Short takes: Livongo buys myStrength, Apple Watch cozies with insurers, Lively hears telehealth and $16 million

Livongo gets behaviorally stronger with myStrength. Extending from their base in diabetes and chronic disease management into behavioral health, Livongo made a logical extension with early-stage behavioral health company myStrength. A large percentage of those with chronic conditions are also struggling with a behavioral health issue–Livongo cites 20 percent but in this Editor’s opinion, the estimate is low. Both Livongo and myStrength have been very successful in the payment game, with both companies achieving payment and reimbursement by employers, insurers, health systems, and state/Federal payers. The other factor is that employers and payers want single, integrated platforms for wellness and disease management. Livongo last year bought Retrofit for its weight management program. Competitor Omada Health recently acquired the behavioral health technology of defunct Lantern. MedCityNews, Fortune, Livongo release

Apple Watch wastes no time in partnering with insurers. Or vice versa! Confirming that Apple Watch’s growth strategy hinges heavily on health via its new features are fresh agreements with Aetna/CVS Health and a rumored reach into three Medicare Advantage plans. The Aetna partnership is with an app called Attain, which blends Apple Watch activity tracking data with users’ health history to create personalized programs. The program is limited to about 250,000 slots plus additional slots for employer plans, and will debut this spring. Late last year, United HealthCare announced Apple Watches would be added to existing wellness program called Motion and their Rally platform. Both Aetna and United have tiered payment programs for the watches, with United adding a HSA reward. For Medicare Advantage plans, Apple is rumored that they will subsidize the watch for use as a health tracker and coach. FierceMobileHealthcare 30 Jan (Aetna), 14 Nov 18 (UHC), and 29 Jan (Medicare Advantage).

Lively adds telehealth to hearing assistance. Lively’s mobile-connected, direct to consumer hearing aids are adding more telehealth features such as remote tuning, virtual video consults with an audiologist, and an online hearing assessment/uploading audiogram for assessment. The NYC-based company also announced closing on a $16 million seed/Series A fundraising round led by Declaration Capital with participation from Tiger Management. There are an estimated 35 million Americans with hearing loss in a $10bn annual market. Hearing aids are rapidly adding digital and DTC features–others in the field are Eargo and ReSound. Lively releaseAlleyWatch, Mobihealthnews. (Lively is not to be confused with Lively!, acquired by GreatCall two years ago)

Can chronic disease apps get adopted? Is it as simple as four steps? HBR states the obvious.

“Why Apps for Managing Chronic Disease Haven’t Been Widely Used, and How to Fix It” is an enticing title, and in the Harvard Business Review no less.

Here’s the advice that two Harvard Business School professors have for app developers. First, find an organization–an employer, an integrated health system that includes a payer–that’s willing to pay for your app. Then work the “adopt-diffuse-use-improve” cycle. Get them to adopt it, diffuse it through potential users (as in getting them to try the app), get them to continue using it, and improve the product.

You have to sled through about 500 words of exposition to get to this conclusion, obvious to anyone who’s worked in the field more than a couple of months. And oh, as if these steps were so easy to achieve! There’s the given example of Fitbit buying the Twine Health tracking/coaching app in a bid for a more integrated chronic disease management (CDM) approach–for those who’ve tracked Fitbit, and even the professors, its success remains to be seen. 

There are some nuggets of confirmation useful for presentations, such as you can’t generally sell monitoring apps direct to consumer because managing chronic disease is largely something to be avoided, except for the few with a different attitude, and most believe that insurers should pay for them at least in part. For clinicians, reimbursement and the differential between remote patient monitoring and in-person visits is a big factor.

What’s not mentioned: sustainable pricing that’s low enough for a health system, high enough to support a business; clinicians fitting All That Data into a clinical workflow, much less a patient record in an EHR. 

The potential of engaging ‘safety net’ patients via mHealth: study (US)

The Commonwealth Fund‘s just-published study on mHealth usage in a national sample of urban and rural community health centers and clinics (in US termed ‘safety net providers’ for low-income and uninsured) indicates the potential of mobile health for patient engagement in care, but yet to be achieved. Their patient population has high levels of mobile phone adoption, including text and internet. About 27 percent of the 181 providers who participated currently use mHealth in care delivery, but in basic applications such as appointment reminders. The potential observed is in chronic disease management support, health education and specific programs such as smoking cessation, weight management and medication adherence. Mobile Health and Patient Engagement in the Safety Net: A Survey of Community Health Centers and Clinics    Also FierceMobileHealthcare.

eHealth not rocket science: former rocket scientist (Australia)

Prof. Michael Georgeff is the aforementioned rocket scientist (actually the Program Director for the Space Shuttle’s control software) who is now CEO of Precedence Health Care. The company has developed what they claim is the first-ever chronic disease management network, cdmNet, accessible via broadband and mobile. Instead of controlling the shuttle, cdmNet controls the workflow end-to-end from care plans to follow up including all documentation. It is part of the Collaborative Care Cluster Australia initiative and is also the core technology infrastructure for Australia’s Diabetes Care Project. Post-discharge and chronic disease management integration into hospital/practice workflows is of course a huge issue elsewhere in the world, and perhaps the solution is found Down Under. eHealthSpace.org