equipped with a ‘reality-distortion field’ (as he termed Steve Jobs). SV will relegate Theranos to a biotech outlier. Yet as long as Silicon Valley MoneyMen like Tim Draper will back the likes of Elizabeth Holmes as long as they have a good line of (stuff), despite being embarrassingly proven not just (and only) wrong, but now perpetrating fraud, the Jobsian Myth and black turtlenecks will rise again like Dracula. (Another analogy comes to mind, but precocious children might be reading this.)

We haven’t heard the last of her.

An excellent interview by Tom Dotan of Mr. Carreyrou is podcasted on The Information’s 411 in “You’re So Vein”, which gets the award for Title of the Week (trial signup required, or listen on SoundCloud). Starting at 15:00, interesting comments on the why of Sunny Balwani and Ms. Holmes’ series of ‘marks’ including George Shultz. Also Gizmodo and Politico’s Morning eHealth newsletter.

Health tech founder ousted over alleged ‘acts of intimidation, abuse, and mistrust’: some reflections (Soapbox)

And we thought they were par for the course. Those of us who have worked for company founders, CEOs, and senior execs have learned that some interesting personalities come with the territory, especially in entrepreneurial companies. This Editor has worked for at least one diagnosed ADHD, a bipolar ADHD, another with anger management/impulse control issues, and a gentleman who is now spending a few years in a Federal penitentiary for securities fraud. One of her most memorable CEOs made the cover of Fortune with the caption, “Is this America’s Toughest Boss?” and no, his name was not Donald Trump. (Clue: he was chairman of what was for a time the world’s largest airline conglomerate.)

Of late, there’s been the behavioral quirks of their founders leading to disastrous problems at Uber, Theranos, and Zenefits. It often seems that the more hype, the more sunshine, daisies, puppy dogs, mission, and ‘fab culture’ are on the website, the worse the dysfunctional reality and mistreatment of the troops.

Perhaps no longer. Monday’s very public firing by his board of Ron Gutman, CEO of HealthTap, a digital health all-over-the-map company that now has settled into a members-only patient-doctor mobile health platform, over non-financial behavior may be a first. Mr. Gutman was given the heave-ho by his board after, notably, months of effort. Recode cited a termination letter to him that he “committed acts of intimidation, abuse, and mistrust, and that [he] repeatedly mistreated, threatened, harassed and verbally abused employees.” The coup de grâce: “The toxicity you introduced into the workplace ends now.”

An all-hands memo to employees was more restrained:

After receiving concerning reports by employees about Ron’s conduct as CEO, the Board of Directors hired an outside law firm to conduct an investigation into these allegations. What we learned left us with no choice but to make this change, and we did so after taking the necessary steps from a corporate governance perspective.

The replacing CEO is Bill Gossman, a serial founder and a partner in one of the investors, Mohr Davidow Ventures.

Mr. Gutman has denied it all, stating that he did not abuse employees and that the VCs are in violation of their duties. (FYI, not a whiff here of #MeToo antics.)

Funded to the tune of $38 million by Khosla Ventures, Mayfield Fund, and Eric Schmidt’s Innovation Endeavors, but without fresh funding in five years, the public face of both Mr. Gutman and HealthTap (of which he is the very public face, appearing all over their website still) is one with a very large smile. Mr. Gutman gained some fame from his TED talk and book on the power of smiling. One wonders how the smile is doing today. A frown turned upside down. TechCrunch, Mobihealthnews

Soapbox: JPM’s Dimon takes the 50,000 foot view on the JP Morgan Chase-Berkshire Hathaway-Amazon health joint venture

Mr. Jamie Dimon, the chairman and CEO of JP Morgan Chase, had a few thoughts about the JPM-Berkshire Hathaway-Amazon healthcare JV for all three companies. You’ll have to fill up the tea or coffee mug (make it a small pot) for it’s an exceedingly prolix Annual Shareholder Letter you’ll have to sled through to find those comments. Your Editor has taken her punishment to find them, towards the end of the letter in ‘Public Policy’. 

They demonstrate what this Editor suspected–an headache-inducing mix of generalities and overreach, versus starting modestly and over-delivering.

