Comings and goings: CVS-Aetna finalizing, Anthem sued over merger, top changes at IBM Watson Health

imageWhat better way to introduce this new feature than with a picture of a Raymond Loewy-designed 1947 Studebaker Starlight Coupe, where wags of the time joked that you couldn’t tell whether it was coming or going?

Is it the turkey or the stuffing? In any case, it will be the place you’ll be going for the Pepto. The CVS-Aetna merger, CVS says, will close by Thanksgiving. This is despite various objections floated by California’s insurance commissioner, New York’s financial services superintendent, and the advocacy group Consumers Union. CEO Larry Merlo is confident that all three can be dealt with rapidly, with thumbs up from 23 of the 28 states needed and is close to getting the remaining five including resolving California and NY. The Q3 earnings call was buoyant, with CVS exceeding their projected overall revenue with $47.3 billion. up 2.4% or $1.1 billion from the same quarter in 2017. The divestiture of Aetna’s Medicare Part D prescription drug plans to WellCare, helpful in speeding the approvals, will not take effect until 2020. Healthcare Dive speculates, as we did, that a merged CVS-Aetna will be expanding MinuteClinics to create urgent care facilities where it makes sense–it is not a big lift. And they will get into this far sooner than Amazon. which will split its ‘second headquarters’ among the warehouses and apartment buildings of Long Island City and the office towers of Crystal City VA.

Whatever happened to the Delaware Chancery Court battle between Anthem and Cigna? Surprisingly, no news from Wilmington, but that didn’t stop Anthem shareholder Henry Bittmann from suing both companies this week in Marion (Indiana) Superior Court. The basis of the suit is Anthem’s willfully going ahead with the attempted merger despite having member plans under the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association meant the merger was doomed to fail, and they intended all along for “Anthem to swallow, and then sideline, Cigna to eliminate a competitor, in violation of the antitrust laws.” On top of this, both companies hated each other. A match made in hell. Cigna has moved on with its money and bought Express Scripts.

IBM Watson Health division head Deborah DiSanzo departs, to no one’s surprise. Healthcare IT News received a confirmation from IBM that Ms. DiSanzo will be joining IBM Cognitive Solutions’ strategy team, though no capacity or title was stated. She was hired from Philips to lead the division through some high profile years, starting her tenure along with the splashy new Cambridge HQ in 2015, but setbacks mounted later as their massive data crunching and compilation was outflanked by machine learning, other AI methodologies, and blockchain. According to an article in STAT+ (subscription needed), they didn’t get the glitches in their patient record language processing software fixed in ‘Project Josephine’, and that was it for her. High profile partner departures in the past year such as MD Anderson Cancer Centers, troubles and lack of growth at acquired companies, topped by the damning IEEE Spectrum and Der Spiegel articles, made it not if, but when. No announcement yet of a successor.

A sobering, mercifully hype-free view of AI in healthcare

Way up there on the Peak of Inflated Expectations in the Gartner Hype Cycle is that two-letter creature, AI. Artificial Intelligence has been invoked in multiple tech fields, and Microsoft in the US currently is running 30 second commercials about how AI is “making tomorrow today” but without much explanation as to how.

If AI’s current puffery makes you dizzy, long-time observer of the Healthcare Scene Anne Ziegler’s article in Hospital EMR and EHR might stabilize the whirlies. In direct and brief terms, she classifies the realities of healthcare AI adoption in three areas:

  1. Lack of Transparency. How does AI reach its conclusions in making ‘good decisions’? Sometimes the logic of the conclusion is obvious, but often it is not, and what you get is physician and clinician bypass–and suspicion.
  2. That Old Monkey Wrench Tossed into Existing Processes. It’s taken a long time for organizations to fully integrate their EHR inputs and documentation. Throwing in an AI implementation even in a limited sense may require more adjustments than the outcomes are worth.
  3. It’s Too, Tooooo Much Data. Healthcare organizations do not suffer from a paucity of data. AI feeds on data. Sounds like a good match, doesn’t it. Except that a lot of this data isn’t usable without filtering and mining, and that takes a lot of processing. The future may have more advanced data processing and indexing tech to do that, but right now even natural language processing to identify useful information is rare in the field.

