Q1 digital health investment: two perspectives from StartUp Health and Rock Health

StartUp Health’s and Rock Health’s investment/M&A roundups from Q1 2017 have just hit the deck. Before we dig into them, let’s start with the differences in methodology:

  • Rock Health tracks deals only over $2 million in value; StartUp Health seems to have no minimum or maximum; the latter includes early stage deals at a lower value.
  • StartUp Health gathers in international deals at all levels, whereas Rock Health includes only US-funded ventures.
  • Rock Health omits healthcare services companies (citing Forward, Oscar), biotech/diagnostic companies (GRAIL, Theranos), and software companies not solely focused on healthcare (Zenefits)
  • StartUp Health defines ‘digital health’ differently than Rock Health, with categories of ‘patient/consumer experience’, ‘wellness’, ‘personalized health/quantified self’, and ‘research’

StartUp Health is ‘over the moon’, breathlessly (appropriately as the home of the 25-year Health Moonshot) with Q1 trending, seeing the biggest investment quarter since 2010 at $2.5 bn. Topping up this number was GRAIL, which is developing a blood test for early cancer detection, with a massive Series B at $914 million. Far behind it in the $85-110 million range were (in descending order) Alignment Healthcare (population health), PatientsLikeMe (patient/consumer experience), Nuna (big data/analytics), and PointClickCare (EHR). Population health, patient/consumer experience, and research top their investment activity. Most deals are still seed and Series A (59 percent), but that is down five points from full year 2016; Series B’s share is up three points to 25 percent. But it remains a difficult bridge to cross to C+ rounds.

Rock Health splits the difference and calls it ‘business as usual’, surprised that there hasn’t been a tailspin. Its Q1 sandwiches between 2016 and 2015, well above 2015 but trending 23 percent below Q1 2016. Their biggest deals include the aforementioned Alignment, PatientsLikeMe and Nuna, omitting GRAIL and PointClickCare. Their top three investment categories are analytics/big data, care coordination, and telemedicine (over $50 million). Rock Health tracked almost 20 M&A, noting that many transactions are now ex-California. They also uniquely track public company performance. Here in 2016 is where Readers first noted weakness in NantHealth, but Fitbit and Castlight Health also had miserable quarters. Teladoc, Evolent Health (consulting), and Care.com had a good winter as well. Let’s see what Q2 brings.

A analysis–and challenging takedown–of the RAND telehealth cost study (updated)

A must read on telemedicine and telehealth cost. One of our Readers, Bruce Judson, commented on our earlier coverage of RAND Health’s new study published in Health Affairs [TTA 8 Mar] finding that telemedicine virtual visits (here called telehealth) drove up utilization of care by 88 percent and cost by $45 per year for respiratory illnesses that typically resolved on their own.

He has written his own analysis based on the full study. Telehealth Costs: RAND’s Questionable Rant (Huffington Post), considers the full study and compares it to a 2014 RAND study by the same authors. Mr Judson notes inconsistencies in sampling and definitions; the illogical attachment of a waiting period cost (77 minutes=$30) to a telehealth visit (perhaps to level it with an office visit?); the misinterpretation of results; small sample size; and the fact that the CalPERS sample is ancient (2011-13), representative of a time when telemedicine (here provided by Teladoc) was a new notion. There are inconsistencies with an earlier RAND study based on the same data! (He does not count in costs outside the study such as lost time at work or the cost of spreading infection to co-workers.)

Mr Judson, after many years in publishing, digital marketing and strategy (from when it was called ‘new media’), and currently an advisor to a UK firm investing in IoT, has cast his lot with us in health tech, heading a firm in the Hudson Valley of NY, Telehealthworks, which markets an employer telemedicine and wellness program called freshbenies. While he discloses that he’s not a disinterested observer or researcher, he has that in common with most of our Readers, who are very interested in determining the truth about costs and savings. He gives many reasons to be skeptical of the RAND findings.