  • Point #1 sets up what has gone wrong. Among several, “Our nation’s healthcare costs are twice the amount per person compared with most developed nations.” Under point 2 on how poor public policy happened, an admission that Obamacare fixed little:

Here’s another example: We all know that the U.S. healthcare system needs to be reformed. Many have advocated getting on the path to universal healthcare for all Americans. The creation of Obamacare, while a step in the right moral direction, was not well done. America has 290 million people who have insurance — 180 million through private enterprise and 110 million through Medicare and Medicaid. Obamacare slightly expanded both and created exchanges that insure 10 million people. But it did very little to fix our broken healthcare system and has, in fact, torn up the body politic over 10 years — and this tumult may go on for another 10 years.

  • Point #7 is about fixing the deficit and the ill effects if we don’t. In Mr. Dimon’s view, healthcare is a major part of this through the uncontrolled growth of entitlements, with Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security leading the pack–skipping over the fact that nearly all Americans pay into Medicare and SSI well in advance of any entitlement collection. Healthcare is also an offender through unnecessary costs such as administrative and fraud (25-40 percent),  and six mainly chronic conditions accounting for 75 percent of spending.
  • The experts–specifically, their experts–will fix it! “While we don’t know the exact fix to this problem, we do know the process that will help us fix it. We need to form a bipartisan group of experts whose direct charge is to fix our healthcare system. I am convinced that this can be done, and if done properly, it will actually improve the outcomes and satisfaction of all American citizens.”
  • The generalities continue with
    • The JV “will help improve the satisfaction of our healthcare services for our employees (that could be in terms of costs and outcomes) and possibly help inform public policy for the country.” 
    • Aligning incentives systemwide ‘because we’re getting what we incentivize’
    • “Studying the extraordinary amount of money spent on waste, administration and fraud costs.”
    • “Empowering employees to make better choices and have the best options available by owning their own healthcare data with access to excellent telemedicine options, where more consumer-driven health initiatives can help.”
    • “Developing better wellness programs, particularly around obesity and smoking — they account for approximately 25% of chronic diseases (e.g., cancer, stroke, heart disease and depression).”
    • “Determining why costly and specialized medicine and pharmaceuticals are frequently over- and under-utilized.”
    • “Examining the extraordinary amount of money spent on end-of-life care, often unwanted.”
    • “To attack these issues, we will be using top management, big data, virtual technology, better customer engagement and the improved creation of customer choice (high deductibles have barely worked”).

This Editor has observed from the vantage of the health tech, analytics, payer, and care model businesses that nearly every company has addressed or is addressing all these concerns. So what’s new here? Perhaps the scale, but will they tap into the knowledge base those businesses represent or reinvent the wheel? 

A bad sign is Mr. Dimon’s inclusion of ‘end of life care’. This last point is a prime example of overreach–how many of the JV’s employees are in this situation? The ‘attack’ tactics? We’ve seen, heard, and many of us have been part of similar efforts.

Prediction: This JV may be stuck at the 50,000 foot view. It will take a long time, if ever, to descend and produce the concrete, broadly applicable results that it eagerly promises to its million-plus employees, much less the polity. 

PARO: The robotic therapy seal that benefits so few

click to enlargeI have a problem with that cute, robotic seal cub PARO.

More accurately, I have a problem with the ethics of the business model of the Japanese company that makes it, Intelligent System Co. Ltd.

PARO started development in 1993 and the first English press release was in 2004 – a year before Telehealth and Telecare Aware started! Since then the indications that PARO is good for people with dementia have been building and building, as Editor Donna most recently highlighted in this item: PARO therapy robot tested, cleared by NHS for — hygiene.

I have no problem believing, as Donna summarised, “the research has shown that it lowers stress and anxiety, promotes social interaction, facilitates emotional expression, and improves mood and speech fluency.”

However, in response to an enquiry last week, it was confirmed to me that neither price or delivery time information is available but that PARO seals continue to be made individually, by hand. This is a huge production bottleneck and cost.

It is entirely proper for a company that produces handmade cars to have high prices and long waiting lists for their rich man’s toys but I am completely at a loss to conjure up any justification to apply that thinking to PARO. (PARO cost $6,400 in 2017.)

I believe that the insistence that PARO continues to be made in this way is an unethical denial of a benefit to millions of people.