Widespread AI use in healthcare is, despite the IBM Watson Health hype, a long way off. In healthcare, the rubber must meet the road of patient care and clinical practicality to be useful to us with Non-Artificial Intelligence. Problems We Need To Address Before Healthcare AI Becomes A Thing

Coffee break reading: a ‘thumbs down’ on IBM Watson Health from IEEE Spectrum and ‘Der Spiegel’

In a few short years (2012 to now), IBM Watson Health has gone from being a 9,000 lb Harbinger of the Future to a Flopping Flounder. It was first MD Anderson Cancer Center at the University of Texas last year [TTA 22 Feb 17] kicking Watson to the curb after spending $62 million, then all these machine learning, blockchain, and AI upstarts doing most of what Watson was going to do, but cheaper and faster, which this Editor observed early on [TTA 3 Feb 17]. At the end of May, IBM laid off hundreds of workers primarily at three recently acquired data analytics companies. All came on board as market leaders with significant books of business: Phytel, Explorys, and Truven. Clients have evaporated; Phytel, before the acquisition ranked #1 by KLAS in analytics for its patient communication system, reportedly went from 150 to 80 clients. IBM denies the layoffs were anything but much-needed post-acquisition restructuring and refocusing on high-value segments of the IT market.

IEEE Spectrum rated the causes as corporate mismanagement (mashing Phytel and Explorys; IBM’s ‘bluewashing’ acquired companies; the inept ‘offering management’ product development process; the crushed innovation) plus inroads made by competition (those upstarts again!). What’s unusual is the sourcing from former engineers–IEEE is the trade group for tech and engineering professionals. The former IBM-ers were willing to talk in detail and depth, albeit anonymously. 

Der Spiegel takes the German and clinical perspective of what IBM Watson Health has gone wrong, starting with the well-documented failures of Watson at hospitals in Marburg and Giessen. The CEO of Rhön-Klinikum AG, which owns the university hospital at Marburg, reviewed it in action in February. “The performance was unacceptable — the medical understanding at IBM just wasn’t there.” It stumbled over and past diagnoses even a first-year resident would have considered. The test at Marburg ended before a single patient was treated.

The article also outlines several reasons why, including that Watson, after all this time, still has trouble crunching real doctor and physical data. It does not comprehend physician shorthand and negation language, which this Editor imagines is multiplied in languages other than American English. “Some are even questioning whether Watson is more of a marketing bluff by IBM than a crowning achievement in the world of artificial intelligence.” More scathingly, the Rhön-Klinikum AG CEO: “IBM acted as if it had reinvented medicine from scratch. In reality, they were all gloss and didn’t have a plan. Our experts had to take them by the hand.”

Hardly The Blue Wave of the Future. Perhaps the analogy is Dr. Watson as The Great Oz.

Health and tech news that’s a snooze–or infuriating

The always acerbic Laurie Orlov has a great article on her Aging in Place Technology Watch that itemizes five news items which discuss the infuriating, the failing, or downright puzzling that affect health and older adults. In the last category, there’s the ongoing US Social Security Administration effort to eliminate paper statements and checks with online and direct deposit only–problematic for many of the oldest adults, disabled and those without reasonable, secure online access–or regular checking accounts. The infuriating is Gmail’s latest ‘upgrade’ to their mobile email that adds three short ‘smart reply’ boxes to the end of nearly every email. Other than sheer laziness and enabling emailing while driving, it’s not needed–and to turn it off, you have to go into your email settings. And for the failing, there’s IBM. There’s the stealth layoff–forcing their estimated 40 percent of remote employees to relocate to brick-and-mortar offices or leave, while they sell remote working software. There’s a falloff in revenue meaning that profits have to be squeezed from a rock. And finally there’s the extraordinarily expensive investment in Watson and Watson Health. This Editor back in February [TTA 3 and 14 Feb] noted the growing misgivings about it, observing that focused AI and simple machine learning are developing quickly and affordably for healthcare diagnostic applications. Watson Health and its massive, slow, and expensive data crunching for healthcare decision support are suitable only for complex diseases and equally massive healthcare organizations–and even they have been displeased, such as MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston in February (Forbes). Older adults and technology – the latest news they cannot use

The stop-start of health tech in the NHS continues (UK)

Continuing their critique of the state of technology within the NHS [TTA 17 Feb], The King’s Fund’s Harry Evans examines the current state of incipient ‘rigor mortis’ (his term). Due to the upcoming election, the Department of Health is delaying its response to Dame Fiona Caldicott, the National Data Guardian for Health and Care (NDG), on her review of data security, consent and opt-outs (Gov.UK publications).

