Best Buy buys Critical Signal Technologies, increasing telehealth footprint

Late last month, Best Buy with little fanfare bought Critical Signal Technologies (CST) of Novi, Michigan. CST is a device-agnostic telehealth monitoring and social work services platform through its Care Center, covering services such as PERS monitoring, medication management, and remote patient monitoring. Terms were not disclosed for this private company founded in 2006, but CST cares for 100,000 patients and has partnerships with 1,500 payers, including many Medicare Advantage plans. 

For those seeking the sunnier uplands of digital health, it’s surprising but gratifying to see Best Buy place another sizable bet in the home health area. The recent acquisition of GreatCall for $800 million is larger, but GreatCall is a turnkey, profitable company. The partnership with Tyto Care [TTA 17 April] to retail their system is relatively low risk, limited in scope, and follows their Midwest intro pattern (followed over 12 years ago with, believe it or not, QuietCare when owned by Living Independently).

Best Buy has gained kudos for moving into specialty areas in healthcare when its fellow retailers have been falling by the wayside. It covers both their bricks-and-mortar–where older adults still like to shop–and online, delivering a large slice of health tech directly to consumers. One asset, the tech-oriented Geek Squad, is a ready made unit for installing and walking older adults through using home tech. MedCityNews, MarketWatch

News roundup: Virginia includes RPM in telehealth, Chichester Careline changes, Sensyne AI allies with Oxford, Tunstall partners in Scotland, teledermatology in São Paolo

Virginia closes in on including remote patient monitoring in telehealth law. Two bills in the Virginia legislature, House Bill 1970 and Senate Bill 1221, include remote patient monitoring (RPM) within their present telehealth and telemedicine guidelines and payment in state commercial insurance and the commonwealth’s Medicaid program. It is currently moving forward in House and Senate committees with amendments and. RPM is defined as “the delivery of home health services using telecommunications technology to enhance the delivery of home health care, including monitoring of clinical patient data….” Both were filed on 9 January. Virginia was an early adopter of parity payment of telemedicine with in-person visits. The University of Virginia has been a pioneer in telehealth research and is the home for the Mid-Atlantic Telehealth Resource Center. mHealth Intelligence

Chichester Careline switches to PPP Taking Care. Chichester Careline is currently a 24/7 care line services provided by Chichester District Council. Starting 1 March, PPP Taking Care, part of AXA PPP Healthcare, will manage the service. According to the Chichester release, costs will remain the same, technology will be upgraded, and telecare services will be added. Over the past 35 years, Chichester Careline has assisted over 1 million people across Britain. 

Sensyne collaborates with University of Oxford’s Big Data Institute (BDI) on chronic disease. The three-year program will use Sensyne’s artificial intelligence for research on chronic kidney disease and cardiovascular disease. Sensyne analyzes large databases of anonymized patient data in collaboration with NHS Trusts. BDI’s expertise is in population health, clinical informatics and machine learning. Their joint research will concentrate on two major elements within long-term chronic disease to derive new datasets: automating physician notes into a structure which can be analyzed by AI and integrating it into remote patient monitoring.  Release.

Tunstall partners with Digital Health & Care Institute Scotland. The partnership is in the Next Generation Solutions for Healthy Ageing cluster. Digital Health & Care supports the Scottish Government’s TEC Programme and the Digital Telecare Workstream. The program’s goals are to help Scots live longer, healthier lives and also create jobs.  Building Better Healthcare UK

Teledermatology powered by machine learning helps to solve a specialist shortage in São Paolo. Brazil has nationalized healthcare which has nowhere near enough specialists. São is a city with 20 million inhabitants, so large and spread out that when the aircraft crew announces that they are on approach to the airport, it takes two hours to touch the runway. The dermatology waitlist was up to 60,000 patients, each waiting 18 months to see a doctor. The solution: call every patient and instruct them to go to a doctor or nurse to take a picture of the skin condition. The photo is then analyzed and prioritized by an algorithm, with a check by dermatologists, to determine level of treatment. Thirty percent needed to see a dermatologist, only 3 percent needed a biopsy. Accuracy level is about 80 percent, and plans are in progress to scale it to the rest of Brazil. Mobihealthnews.

More good news for telehealth, RPM in FCC approval of $100M Connected Care Pilot Program

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) moved relatively quickly to approve the Connected Care Pilot Program, approving broadband-enabled telehealth and remote patient monitoring services in underserved rural and remote areas. Funding for the program has been pegged at $100 million. The approval was unanimous on the program proposed by FCC commissioner Brendan Carr and Mississippi Sen. Roger Wicker.

CCPP will provide $100 million for subsidies to hospitals or wireless providers running post-discharge remote monitoring programs for low-income and rural Americans. An example is those run by the University of Mississippi Medical Center. The goal is to lower same-cause readmissions and improve patient outcomes. [TTA 13 July] Hearings late last month also were structured to support the program and start to fill out the details for a 2019 start [TTA 1 Aug].