Telemedicine may drive up medical utilization, increase cost for respiratory illness: RAND Health

click to enlargeIs convenience the culprit? Researchers from RAND Corporation’s Health program conducted a three-year study of telemedicine (here called telehealth) usage by employees of CalPERS for respiratory illness and came to a surprising conclusion. From the study abstract: “12 percent of direct-to-consumer telehealth visits replaced visits to other providers, and 88 percent represented new utilization. Net annual spending on acute respiratory illness increased $45 per telehealth user.”

The study examined 2011-2013 claims information for over 300,000 people insured through the California California Public Employees’ Retirement System, which despite the name provides health benefits to active state employees as well as retirees. It targeted common acute respiratory infections (sinus infections, bronchitis and related) to determine patterns of provider utilization and the change after the introduction of telehealth. Of that group, 981 used the Teladoc system for video consults, adopted by CalPERS in 2012.

The objective of the study was to determine whether the telehealth visits were new care or substituted for other types of care such as doctor, clinic, or ED visits. Even though the telehealth services were far cheaper–about 50 percent lower than a physician office visit and less than 5 percent the cost of a visit to the ED–they did not make up for the calculated 88 percent rise in utilization.

Similar results were reported by RAND in last year’s research on retail clinics, which estimated that 58 percent of visits for low-severity illnesses were new and not shifted from EDs or doctor’s offices. What is in common? Convenience. Convenience opens up greater use. If you have a store down the street, you may pop in daily versus once-weekly.

Updated: Some further insights from Mobihealthnews were that the study stated that telehealth visits may be more likely to result in additional costs, such as follow-up appointments, testing or prescriptions. In other words, the telehealth visit starts off less expensive, but the standard of care in follow-up adds to that initial cost.

The RAND recommendation is thus not a surprise: make more telemedicine visits a shift from office or ED to restrict telemedicine growth. Raise the cost of co-pays for the service to reduce demand. On the ‘high side’, encourage ED ‘frequent flyers’ to use telehealth services instead. Pass the painkillers. Health Affairs (abstract only; paid access required for full study), RAND Health press release.

Analysis: instead of self-doctoring, and suffering at home and in the workplace, the small group of CalPERS policyholders in the study actually used their new benefit to check their health–as intended! The additional cost is not staggering; (more…)

Debate on Care Quality Commission’s position on online prescription services on Radio 4’s TODAY (UK)

Friday’s BBC Radio 4 TODAY breakfast show has two segments discussing the Care Quality Commission‘s public warning on online prescription services and potential danger to patients. The first is a short interview of Jane Mordue, Chair of Healthwatch England and independent member of the CQC (at 00:36:33-00:39:00). The second, longer segment at 02:37:00 going to 02:46:30 features our own Editor Charles Lowe, in his position as Managing Director of the Digital Health and Care Alliance (DHACA), debating with Sandra Gidley, Chair of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) English Board. The position of the RPS is that a face-to-face appointment is far preferable to an online service, whereas Mr Lowe maintains that delays in seeing one’s GP creates a need for services where a patient can see a doctor online and receive a prescription if necessary. The quick response allays anxiety in the patient and provides care quickly. Both agreed that a tightening of guidelines is needed, especially in the incorrect prescribing of antibiotics, and that there is no communication between patient records. Mr Lowe notes that GPs have always been comfortable with a telephonic consultation but are far less so with telemedicine consults via Skype. Here’s the BBC Radio 4 link available till end of March.

In the US with 24/7/365 telemedicine services such as Teladoc, MDLive and American Well, there is a similar problem with patient records in many cases except for history that the patient gives, but this is an across the board problem as the US does not have a centralized system. The prescribing problem is less about antibiotics, though MRSA/MSSA resistant superbugs are a great concern. According to Jeff Nadler, CTO of Teladoc during his #RISE2017 presentation here in NY attended by this Editor, Teladoc has a 91 to 94 percent resolution rate on patient medical issues. Of that 9 percent unresolved, 4 percent are referred, 2 percent are ‘out of scope’, 1 percent go to ER/ED–and 2 percent of patients are ‘seeking meds only’, generally for painkillers. Teladoc’s model is B2B2C, which is that patients access the service through their health plan, health system, or employer.