People have significant trust and privacy concerns about their data, which led to NHS England suspending care.data over three years ago. But with safeguards in place, public polling supports the sharing of health data for uses such as research and direct care. But…there’s more. Now there is ‘algorithmic accountability’, which may single out individuals and influence their care, much as algorithms dictate what online ads we’re served. What of the patient data being served to Google DeepMind, IBM Watson Health, and Vitalpac for AI development? Have people adjusted their concerns, and have systems evolved to better store, secure, and share data? And how can this be implemented at the local NHS level? The NHS and technology: turn it off and on again Hat tip to Susanne Woodman of BRE.

A reminder that The King’s Fund’s Digital Health and Care Congress is on 11-12 July. Click on the sidebar to go directly to information and to register. Preview video; the Digital Health Congress fact sheet includes information on sponsoring or exhibiting. To make the event more accessible, there are new reduced rates for groups and students, plus bursary spots available for patients and carers. TTA is again a media partner of the Digital Health and Care Congress 2017. Updates on Twitter @kfdigital17

AI as diagnostician in ophthalmology, dermatology. Faster adoption than IBM Watson?

Three recent articles from the IEEE (formally the Institute of Electronics and Electrical Engineers) Spectrum journal are significant in pointing to advances in artificial intelligence (AI) for specific medical conditions–and which may go into use faster and more cheaply than the massive machine learning/decision support program represented by IBM Watson Health.

A Chinese team developed CC-Cruiser to diagnose congenital cataracts, which affect children and cause irreversible blindness. The program developed algorithms that used a relatively narrow database of 410 images of congenital cataracts and 476 images of normal eyes. The CC-Cruiser team from Sun Yat-Sen and Xidian Universities developed algorithms to diagnose the existence of cataracts, predict the severity of the disease, and suggest treatment decisions. The program was subjected to five tests, with most of the critical ones over 90 percent accuracy versus doctor consults. There, according to researcher and ophthalmologist Haotian Lin, is the ‘rub’–that even with more information, he cannot project the system going to 100 percent accuracy. The other factor is the human one–face to face interaction. He strongly suggests that the CC-Cruiser system is a tool to complement and confirm doctor judgment, and could be used in non-specialized medical centers to diagnose and refer patients. Ophthalmologists vs. AI: It’s a Tie (Hat tip to former TTA Ireland Editor Toni Bunting)

In the diagnosis of skin cancers, a Stanford University team used GoogleNet Inception v3 to build a deep learning algorithm. This used a huge database of 130,000 lesion images from more than 2000 diseases. Inception was successful in performing on par with 21 board-certified dermatologists in differentiating certain skin lesions, for instance, keratinocyte carcinomas from benign seborrheic keratoses. The major limitations here are the human doctor’s ability to touch and feel the skin, which is key to diagnosis, and adding the context of the patient’s history. Even with this, Inception and similar systems could help to triage patients to a doctor faster. Computer Diagnoses Skin Cancers

Contrasting this with IEEE’s writeup on the slow development of IBM Watson Health’s systems, each having to be individually developed, continually refined, using massive datasets, best summarized in Dr Robert Wachter’s remark, “But in terms of a transformative technology that is changing the world, I don’t think anyone would say Watson is doing that today.” The ‘Watson May See You Someday’ article may be from mid-2015, but it’s only this week that Watson for Oncology has announced its first implementation in a regional medical center based in Jupiter, Florida. Watson for Oncology collaborates with Memorial Sloan-Kettering in NYC (MSK) (and was tested in other major academic centers). Currently it is limited to breast, lung, colorectal, cervical, ovarian and gastric cancers, with nine additional cancer types to be added this year. Mobihealthnews

What may change the world of medicine could be AI systems using smaller, specific datasets, with Watson Health for the big and complex diagnoses needing features like natural-language processing.

