Rounding up the roundups in health tech and digital health for 2017; looking forward to 2018’s Nitty-Gritty

[grow_thumb image=”http://telecareaware.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/Lasso.jpg” thumb_width=”100″ /]Our Editors will be lassoing our thoughts for what happened in 2017 and looking forward to 2018 in several articles. So let’s get started! Happy Trails!

2017’s digital health M&A is well-covered by Jonah Comstock’s Mobihealthnews overview. In this aggregation, the M&A trends to be seen are 1) merging of services that are rather alike (e.g. two diabetes app/education or telehealth/telemedicine providers) to buy market share, 2) services that complement each other by being similar but with strengths in different markets or broaden capabilities (Teladoc and Best Doctors, GlobalMed and TreatMD), 3) fill a gap in a portfolio (Philips‘ various acquisitions), or 4) payers trying yet again to cement themselves into digital health, which has had a checkered record indeed. This consolidation is to be expected in a fluid and relatively early stage environment.

In this roundup, we miss the telecom moves of prior years, most of which have misfired. WebMD, once an acquirer, once on the ropes, is being acquired into a fully corporate info provider structure with its pending acquisition by KKR’s Internet Brands, an information SaaS/web hoster in multiple verticals. This points to the commodification of healthcare information. 

[grow_thumb image=”http://telecareaware.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/canary-in-the-coal-mine.jpgw595.jpeg” thumb_width=”150″ /]Love that canary! We have a paradigm breaker in the pending CVS-Aetna merger into the very structure of how healthcare can be made more convenient, delivered, billed, and paid for–if it is approved and not challenged, which is a very real possibility. Over the next two years, if this works, look for supermarkets to get into the healthcare business. Payers, drug stores, and retailers have few places to go. The worldwide wild card: Walgreens Boots. Start with our article here and move to our previous articles linked at the end.

US telehealth and telemedicine’s march towards reimbursement and parity payment continues. See our article on the CCHP roundup and policy paper (for the most stalwart of wonks only). Another major change in the US is payment for more services under Medicare, issued in early November by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) in its Final Rule for the 2018 Medicare Physician Fee Schedule. This also increases payment to nearly $60 per month for remote patient monitoring, which will help struggling RPM providers. Not quite a stride, but less of a stumble for the Grizzled Survivors. MedCityNews

In the UK, our friends at The King’s Fund have rounded up their most popular content of 2017 here. Newer models of telehealth and telemedicine such as Babylon Health and PushDoctor continue to struggle to find a place in the national structure. (Babylon’s challenge to the CQC was dropped before Christmas at their cost of £11,000 in High Court costs.) Judging from our Tender Alerts, compared to the US, telecare integration into housing is far ahead for those most in need especially in support at home. Yet there are glaring disparities due to funding–witness the national scandal of NHS Kernow withdrawing telehealth from local residents earlier this year [TTA coverage here]. This Editor is pleased to report that as of 5 December, NHS Kernow’s Governing Body has approved plans to retain and reconfigure Telehealth services, working in partnership with the provider Cornwall Partnership NHS Foundation Trust (CFT). Their notice is here.

More UK roundups are available on Digital Health News: 2017 review, most read stories, and cybersecurity predictions for 2018. David Doherty’s compiled a group of the major international health tech events for 2018 over at 3G Doctor. Which reminds this Editor to tell him to list #MedMo18 November 29-30 in NYC and that he might want to consider updating the name to 5G Doctor to mark the transition over to 5G wireless service advancing in 2018.

Data breaches continue to be a worry. The Protenus/DataBreaches.net roundup for November continues the breach a day trend. The largest breach they detected was of over 16,000 patient records at the Hackensack Sleep and Pulmonary Center in New Jersey. The monthly total was almost 84,000 records, a low compared to the prior few months, but there may be some reporting shifting into December. Protenus blog, MedCityNews

And perhaps there’s a future for wearables, in the watch form. The Apple Watch’s disconnecting from the phone (and the slowness of older models) has led to companies like AliveCor’s KardiaBand EKG (ECG) providing add-ons to the watch. Apple is trying to develop its own non-invasive blood glucose monitor, with Alphabet’s (Google) Verily Study Watch in test having sensors that can collect data on heart rate, gait and skin temperature. More here from CNBC on Big Tech and healthcare, Apple’s wearables.