Public comments are now open for a 2019 start to the program (see FCC website–look under Connect2Health which is the umbrella site for this and similar programs). Commissioner Carr had to look no further than the VA to see how Home Telehealth and other remote monitoring programs worked to drive down cost and improve patient outcomes. VA Health’s remote monitoring program cost $1,600 per patient compared to $13,000 for traditional care in one study. The trick is now translating this into an open system.

This is a nice boost to both real-time video and asynchronous remote patient monitoring in market development (and getting paid) in areas of great need. It’s also another Federal signal (so to speak) for 2019, following the proposed Medicare Physician Fee Schedule’s increased payments and broader applicability for both.  mHealthIntelligence, Mobihealthnews, FCC Release Hat tip to reader Paul Costello of Medopad.

CMS urged to further reimburse telehealth remote patient monitoring with three new CPT codes

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), which controls payments to doctors for the Medicare and state Medicaid programs, has been urged by 49 healthcare organizations and technology vendors to further unbundle the controlling CPT code for remote patient monitoring (RPM), 99091. The 2018 Physician Fee Schedule (PFS) Final Rule finally separated RPM from telemedicine remote visits by permitting separate payment for remote physiological data monitoring by unbundling CPT 99091 to reimburse for patient-generated health data (PGHD)–a new term. The letter to Administrator Seema Verma proposes 2019 adoption of three additional American Medical Association CPT Editorial Panel-developed codes which further break down various aspects of RPM, while maintaining 99091. 

CPT codes for Medicare and Medicaid are important because they also influence private insurers’ reimbursement policies. Practices which get paid for RPM are more likely to adopt enabling technologies if they are affordable within how they are paid. 

CMS started to include telehealth RPM in 2015 in a chronic care management code, 99490, but specifically prohibited the use of CPT 99091 in conjunction with CCM. This created a lot of confusion after some brief moments of hope by tying technology to a complex CCM model.

It’s possibly a ‘light at end of the tunnel’ development for hungry tech companies, but one which won’t be determined till end of year when PFS rules are released. Also Healthcare Dive.

Medtronic, American Well mega-partner for telehealth + telemedicine for chronic care

Boston-based American Well and Dublin-based Medtronic announced this week a partnership to integrate telemedicine and telehealth for chronic care management, targeting complex, chronic and co-morbid patients. Under the agreement, American Well’s telemedicine services will integrate into Medtronic Care Management Services (MCMS) video-enabled telehealth platforms for remote patient monitoring and video consults. The goal is to provide more information so that clinicians gain a more complete view of a patient’s health status when making care decisions, thus reducing the cost of care and improving patient outcomes. Care for patients with multiple chronic conditions accounts for over 70 percent of healthcare spending, according to an AHRQ study.

American Well is currently partnered with 250 healthcare partners in the US and more than 750 health systems and 975 hospitals, along with most major health plans. MCMS has two video telehealth platforms including the mobile NetResponse and the LinkView Wi-Fi tabletop. Their most recent activity is with the Midwest’s Mercy healthcare system for data sharing and analysis to gather clinical evidence for medical device innovation and patient access. MCMS platforms are also being integrated into the VA’s Home Telehealth program [TTA 6 Feb and 15 Feb]. It indicates that Medtronic is seeking to grow its telehealth device business, which has largely (except for VA) been a backwater in the immense Medtronic empire.

This is a very logical and in this Editor’s estimation, overdue type of partnership between a telehealth provider to enhance telehealth and RPM. (An easy bet: expect Teladoc to follow with another telehealth provider)

American Well/Medtronic release, Healthcare Informatics, MassDevice

Want to know effectiveness of telehealth, interoperability? NQF reports take their measure.

There’s been an increase in doubt about the efficacy of telemedicine (virtual visits) and telehealth (vital signs monitoring) as a result of the publication of two recent long-term studies, one conducted by the University of Wisconsin and the other by CCHSC for Telemonitoring NI [TTA 13 Sep]. These follow studies that were directionally positive, and in a few cases like the VA studies conducted by Adam Darkins, very much so, but mostly flawed or incomplete (low N, short term, differing metrics). What’s missing is a framework for assessing the results of both. In an exceptionally well-timed announcement, the National Quality Forum (NQF) announced their development of a framework for assessing the quality and impact of telehealth services. 

In a wonder of clarity, the NQF defines telehealth’s scope as telemedicine (live patient-provider video), store-and-forward (e.g. radiology), remote patient monitoring (telehealth), and mobile health (smartphone apps). Measurement covers four categories: patients’ access to care, financial impact to patients and their care team, patient and clinician experience, and effectiveness of clinical and operational systems. Within these categories, NQF identified six areas as having the highest priority for measurement: travel, timeliness of care, actionable information, added value of telehealth to provide evidence-based practices, patient empowerment, and care coordination. Finally, the developing committee identified 16 measures that can be used to measure telehealth quality.