Artificial intelligence with IBM Watson, robotics pondered on 60 Minutes

[grow_thumb image=”http://telecareaware.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/robottoy-1.jpg” thumb_width=”150″ /]This Sunday, the long-running TV magazine show 60 Minutes (CBS) had a long Charlie Rose-led segment on artificial intelligence. It concentrated mainly on the good with a little bit of ugly thrown in. The longest part of it was on IBM Watson massively crunching and applying oncology and genomics to diagnosis. In a study of 1,000 cancer patients reviewed by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s molecular tumor board, while 99 percent of the doctor diagnoses were confirmed by Watson as accurate, Watson found ‘something new’ in 30 percent. As a tool, it is still considered to be in adolescence. Watson and data analytics technology has been a $15 billion investment for IBM, which can afford it, but by licensing it and through various partnerships, IBM has been starting to recoup it. The ‘children of Watson’ are also starting to grow. Over at Carnegie Mellon, robotics is king and Google Glass is reading visual data to give clues on speeding up reaction time. At Imperial College, Maja Pantic is taking the early steps into artificial emotional intelligence with a huge database of facial expressions and interpretations. In Hong Kong, Hanson Robotics is developing humanoid robots, and that may be part of the ‘ugly’ along with the fears that AI may outsmart humans in the not-so-distant future. 60 Minutes video and transcript

Speaking of recouping, IBM Watson Health‘s latest partnership is with Siemens Healthineers to develop population health technology and services to help providers operate in value-based care. Neil Versel at MedCityNews looks at that as well as 60 Minutes. Added bonus: a few chuckles about the rebranded Siemens Healthcare’s Disney-lite rebranding.

IBM Watson Health computes into diabetes management, UK care budgeting (US/UK)

[grow_thumb image=”http://telecareaware.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/SugarIQ2-712.jpg” thumb_width=”250″ /]IBM Watson Health, the advanced cognitive computing division of IBM, with Medtronic has developed an app that may, when marketed after FDA approval, help to ease for diabetes patients their daily ‘Battle of Stalingrad’. Sugar.IQ is an app that finds patterns in diabetes data through combining Watson’s cognitive computing capabilities with diabetes data from Medtronic and other sources. The app then uses continuous glucose monitoring data from Medtronic insulin pumps and glucose sensors to give specific, personalized information to the patient on their health trends and how to better manage their diabetes. The analytic features are impressive. Glycemic Assist lets the patient ask the app to follow specific food or therapy-related actions and events to see their exact impact. The Food Logging feature can track specific foods in a diary to determine the effects of specific foods. It is being tested presently on 100 MiniMed Connect users. Previewed at last week’s Health 2.0 conference. HealthcareITNews (photo), Medtronic blog post, Medtronic release (PDF) (This MiniMed Connect is not to be confused with the Medtronic MiniMed 670G artificial pancreas–hybrid closed-loop insulin delivery system for type 1 diabetes patients–just approved by FDA. MedCityNews)

In the UK, Harrow Council in northwest London is using IBM Watson Health’s Care Manager for social care service matching and budgeting. Using “cognitive technologies that provide personalised insight and evidence based guidelines”, Watson will match individuals’ needs and budgets to providers, and will be further able to manage costs over the ten-year agreement by “control(ling) the contract and payments between the individual commissioning for support, and social care providers competing to supply the service.” It’s not entirely clear to this Editor how the individual flexibility of care and services works with the recipient, however. The IBM Watson Health announcement follows on last May’s announcement with Alder Hey Children’s NHS Foundation Trust and the Hartee Centre to transform Alder Hey into the UK’s first “cognitive hospital”. DigitalHealth.net  Hat tip to reader Paul Costello of Viterion Digital Health

IBM Watson Health adds 5 partners, 2 solutions

[grow_thumb image=”http://telecareaware.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/pillar.jpg” thumb_width=”150″ /]Breaking News  IBM Watson Health not only cut the ribbon on their new global HQ on Kendall Square in Cambridge, Massachusetts (and on their new General Manager Deborah DeSanzo), they also announced two more data crunching power platforms and five new partners.