Updated–MedStartr’s Rise of the Healthy Machines 1 March (NYC)

Wednesday 1 March, 1-6:30 pm (followed by cocktail reception to 8 pm), PriceWaterhouseCoopers, 300 Madison Avenue NYC

What’s new at #RISE2017? A new event page which has all the highlights, including the speaker roster and agenda.  The revised agenda focuses on population health and how machine learning/AI will change medicine and our notions of healthy living, with speakers and panelists from Teladoc, PwC, J&J, Prognos.ai, CityMD, mymee, DataArt, Enspektos and more. There’s also a new Healthy Machines Challenge application page, so if you have a young company with a technology which can help people live longer, healthier lives, apply for the $300,000 Challenge which finds and funds some of the best new ideas in digital health. Sponsors include PwC, DataArt, and McCarter & English LLP. Tickets are free to $75 for the full half-day with reception. TTA is a MedStartr supporter/media sponsor; Editor Donna is a host for this event and a MedStartr Mentor. Also check the MedStartr page to find and fund some of the most interesting startup ideas in healthcare

The growth of telehealth, and the confusion of terminology (US)

Becker’s Health IT and CIO Review has written up a US-centric review of recent advances in telehealth and telemedicine but kicks it off with the confusion level between the two terms. Internationally, and in these pages, they are separate terms; telehealth referring primarily to vital signs remote monitoring, and telemedicine the ‘virtual visit’ between doctor and patient, between two clinical sites, or ‘store and forward’ asynchronous exchange (e.g. teleradiology). Somehow, in US usage, they have been conflated or made interchangeable, with the American Telemedicine Association (ATA) admitting to same, and American Well simply ‘just doing it’ in relabeling what they provide. On top of it, the two are incorporating elements of each into the other. Examples: TytoCare vital signs measurement/recording into American Well’s video visit; Care Innovations Health Harmony also providing video capability.

Of particular interest to our international readers would be the high rate of US growth in telemedicine utilization from 7 to 22 percent (Rock Health survey). Teladoc, the largest and publicly traded provider, passed the milestone of 100,000 monthly visits in November and the ATA estimates 1.25 million from all providers for 2016 (Teladoc release). Other US competitors include the aforementioned American Well, MDLive, and Doctor on Demand, the latter two also selling direct to consumer. They also compete against doctor-on-house call services like Pager and Heal. Reimbursement remains an issue both privately and publicly (Medicare and Medicaid) on a state-by-state level, with telehealth experiencing significant difficulties, as well as internet access, speed, and usage by older adults.

US: Telemedicine to be used during disasters

The American Red Cross has entered into a partnership to pilot the use of telemedicine during periods of disasters in the US. During the pilot a nationwide network of physicians will be available for consultation via video calls.

Through this pilot collaboration, physicians working with Red Cross partner Teladoc will be available to people helped by the Red Cross whose access to health care providers has been limited or is unavailable after large-scale disasters. Teladoc’s virtual physician visit services will be made available via web, Teladoc’s mobile app and phone to address the primary health care needs of individuals affected by disasters.

Teladoc is reported to have donated remote medical care during the recent Hurricane Matthew. This partnership is positioned as an expansion of such disaster relief efforts rather than an expansion of its commercial activities.

Use of telemedicine in disaster relief has been implemented previously in the US by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). In 2014 the Office of Emergency Management of the VA awarded a contract to use the JEMS Technology disaster relief telehealth system. Going back much earlier, following the December 1988 earthquake in Armenia and the June 1989 gas explosion near Ufa, a satellite based audio, video and fax link, known as the Telemedicine Spacebridge, between four US and two Armenian and Russian medical centres,  permitted remote American consultants to assist Armenian and Russian physicians in the management of medical problems. Last year NATO tested use of telemedicine in disaster situations in a simulated disaster scenario in Ukraine.

Another system, Emergency Telehealth and Navigation, is deployed in Houston for helping with 911 calls. The Houston Fire Department has agreements with doctors so they have access to a doctor at any time to take calls from crew at emergency sites. They find that this avoids having to take some people to hospital when a doctor is able to determine that a condition is non-emergency where a paramedic may well have taken the patient to an Emergency Department.

