HIMSS14 will tell. The big news that kicked off this snow-bound week in large parts of the US was Dr. Eric Topol joining Dallas, Texas-based AT&T ForHealth as Chief Medical Advisor. Well-known for his personality and evangelism of all things mHealthy, certainly Dr. Topol lends a certain star power to Big Blue’s efforts in this area–a shine that went completely dark in 2013 after a promising start in 2011 and strong partnering moves in 2012 (Alere and WellDoc diabetes management TTA 10 Aug 12; VRI monitoring in May). The quietude of 2013 deserves a closer look. Dr. Geeta Nayyar joined with fanfare in September 2011 as Chief Medical Information Officer and departed exactly two years later to join engagement company PatientPoint with the same title. ForHealth made no waves at International CES save for being an example in the controversial ‘sponsored data’ plan announcement (GeekWire). Even finding ForHealth on the AT&T website is not easy. It is buried under ‘Business>>Enterprise Business‘ and then in a dogpile of footer links as ‘Healthcare Solutions‘–not ForHealth. In marketing, this is a state usually termed ‘dead in the water.’ The fact that Dr. Topol is remaining as Chief Academic Officer at Scripps Health also indicates that he is no direct replacement for Dr. Nayyar, despite being cited by AT&T SVP Chris Hill as a “change agent” who will help “drive our competitive strategy”. We’ll see if HIMSS14 on 23-27 February where AT&T will be exhibiting and their subsequent activity marks a genuine reboot for ForHealth, putting Dr. Topol’s impressive abilities to work beyond a twinkle. AT&T press release, MedCityNews article
[grow_thumb image=”http://telecareaware.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/BlueStar-promo-image-WD.jpg” thumb_width=”150″ /]WellDoc, developer of a prescribable Type 2 diabetes management smartphone app (BlueStar), announced today a $20 million Series A round from Merck Global Health Innovation Fund and Windham Venture Partners. The interest by Merck is understandable in several ways. Pharma companies are moving beyond the meds into other management models as blockbuster drugs become scarce (those cuts in R&D do hurt down the line), operating costs higher and profitable drugs go off patent. Because it is prescribable, BlueStar is reimbursable by US insurers (not disclosed by WellDoc); it is currently offered as a pharmacy benefit by Ford Motor and major drugstore chain RiteAid. In addition to these, WellDoc has developed strong partnerships (AT&T, Alere) since their founding in 2005 (see below). BlueStar also can be considered a strong fit for a Merck subsidiary, Vree Health. (more…)
Medtronic has just announced a $200m takeover of Cardiocom, the telehealth device maker. If you can get through the paywall, the WSJ article is here (updated link not paywalled–Ed. Donna). FierceMedical quotes Medtronic as saying that “At-home monitoring is a proven method of reducing the rates of hospital readmission…and that translates to savings for payers, providers and governments.” First area of joint working is expected to be heart failure. Recent US regulations on Medicare, and increasingly insurance payers, penalize hospitals for 30-day same-cause repeat admissions. Medtronic press release.
Editor Donna: The announcement of Medtronic’s (#4 in worldwide revenue) acquisition of Cardiocom (both Minnesota-based companies) created quite a stir in the US as Medtronic is a ‘traditional medical device’ company best known for its implantables: cardiac shunts, stents, heart valves, pacemakers, insulin pumps and interestingly, a wide range of neurostimulators for different conditions. Now with the acquisition of Cardiocom, Medtronic moves into the post-implant/post-discharge/post-diagnosis chronic condition management continuum– not only into telehealth via Cardiocom’s devices and hubs, but also their clinical and care management systems. $200 million in cold cash is a fair bet even though Medtronic’s market cap is north of $55 billion. Medtronic has to see the opportunity to make a bottom line difference to providers and payers. It is also reacting to a narrowing in its profitable core market–medical devices are now taxed, there have been recent product defect-related ‘scandals’ tarring the industry, and there is pressure to reduce pricey device costs to fit a cost-constrained environment, driven by the new healthcare ‘scheme’ (in both the British and American English senses!) Forbes‘ David Shaywitz has a smart take on it today (though he won’t hold his breath for the pharmas to follow), as well as VC TripleTree’s Chris Hoffman ‘connecting the dots’ and coming up with what we’ve been talking about for some time–integration making sense. It is also most definitely a shot over the bow for major competitors such as Alere, Bosch and Philips plus a raft of smaller companies which have been working with a scattering of hospital discharge areas, integrated delivery systems, ACOs and home health agencies, looking nervously over their shoulder–and other leading medical device companies such as Stryker, BD, Baxter and yes….GE. (Bosch also sued Cardiocom on patent infringement this time last year [TTA 7 Aug 2012]; presumably as this suit was not announced as settled or decided, Bosch is now dealing with a company its own size!)
It also should be noted that Medtronic’s CEO, Omar Ishrak, is well acquainted with home health. Mr. Ishrak was formerly the CEO and president of GE Healthcare through mid-2011–and the driver behind making what was an ultimately failed bet in getting GEHC into home health. That was in 2008-9 with a tiny company called Living Independently Group, developer of a telecare system called QuietCare, which ultimately went to the Care Innovations JV with Intel. (Disclosure: I was head of marketing at the time of the acquisition.) Like GEHC, Medtronic is acquiring a closely-held company in a very different line of business with drivers quite unlike its own; they are retaining the former CEO as a general manager of the division but whether other management or the brand name will survive is not disclosed.
Whilst on the subject of telehealth devices, Heartwire reports a meta-analysis of 52 studies that shows that just measuring your blood pressure regularly results in a significant reduction in both systolic and diastolic levels after six months. Sadly the paper itself in the latest issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine is behind a paywall so it’s not possible to try to understand how the final comment in the synopsis of the paper on the Annals website that: “Additional support enhances the BP-lowering effect.” fits with the comment in Heartwire that “Low-strength” evidence from 13 studies comparing self-monitoring plus additional support vs self-monitoring alone “failed to support a difference” between the two strategies.”
Meanwhile back in the UK, Medvivo has become the first company to be accredited to the telehealth elements of the TSA’s Integrated Code of Practice. Sadly the TSA website will only release the Code to members (TTA isn’t one) or those aspiring to achieve accreditation (TTA fails on that one too) so it’s not possible to make meaningful comment. However the prospect of a Battle of the Codes is looking up with word from Malcolm Fisk that the final version of the European Code of Practice for Telehealth Services will be available for all to read and download on the TeleSCoPE website within a month. There has been talk of a third code being developed too…
Medical device and care management company Alere has come under fire from ‘activist investor’ Coppersmith Capital Management, which owns 7 percent of the company’s shares. Most recently in our pages for their acquisition and restaging of MedApps, now Alere Connect [TTA 4 Jan], Alere’s recent acquisition streak has added to revenues in its diagnostic unit and to about 9.1 percent growth in the past quarter, but not to profits. Struggling units such as Diagnostics and Health Information Solutions have helped to spiral debt. Coppersmith wishes to place three directors on the board at the shareholder meeting 7 August to stop the car crash of shareholder value and sell off assets. Management believes that it is carefully investing for the future of the company. Next week will tell. Alere’s losses triple as investor fight awaits (FierceMedicalDevices)