The NQF also issued a similar framework for interoperability, a bête noire that has led many a clinician and developer to the consumption of adult beverages. Again there are four categories: the exchange of electronic health information, its usability, its application, and its impact—on patient safety, costs, productivity, care coordination, processes and outcomes, and patients’ and caregivers’ experience and engagement. And it kept the committee very busy indeed with, from the release, “53 ideas for measures that would be useful in the short term (0-3 years), in the mid-term (3-5 years) and in the long-term (5+ years). It also identified 36 existing measures that serve as representative examples of these measure ideas (sic) and how they could be affected by interoperability.”

Both reports were commissioned and funded a year ago by the US Health & Human Services Department (HHS). We will see if these frameworks are extensively used by researchers.

NQF release, Creating a Framework-Telehealth (download link), Creating a Framework-Interoperability (download link), Mobihealthnews 

Telehealth in China: the largest market of them all?

[grow_thumb image=”http://telecareaware.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/HC_Bulletin_F14_bigdata_china_feature.jpg” thumb_width=”250″ /]Is China ready for telehealth, and the needed investment? It turns out that according to this article, the market does strongly resemble Western, Latin America and APAC countries in its needs and aging, dispersed population. The numbers (left) say yes. The market divides into three for the writer:

  1. A supplement to the public community care system, which has motivated most of the interest the Chinese government has in telehealth to care for millions (defined in the article as patient-doctor video consults, but doesn’t appear to exclude remote patient vital signs monitoring) as well as EHRs, scheduling, online access to diagnostic test results, and e-prescribing.
  2. Rural health care, not as unique as the writer seems to believe. Virtual consults and telehealth are used, and paid for, by CMS in US rural areas and on Native American reservations by the Indian Health Service. We also wrote about it in Brazil [TTA 27 Feb].
  3. Second opinions by Western physicians desired by high net worth individuals and upper middle class families. Again, not that unusual as this resembles the health tourism practiced by the affluent in Latin America and the adoption of video consults. This is denoted as the narrowest and chanciest of the three markets.

Chinese patients in (1) and (2), for the most part, would see any of these as an improvement. Their experience is that they get little time with a physician, don’t have a personal relationship with one or more doctors, and don’t expect much of a personal relationship with their doctor. So telehealth and RPM would be huge upgrades for China.  From Healthintelasia. Illustration from Analysis Group

The mixed picture of health tech investment: a potpourri

One picture is generally positive–plenty of opportunity in the aging and ill population, particularly in data integration from various sources, and value-based care. Everyone loves the excitement that a startup with a novel technology or way it can make knowledge more useful brings to the field.  Another picture is one of pitfalls aplenty, from overhyping technology (poster child, Theranos) to overestimating growth, overspending and especially picking the wrong (nervous, impatient) investors at the wrong time, which have left a general patina of mistrust around digital health. There’s also the fact that healthcare is a highly, confusingly regulated, long-cycle business that’s challenged money-wise, whether in the US, UK, Europe or Asia. Some advice to startups contained in these two articles, including from the principals of StartUp Health accelerator (who’ve seen it all), has to do with building trust, finding the right investors, the right advice/advisors, collaboration (though that is difficult with IP), finding proven (affordable) management and a sustainable (and resilient) culture. Underpromise, overdeliver.  TechCrunch, Healthcare Dive

No wonder that investment was flat in 2015, and that much of the news is around acquisitions that rearrange companies and/or offerings. The latest today is Allscripts‘ and GI Partners’ acquisition of behavioral EHR/care coordination company Netsmart for $950 million; Allscripts is moving its homecare business into Netsmart’s CareFabric suite. Kansas City Business Journal, Healthcare Dive  In addition we’ll cite our earlier Mo’ Money article on the $600 million in various digital health investments. UPMC, which had invested in Vivify Health’s telehealth/RPM platform, is spreading $3 million around partly in-house to six health tech projects developed under the Pittsburgh Health Data Alliance. And in an example of Wearables Confusion, investors put $16 million into LifeBeam to develop another DTC ‘holistic’ health wearable (LifeBeam’s origins are sensors for aerospace and defense) while early wrist fitness entrant Pebble has laid off 40 staff in an attempt to refocus on…fitness.

Early-stage companies are also alliancing and merging. Fresh out of Newark and the New Jersey Institute of Technology’s NJ Innovation Institute, the merger of Practice Unite (which knits together secure mobile clinician/patient communications into a customized platform) and Uniphy Health (physician engagement), is an example of complimentary enlargement. This expands care collaboration offerings and shades over into patient engagement if you look at the PHM quadrant here. According to Director/Chief Medical Officer Stuart Hochron, MD (who was a Practice Unite founder), “We’re really pleased with the outcome of this merger. It’s given us the capital and resources that we need to scale.” It’s also good to see that both the founders and the CTO are moving into the new Uniphy Health–and staying in Newark.  Release