A review of digital health patent slugfests and Unintended Consequences

Mobihealthnews provides a recap of the past four years of patent actions pitting company against company in the hushed but deadly rings of the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) and the US International Trade Commission. On the fight card: the never-ending American Well-Teladoc bout (Teladoc winning every decision so far by a knockout [TTA 18 June]–a second American Well patent being invalidated on 25 August); CardioNet vs MedTel, which the former won but has had to chase the latter out of the arena and down the street to collect; Fitbit-Jawbone which has gone both ways [TTA 27 July]; and the long trail of blood, sweat and Unintended Consequences around Bosch Healthcare’s heavyweight IP pursuit against mainly flyweight early-stage companies (not noting, as we did, their apparent ‘draws’ vs Philips and Viterion, then owned by Bayer).

The Reader will note our tracking Bosch’s activities go back to 2012 (here, here and here). Moreover, with Mr Tim Rowan of Home Care Technology, we broke the news of Bosch’s demise in June 2015, drawing the conclusion that their offense versus Cardiocom’s patents (now in Medtronic’s cardiac division) directly led to the invalidation of their key patents, IP–and the very basis of the company’s existence. See the 19 June 2015 article and our recap one year later in reviewing AW-Teladoc. (Any similar phrasing or conclusions within the Mobihealthnews article, we will leave to our Readers to decide!)

Ka-ching! $61 million to telemedicine’s Teladoc, Avizia

Two ends of the spectrum. Teladoc, now reputed to be the largest telemedicine company in the US, can now access $50 million in new capital via a $25 million term loan and a $25 million revolving line of credit from Silicon Valley Bank. This is just after announcing the purchase of mobile-app-based physician locator HealthiestYou in a $125 million deal ($45 million in cash + 6.96 million shares of its common stock valued at $80 million.) Teladoc has been on a roll since 2008, with $245 million in funding up through 2015 (Accenture).

Telemedicine startup Avizia, on the other hand, closed a healthy $11 million Series A round from Blue Heron Capital (as lead–CrunchBase) and then announced a partnership with video provider Vidyo to be compatible with their addressable video platform. From a start in telemedicine carts, Avizia now has new apps for mobile devices and secure messaging for doctors within hospitals. Modern Healthcare, MedCityNews

A weekend potpourri of health tech news: mergers, cyber-ransom, Obama as VC?

As we approach what we in these less-than-United States think of as the quarter-mile of the summer (our Independence Day holiday), and while vacations and picnics are top of mind, there’s a lot of news from all over which this Editor will touch on, gently (well, maybe not so gently). Grab that hot dog and soda, and read on….

Split decision probable for US insurer mergers. The Aetna-Humana and Anthem-Cigna mergers will reduce the Big 5 to the Big 3, leading to much controversy on both the Federal and state levels. While state department of insurance opposition cannot scupper the deals, smaller states such as Missouri and the recent split decision from California on Aetna-Humana (the insurance commissioner said no, the managed care department said OK) plus the no on the smaller Anthem-Cigna merger are influential. There’s an already reluctant Department of Justice anti-trust division and a US Senate antitrust subcommittee heavily influenced by a liberal think tank’s (Center for American Progress) report back in March. Divestment may not solve all their problems. Doctors don’t like it. Anthem-Cigna have also had public disagreements concerning their merged future management and governance, but the betting line indicates they will be the sacrificial lamb anyway. Healthcare Dive today,  Healthcare Dive, CT Mirror, WSJ (may be paywalled) Editor’s prediction: an even tougher reimbursement road for most of RPM and other health tech as four companies will be in Musical Chairs-ville for years.