Telehealth saves lives, as an Australian nurse at an isolated Coral Bay clinic found out. He hooked himself up to the ECG machine and dialed into the Emergency Telehealth Service (ETS). With assistance from volunteers, he was able to medicate himself with clotbusters until the Royal Flying Doctor Service transferred him to a Perth hospital. Now if he had a KardiaBand….WAToday.com.au  Hat tip to Mike Clark

This Editor’s parting words for 2017 will be right down to the Real Nitty-Gritty, so read on!: (more…)

NHS Kernow forced to postpone telehealth end by patient legal action (updated)

Your opinion counts. Use it! (Also see below for another cut to be made) NHS Kernow, which back in July snap announced an end to telehealth monitoring for budgetary and ‘outcome proof’ reasons, has been forced to back down on ending the program by a patient’s legal action. Ian Wyness, a 55-year-old patient with a severe heart condition, took up the fight with NHS Kernow CCG, first with letters, then in the local court. NHS Kernow is now maintaining the service to over 900 patients and on 19 Sept opened up for a six-week public consultation.

According to Cornwall Live, local people will be able to share their views about the service to 7am on Wednesday 1 November through a survey distributed online at www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/KCCG-TelehealthSC or returning a printed copy. Cornwall Live also lists times and locations for four public hearings, inviting users and caregivers, on 24 and 26 October. The service will be continued until a final decision is reached by the CCG–according to them, in December.

International headlines were made in July when the plight of Bodmin resident Jill Diggett, who has five serious medical conditions that have hospitalized her multiple times, but has stayed out of hospital with telehealth, went viral via Cornwall Live, many publications like TTA, and an ITV interview where she begged the CCG to ‘Let me die at home’ [TTA 7 July]. Ending her service would not only affect her and her husband’s quality of life, but also made no sense financially with the daily cost of her long hospital stays. The promise of transitioning her care to a distant Cornwall location also hadn’t been kept.

Mr. Wyness is a former RAF service member from Davidstow who had his own dramatic medical experience leading to telehealth monitoring. In one day in 2012, he had been resuscitated 14 times in three locations due to his heart condition. Telehealth now monitors his blood pressure. When monitoring staff noted a drop, he was taken to hospital ‘just in time’. When the closing was announced, Mr. Wyness went to court with the assistance of the Leigh Day firm. They made and won a legal argument that closing telehealth services without consulting with members of the public was illegal. “I decided to fight for everyone because many patients who use the service who may have dementia or may be old are unable to take on that fight.” Bravo! Hat tip and thanks to Suzanne Woodman for the follow up.

‘Let me die at home’. The human and financial cost of ending telehealth (Cornwall UK)-update

See below for ITV coverage. Jill Diggett, a resident of Bodmin in Cornwall, is one of undoubtedly many local people losing their telehealth monitoring next week. A business decision was made to abandon telehealth monitoring provided by NHS Kernow, whose statement is extensively cited by this article in Cornwall Live. NHS Kernow, which is £54 million in the red, cites “the service did not have significantly robust clinical evidence for effectiveness and did not demonstrate the desired outcomes that we would expect to see.” The Cornwall Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, which provides the service, will hand it off in advance to the telehealth user’s GP, and will provide community services or getting a helper to manage their condition.  

From this article, Mrs. Diggett is 1) an exception to their findings and 2) the handoff appears to have been dropped. Mrs. Diggett has five serious chronic conditions. She is on oxygen. Last December, she was in hospital for three weeks. Post-discharge, she was given telecare and telehealth monitoring of her vital signs (weight, blood oxygen, blood pressure), performed by her husband and sent to a care coordinator (a ‘medical expert’ in the article). There’s medical intervention if things trend poorly. However, she has stayed out of hospital since and is presented here as medically stable, though not doing handsprings. In the article, Mrs. Diggett expresses despair and real fear that she will be taken from her home and wind up back in hospital where she assumes she will die, an understandably emotional reaction. Worse, her husband gives no indication that his wife’s care has been transitioned. 

Readers of Cornwall Live are also pointed to the closure of a Bodmin treatment centre in March. So the Diggetts will be traveling much farther to receive care if they were using it.

Mr. Diggett was told that the average cost of a hospital bed is £1,000 a night. For 21 nights, that is £21,000. Let’s assume that the fully allocated cost (devices and monitoring) of the telehealth service is £100/month. That is 210 months–17.5 years–of monitoring for the cost of one hospital stay. If it is £250/month, that is 84 months or 7 years.

What is not cost-calculable but has consequences? Mrs. Diggett’s state of mind and her husband’s quality of life. Her predicament is shared by patients and caregivers who had telehealth or telecare withdrawn after a pilot or the ending of an at-home program. There is a feeling of abandonment, that they don’t have this help or support, no one is listening, the safety net’s been taken away, and they are all alone again. Anyone who has worked for telehealth and telecare companies, such as this Editor, knows this is an unavoidable consequence of service withdrawal unless that person is much better or is transitioned properly, which almost never happens. Readers on both sides of the Atlantic will surely be able to supply their own examples where the books don’t balance. Hat tip to Susanne Woodman, our Eye on Tenders.

Update: ITV last night (11 July) reported on this here, interviewing the Diggetts. Bravo!