Reflections in a Gimlet Eye: further skeptical thoughts on the Teladoc acquisition of Livongo

Gimlet EyePerhaps it’s Reflections in a Gimlet Eye, but this Editor remains bemused and slightly dyspeptic about the acquisition of ‘health signals’ remote patient monitoring management platform Livongo by telehealth giant Teladoc.

Here’s the latest, courtesy of Credit Suisse equity research analyst Jailendra Singh on deal rationale and the potential synergies, based on his Q&A with Teladoc and Livongo management (link here):

  • Livongo: “The company was not for sale, and LVGO did not view the transaction with TDOC as a sale. Instead, management views the deal as a merger of the two leaders in virtual care.” 
  • It had nothing to do with pressure from CVS and UnitedHealth Group (UNH). 
  • There are major cross-selling opportunities, starting with an overlap of 25 percent of their clients. There are also opportunities with the InTouch Health client base in acute care, Aetna plus UNH on the health plan side, and employer administrative services only (ASO) plans. This is part of the calculation of synergies totaling $500 million in 2025 which they believe are conservative given the math.
  • They are also seeking to approach their client base before the closing through a reseller agreement, as Teladoc was able to do with InTouch.

Mr. Singh’s analysis is conservative and sober from a strictly financial viewpoint. His two-page analysis is, as usual, worth the read. 

But then we stumble across one particularly helium-charged claim. It’s projected that Teladoc and Livongo would have a combined company market cap of $38 bn, whereas the pre-pandemic value of the companies was $8 bn. (Steve Kraus, Partner at Bessemer Venture Partners, quoted in Forbes). That is optimistic, considering that patient primary care virtual visits have flattened down to about 7.4 percent of visits as of June (Commonwealth Fund/Harvard/Phreesia study). It’s assuming a great deal that people will continue to shy away from in-person care going forward. Perhaps to a degree this will, as in-person fear is only starting to flatten, but not everything can be done virtually, even RPM.

Livongo’s great asset, which was understandably compelling for Teladoc, is chronic condition management, RPM, and all that data, which can be broadened past their diabetes base (with a small one in behavioral health courtesy of their myStrength acquisition). But to be determined is how compelling this will be for Teladoc’s customer base and for new customers, particularly if the economic environment is constrained and health plans don’t get on board. 

So why is Mr. Market not mad about this ‘merger’? TDOC has taken a spill since its close on 4 August at $249, and is trading below $200 at $193. LVGO took a lesser hit, from $144 to $121. Another Bessemer Venture Partners investor, Morgan Cheatham, stated in the Forbes article linked above that “the company had a real shot at becoming a $100 billion business by running the ‘digital hospital’ playbook. In some ways, the acquisition feels premature.” Teladoc’s COO David Sides also promised that the combined company will aid practices in the transition from hospital to home care and touts the consumer focus of both companies. (Have they consulted already burdened and strained providers how this can be made easier for them and fit into value-based care models as well as their financials?) But they may have to make more acquisitions to facilitate this. So $18.5 billion plus $1 bn for InTouch isn’t enough to get the job done?

Reminder: to date, neither company has been profitable.

So, what does this mean for other digital health companies? Initially, it’s quite positive that Teladoc could round up nearly $20bn in six months. John Halamka MD, a well-known digital health visionary now at Mayo Clinic, sees it as a bridge to the digital health ecosystem including other companies. A contrarian view was expressed by Mr. Cheatham.  Teladoc-Livongo is a challenge for other digital health companies in that they won’t, and cannot, be Teladocs and Livongos–in other words, an unrealistically high bar for them. “Why can’t Telavongo build this?”

Finally, a personal and slightly jaundiced view from this Editor. Let’s take a good hard look at the Human Factors. This is an acquisition by Teladoc of smaller Livongo, despite the merger statements. Employees in both companies are wondering who will go, who will stay, who they will report to if they stay, and where they will be. They have about four to six months to mull this and plan their future at a tough time to do so.  This will — not may, will–have an effect on operations and attitudes, especially at Livongo. There are some doubleplus ungood signs that question this assumption:

  • Jennifer Schneider, MD, president of Livongo, has stated that both companies are currently hiring and don’t plan layoffs as a result of the merger (Becker’s Health IT). Anyone who has been through a merger knows there are overlapping areas such as HR, marketing, and financial. There are only so many chairs at the organizational table especially at the director and above level. And all the happy talk doesn’t change the reality that not everyone will be given the option to stay.
  • Statements on similar cultures notwithstanding, the fact is that both companies have different cultures and experiences because they have radically different histories and personalities running them. This Editor would suspect that Livongo employees, having come up in a young and smaller company, have a great identification with Livongo and pride in their success.
  • Not one Livongo senior executive was named publicly as taking a new operational role in the merged entity. (Board seats don’t count.)
  • The HQ will be in Purchase. Most Livongo employees are in California.
  • The company will be named Teladoc and will not be renamed. 

One would hope that both companies make every effort to reorganize the company staffs in a way where layoffs are minimal, those who are packaged out are treated generously, but better, valued employees from both companies are retained in a fair and unbiased evaluative process in how they support their businesses presently and going forward. But this is not typically the case.

One would also hope that the clients and individuals who pay the bills were told, timed with the public announcement, that this was happening and what it means for them. Leaving them to read it online is usually what happens. It’s not automatic, and I’ve seen this treated as an afterthought in both large companies and small, with line of business folks scrambling to put together, and get approved, a statement. This is typically the case, as communications apparently cease to be a priority at the market/LOB level.

TTA’s Summer Unlockdown, Week 5: Teladoc-Livongo, SOC Telehealth, BioTelemetry, TechForce 19 follow up, and 50% Reader pricing for Connected Health Summit

 

2nd Quarter results are capped with Teladoc’s Livongo acquisition (ka-ching!), SOC Telemed’s alternative IPO, plus more modest acquisitions. What happens after the mad rush of a NHS challenge? Plus a special offer for Readers to attend the Connected Health Summit at half price!

More consolidation: BioTelemetry acquires population health platform from Envolve/Centene, inks agreement with Boston Scientific (Acquisitions that make business sense)
TechForce 19 follow up: Alcuris’ results on testing Memo Hub (UK) (What happens after all that work–tell us your story)
Connected Health Summit 1-3 September goes virtual–now 50% off for TTA Readers! (Affordable, accessible conference)
An admittedly skeptical take on the $18.5 billion Teladoc acquisition of Livongo (updated for additional analysis) (What makes sense and what does not)
SOC Telemed will go public in unusual ‘blank check’ acquisition (An interesting alternative to IPO)

While it’s summer, investment in digital health continues with Withings’ $60 million Series B. Wearables find a boost from COVID in this Year of the Sensor. And we take a long catch up with UK news from the Isle of Man to Manchester.

En Vogue: smart clothing and wearables to track COVID spread and progression (More wearables in The Year of the Sensor)
Withings closes $60 million Series B round to fund expansion, B2B development (Funding B2B and expansion)
UK news roundup: Health Innovation Manchester winners, donate Phones for Patients in isolation, British Patient Capital funds SV Health with $65m, Memory Lane on the Isle of Man, SEHTA and Innovate UK briefings

Unlockdown is proceeding and despite breathless media hype, we are learning valuable lessons and creating new models using sensor-based monitoring, contact tracing, even about the air we breathe in the office. Innovation competition continues virtually with Aging 2.0. Telehealth remains heading up. And our weekend’s provocative Must Read is an impassioned warning on our headlong rush to turn healthcare over to Big Tech and Pharma.

Weekend ‘Must Read’: Are Big Tech/Big Pharma’s health tech promises nothing but a dangerous fraud? (Urgent Snake Oil Warning)
The Year of the Sensor, round 2: COVID contact tracing + sensor wearables in LTC facilities; Ireland’s long and pivoting road to a contact tracing app (Contact tracing that actually works)
Nanowear’s ‘smart clothing’ in NY/NJ hospital trials to monitor patients for early-stage COVID. Is it the Year of the Sensor? (Intriguing clinical trial)
Vote now for finalists in the Aging 2.0 Global Innovation Search (to 31 July) (We have the list and links)
Can technology speed the return to office post-COVID? Is contaminated office air conditioning a COVID culprit? (All the apps, testing, and monitoring in the world doesn’t fix the air you breathe)
While telehealth virtual office visits flatten, overall up 300-fold; FCC finalizes COVID-19 telehealth funding program (US) (Still on the rise)

Is it the July doldrums, or COVID pandemic rerun fatigue? CVS Health’s study points at progress for telehealth, but a multiplicity of issues. Philips hits a home run with VA with remote ICU tech, and enters sensor-based RPM with BioIntelliSense.