‘thedarkoverlord’ allegedly holding 9.3 million insurance records for cyber-ransom. 750 bitcoins, or about $485,000 is the reputed price in the DeepDotWeb report. Allegedly the names, DOBs and SSNs were lifted from a major insurance company in plain text. This appears to be in addition to 655,000 patient records from healthcare organizations in Georgia and the Midwest for sale for 151 – 607 bitcoins or $100,000 – $395,000. The hacker promises ‘we’re just getting started’ and recommends that these organizations ‘take the offer’. Leave the gun, take the cannoli.  HealthcareITNews  It makes the 4,300 record breach at Massachusetts General via the typical unauthorized access at a third party, once something noteworthy, look like small potatoes in comparison. HealthcareITNews  Further reading on hardening systems by focusing on removing admin rights, whitelisting and endpoint security. HealthcareDataManagement

Should VistA stay or go? It looks like this granddaddy of all EHRs used by the US Veterans Health Administration will be sunsetted around 2018, but even their undersecretary for health and their CIO seem to be ambivalent in last week’s Congressional hearings. According to POLITICO’s Morning eHealth newsletter, “The agency will be sticking with its homegrown software through 2018, at which point the VA will start creating a cloud-based platform that may include VistA elements at its core, an agency spokesman explained.” Supposedly even VA insiders are puzzled as to what that means, and some key Senators are losing patience. VistA covers 365 data centers, 130 separate VistA systems, and 834 custom installations, and is also the core of many foreign government systems and the private Medsphere OpenVista. 6/23 and 6/24

click to enlargeDr Eric Topol grooves on ‘The Fourth Industrial Revolution’ of robotics and AI. (more…)

Telemedicine finally gets some respect: WSJ

click to enlargeTelemedicine consults between doctors and with their patients are, at long last, progressing on the Long And Winding Road, according to this sizable recap in the Life and Health section of this weekend’s Wall Street Journal. The focus is on virtual visit growth in the US, but it opens with Doctors Without Borders (MSF) connecting their doctors in Africa with their specialist network worldwide. Mercy Health provides 24/7 ICU/ER support for 38 local hospitals out of a Virtual Care Center outside St. Louis manned by ICU specialists. Their results? A 35 percent decrease in patients’ average length of stay and 30 percent fewer deaths than anticipated. The important statistics here are on acceptance: 72 percent of hospitals and 52 percent of practices are finally integrating some form of telemedicine into care; 74 percent of large employers are covering telemedicine cost–yet awareness is still lagging among prospective patients, with only 39 percent familiar with it according to a recent survey. Challenges remain in reimbursement (more…)

Unintended consequences: American Well loses, loses patent, to Teladoc

On Tuesday, the Federal District Court of Massachusetts not only dismissed the American Well patent infringement lawsuit against Teladoc, but also invalidated American Well‘s patent, held by co-founder Dr. Roy Schoenberg since 2009. It was invalidated on the grounds that the claims in the patent were “too abstract” to be patentable and do not “amount to an inventive concept.” American Well is appealing the court decision.

Teladoc started this call-and-response in March 2015 by petitioning the USPTO (US Patent and Trademark Office) to invalidate several American Well patents. (AW claims to hold 28 patents and 22 pending applications). Shortly before Teladoc’s IPO on the New York Stock Exchange last June, American Well sued Teladoc on patent infringement. Those in the industry saw an effort to scupper the IPO. Our Editor Chrys at the time took a decidedly jaundiced view of American Well’s grounds for infringement:
This author is wondering who thought this was such a novel technology as to warrant a patent? What were they thinking? Having worked on developing unified messaging systems for a mobile phone operator at the turn of the century (now that’s a scary 15 years ago) I am just picking myself off the floor after reading this.
Surely all these functions are no more than what is in every instant messaging program, dating back to 1990s? Replace the words “medical service provider” by “friends” or “contacts” and “consultation” by “chat” or “call” it seems to me you get … Skype and Face Time and more! [TTA 9 June 15]
No matter, the result was yesterday’s double shot of a decision. In addition, three Teladoc complaints against American Well‘s patents to invalidate them are still in progress with the USPTO. A triple, anyone? MedCityNews, Teladoc press release, American Well press release
All this is despite the sobering facts that telemedicine has been unprofitable to date–and that IP wars have unintended consequences. (more…)

The widening gyre of insurers covering telehealth (telemedicine?) (US)