Does Intelligent System not have the will or the skill to scale up production and bring down the cost so that every care home or dementia ward could acquire a PARO (or even a ‘PARO lite’) within a few years? If not, they should license it to a company that can.

At least they should stop pretending that PARO is benefiting people with dementia when it reaches so few.

This Telehealth and Telecare Aware Soapbox item is the personal opinion of TTA founder and Editor Emeritus Steve Hards.

Blockchains, EHRs, roadblocks and baby steps

TTA founder and former editor Steve Hards crawls out of his retirement tent to squint at the misty landscape of blockchain technology.

In a recent dream I was observing an auditorium full of people chanting “Blockchain! Blockchain! Blockchain!” and yes, mantra-like, blockchain is now popping up all the time in health technology articles and presentations.

It has taken a while to get to this stage. It was January 2016 when Editor-in-Chief Donna first mentioned blockchain. Since then there appears to have been more talk than action.

A year ago, in February 2017, health IT guru Brian Ahier was able to say in a comment here “Blockchain of course, is going to sneak up on a lot of people…”

Where we have seen developments occurring is in the trickle of ‘coins’ or ‘tokens’ in health-related Initial Coin Offerings (ICOs) of dubious investment worthiness. I may rant about those in a follow-up article if anyone is interested. (Let me know in a comment.)

The terminology is still in its ‘shakedown phase’ (see this great terminology rant) and, because of the publicity around Bitcoin, which is on a blockchain, the distinction between blockchains and distributed ledger databases is blurred. There are technical differences: blockchains are a sub-set of distributed ledgers (Wikipedia), which is the term I’ll generally use in this article.

Distributed ledgers and EHRs

What are the implications of distributed ledgers for the biggest databases in healthcare, electronic health records (EHRs)?

The two principal characteristics that differentiate distributed ledgers from the databases with which we are familiar are that they are more robust and, potentially, more private. Some even claim to be quantum computing hack proof although we will have to wait for hackers with quantum computers to test that.

Traditional databases are formed from one large or several linked entities that have a centralised control from where performance, data integrity and security are monitored and managed. There are human and technological factors that introduce weaknesses to all such systems, as the number of data breaches reported here over the years testify.

(more…)

HeyDoctor! Come and get your diagnosis via text here!

An app that makes this semi-grizzled pioneer feel…not quite on board the wagon. HeyDoctor is not for horses, but for those who Text to Live. Yes, all you need to do if you feel under the weather is to download the app, text the doc, get your diagnosis, and prescription. Like that. No need to comb your hair and wash your face for that video visit. According to the website, you can get anything from a UTI to acne to erectile dysfunction diagnosed and treated. Out of birth control? Handled. You can get tests ordered up for blood typing, HIV, and metabolic analysis. Not happy with your lash thickness and growth? Here’s the topical med for you! Trying to quit smoking? Done. All you need do is text one of their in-house board-certified physicians and live in one of 19 states where it’s offered.

For our UK Readers, this is a service with similarities to Babylon Health‘s chatbot service but without the decision support ladder–it goes straight to the doctor.

They claim on the website that most visits are five minutes and under $20 in cost, plus affiliations with leading medical centers like UCSF and Georgetown, although this Editor doubts that Amazon Web Services (AWS) is a ‘healthcare organization’ in the same category.

MedCityNews confirms their playbook, for now, is B2C, but the San Francisco-based founders are considering partnering with health systems. According to Crunchbase, funding so far is seed from the two founders, Brendan Levy, MD, a SF-based family medicine practitioner, and Rohit Malhotra, an attorney. LinkedIn counts three employees.

So why not on board the Conestoga? While the convenience is very attractive, there’s also the opportunity for misdiagnosis–the kind of thing we used to worry about with telemedicine. Does the app secure the texts for privacy? Many of these conditions aren’t hangnails–HIV and UTIs come to mind. Oddly, photo upload isn’t mentioned–important with acne. Testimonials point to convenient prescription renewals, but that information can be falsified–easy to do with text. Identity too with smartphones can be faked. A video consult also permits the doctor to see the patient and pick up at least some physical signs of illness. Also not inspiring confidence: a website that crashed when I looked for FAQs and had a chatbot named Brendan (same face as Dr. Levy’s) constantly popping up after X’ing him out. To this Editor, it feels like some verification and diagnostic layers are…missing.