  • The IBM Watson Health Cloud for Life Sciences is designed to help life science companies fast track the deployment of a GxP compliant infrastructure and applications while adhering to stringent requirements for hosting, accessing and sharing regulated data.
  • The IBM Watson Care Manager is a population health solution that integrates Watson Health, Apple ResearchKit and Apple HealthKit into a personalized patient engagement program to improve individual health outcomes.

The five new partners are Boston Children’s Hospital (pediatrics), Columbia University (Pathology & Cell Biology and Systems Biology), ICON plc (pharma clinical trial matching–Ireland), Sage Bionetworks (Open Biomedical Research Platform) and Teva Pharmaceuticals (treatments for chronic conditions–Israel). They join CVS Health, Medtronic and Yale University. On opening day, the new headquarters also hosted demonstrations by health ecosystem partners Best Doctors, Modernizing Medicine, Pathway Genomics, Socrates and Welltok. Release (PDF)

Previously in TTA on IBM Watson Health: their big announcement at HIMSS 15 and we do wonder about their work with the VA on clinical reasoning and mental health.

Medtronic favoring early-stage acquisitions, diabetes; American Well and Teva

Medtronic plc, now firmly planted in the Auld Sod of Ireland, reported a tidy $7.304 bn in its 4th quarter global revenue closing 24 April versus a prior year of $7.257 bn, with a net loss of $1 million. Their report yesterday (2 June) was primarily centered around the integration of Covidien and the foreign currency loss. Results were especially strong in the US with an 8 percent gain in fourth quarter. Earlier speculation that the major Covidien acquisition in addition to Corventis, Zephyr Technologies (through Covidien) and telehealth provider Cardiocom would slow future investments seems to be the direction CEO Omar Ishrak is taking, based on his comments during the analyst call. The Covidien strategy of making early-stage company acquisitions is to his liking and with new revenues from Covidien (and a more favorable tax domicile) certainly there is not a lack of funds despite a small loss in fourth quarter revenues. Another change from being a cardiac-centric device company is apparent in the growth area of global diabetes, shifting from pumps to diabetes management. They have a minority investment in diabetes manager Glooko, a partnership with IBM Watson Health for diabetes management, and acquired a Dutch clinic and research center, Diabeter. Jonah Comstock at Mobihealthnews has more on that call.

In a surprising move, Israel’s Teva Pharmaceuticals is putting a reported ‘tens of millions of dollars’ into American Well and their telemedicine (virtual consult) platform. The pharma interest at once may be narrow in utilizing these consults in clinical trials, but as we have seen with Merck’s telemedicine clinics in Kenya, there’s also a focus on monitoring critical medication at long distances. Late last year American Well completed an $81 million Series C, but it is not clear whether Teva is a part of this and the news is just now catching up. MedCityNews, Globes (Israeli business website)

IBM Watson Health adds 2 companies, three partners, moves to Boston and into the cloud

[grow_thumb image=”http://telecareaware.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/IBM-Watson-Announcement.jpg” thumb_width=”200″ /]A Day with a Big Exclamation Point for Healthcare Data and Analytics. In a series of press releases late NY time on Monday and a spectacular announcement at HIMSS (photo hat tip to Sandeep Pulim via Twitter), the recently quiet-on-the-healthcare-front IBM Watson has announced multiple major moves that re-position it squarely into the healthcare arena as the 90,000 lb. Elephant.

  • IBM Watson Health is now a separate business unit headquartered in Boston. The Watson New York headquarters will be expanded, but that may be for their other businesses: travel, retail, veterinary care, cognitive computing, and IT security and support. IBM claims that Watson Health will be hiring up to 2,000 healthcare consultants, clinicians and researchers, folding in existing units such as Smarter Care and Social Programs.
  • The IBM Watson Health Cloud is now their secure, open and HIPAA compliant platform for health-related data: physicians, researchers, insurers and health and wellness companies.
  • Three new partnerships were announced, designed to bolster IBM in different aspects of what is to be done with All That Data being generated from health and fitness devices. IBM Watson Health Cloud will be the secure platform, storage and analytics for Apple’s HealthKit and ResearchKitJohnson & Johnson will be working with Watson on pre/post-operative coaching and education and Medtronic on diabetes management using data from Medtronic devices. (more…)