Is a tipping point nearing? Soon? An article in Modern Healthcare that contains a heavy dollop of promotion headlines ‘telehealth’s’ adoption by insurers such as Blue Cross Blue Shield of Alabama, Anthem and Highmark. When read through, it’s mainly about telemedicine (video consults) but does touch on the vital signs monitoring that’s the basis of telehealth. Video consults through Teladoc and other services such as Doctor on Demand and American Well are gradually being reimbursed by private insurers, despite the concern that it would actually drive up cost by being an ‘add-on’ to an in-person visits. Medicaid increasingly covers it, and states are enacting ‘parity’ regulations equalizing in-office and virtual visits including, in many cases, telehealth. Yet the move for coverage is hampered by lack of reimbursement to doctors, or the perception of limited or no payment. Even Medicare, a big advocate for alternative models of care, currently pays little out for telehealth–$17.6 million on a $630 million+ program. The Congressional Budget Office is skeptical, despite the savings claimed by CONNECT for Health Act in both the Senate and House [TTA 12 Feb]. Virtual reality: More insurers are embracing telehealth

Federal Court denies TMB application to dismiss Teladoc case

Readers may have read our article in April this year “Can State medical boards legally prevent telehealth activity?”. click to enlargeIn that article we examined the potential impact of a case brought by the Federal Trade Commission against the North Carolina State Board of Dental Examiners. The case went all the way to the Supreme Court which determined that the State Board of Dental Examiners was not protected by immunity from anti-trust law.

Teladoc is now locked in a case with the Texas Medical Board (TMB) that is very similar to the North Carolina case and it too has gone along a similar path so far. In the latest development of this case, last week a Federal Court, the US District Court in Texas, denied the application by the TMB to dismiss a case brought by Teladoc that claims that the TMB broke anti-trust law.

What has brought Teladoc and the TMB to court in this way? (more…)

NYeC honors four at annual gala

The NY eHealth Collaborative, which develops policies and standards supporting NY state-wide initiatives in healthcare information/data exchange, including the development of the SHIN-NY (Statewide Health Information Network -NY), Wednesday night honored four major NY-based forces in healthcare in New York City. Steven Safyer MD, CEO of Montefiore Health System, Jason Gorevic of telemedicine provider Teladoc, Thomas Mahoney MD of Finger Lakes Health System and Lisa Perry of Community Health Care Association, NYS. While award ceremonies usually don’t come bearing insights, Dr Safyer’s was succinct in what health systems face: that price is compressing over time and that it’s about managing that, not ‘managing care’ which is the usual shorthand. NYeC News.  This Editor missed the usual event in conjunction with the gala, NYeC’s Digital Health Conference, and hopes it makes a reappearance next year. NYeC also partners with the Partnership Fund for NYC in the three-year old New York Digital Health Accelerator (NYDHA) which has six companies in its 2015 five-month program.

CVS puts a retail triple spin on telemedicine

A definite boost to telemedicine providers American Well, now-publicly traded Teladoc and Doctor on Demand is retail drugstore CVS Health piloting their services through CVS MinuteClinics, starting in 2016. CVS’ release is disappointingly heavy on company quotations, light on specifics, but what can be determined is that CVS will test various arrangements, including onsite telemedicine in stores, through CVS ‘digital properties’ (presumably online or through apps) and MinuteClinic provider consults with telemedicine provider doctors. It carefully avoids referring to the three companies as ‘partnerships’ though it generically refers to them deep in the release. CVS currently has 1,000 MinuteClinic locations in 32 states and plan to grow by 50 percent by 2017; they have been testing telemedicine in about 50 clinics in Texas and California.

Annoyingly, both CVS and the three companies improperly use ‘telehealth’ in describing their services when correctly they provide only doctor-patient video consults, or telemedicine. The clinic providers (or individuals) may be reporting vital signs data as part of the visit, but tools are not integrated. Equally annoying is CVS, in the release and in conferences, citing a paywalled study (at the not inconsiderable sum of $39.95 / €34.95 / £29.95!) in the Journal of General Internal Medicine (JGIM) of their results. If you are touting that “95 percent of patients were highly satisfied with the quality of care they received, the ease with which telehealth technology was integrated into the visit, and the timeliness and convenience of their care.” –well, with results like that, make some arrangements and grant access to the study! CVS release, Medscape, FierceHealthIT