Telehealth, virtual, and ‘omnichannel’ health winners in CVS’ ‘Path To Better Health’ study (Telehealth gains, but reflects the fractionalization of US healthcare)
Philips awarded by VA 10-year, $100 million remote ICU, telehealth contract; partners with BioIntelliSense for RPM (A major win and a win for BioIntelliSense)

Not many stories this week, but they were all eventful. US digital health funding broke last year’s record after a shaky start, not including Doctor on Demand’s Series D. It took a while, but Walgreens’ struck hard with VillageMD primary care deal. Google may be stumbling with little Fitbit. And KCC innovates with video’phone’ tablets. 

News Roundup: Doctor on Demand’s $75M Series D, Google’s Fitbit buy scrutinized, $5.4 bn digital health funding breaks record (Three big stories)
Kent County Council announces videophones for vulnerable residents in £1.5 million COVID response initiative (UK) (2,000 of them)
Walgreens Boots goes big with billion-dollar medical office deal with VillageMD (See the competition move–and raise ’em)

And a bit more….

News roundup: Teladoc closes InTouch, Samsung bets on tele-genomics, SURE Recovery app, Optimize.health’s seed round, Walgreens’ Microsoft boost
Hackermania runs wild, Required Reading Department: The Anatomy of a Ransomware Attack (Weekend reading for you and your IT department)
aking: NHSX COVID contact tracing app exits stage left. Enter the Apple and Google dance team. (Not a surprise to anyone, and some changes made)

Another COVID casualty: a final decision on the Cigna-Anthem damages settlement (It’s only 3 years and billions at stake!)
Telehealth and the response to COVID-19 in Australia, UK, and US: the paper (Malcolm Fisk and team’s comparative study)

Have a job to fill? Seeking a position? Free listings available to match our Readers with the right opportunities. Email Editor Donna.


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Telehealth & Telecare Aware: covering the news on latest developments in telecare, telehealth, telemedicine and health tech, worldwide–thoughtfully and from the view of fellow professionals

Thanks for asking for update emails. Please tell your colleagues about this news service and, if you have relevant information to share with the rest of the world, please let me know.

Donna Cusano, Editor In Chief
donna.cusano@telecareaware.com

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Connected Health Summit 1-3 September goes virtual–now 50% off for TTA Readers!

Like every event this Editor can think of, research organization Parks Associates has repositioned its annual San Diego Connected Health Summit conference as virtual. The conference dates remain as 1-3 September as well as the focus on the impact of connected devices and IoT healthcare solutions on consumers at home, with a large helping of how connected health has responded to COVID.

The advantage of this, of course, is that our worldwide Readers can now attend.

The explosive growth of telehealth and funding in the past few months–10 years of growth in about three months as one observer put it earlier this year–is the latest development for this conference. For several years, Parks and the conference speakers have explored how the expansion of connected medical devices and telehealth services into the home, as well as the increasing movement of connected consumer devices into health and wellness, is growing new markets for independent living solutions that serve the elderly, patients with chronic conditions, rural households, and caretakers. 

Here’s an overview of the topics: 

  • COVID-19: Transforming the Healthcare Ecosystem
  • Telehealth and RPM: Moving to the Core of Healthcare Delivery
  • COVID-19: Seniors, Caregiving, and Independent Living Solutions
  • Home-centric Care: Activating the Ecosystem through Partnerships
  • Tracking Health: Technology, Privacy, and Pandemic
  • Future of Connected Health: Lessons Learned and New Innovations

Speakers are being drawn from a wide variety of companies from media (Comcast, Verizon), to payers and MSOs (Optum, Blue Shield of California, UnitedHealthcare), to health systems (Beth Israel Deaconess, Cincinnati Childrens’ Hospital) and monitoring/safety providers (TytoCare, GrandCare, BestBuy, Alarm.com). A full listing as of today is here.

Parks Associates has been covering the healthcare, health-at-home, and connected home sectors since 2006, which is almost as far back as this publication! TTA is pleased to rejoin the conference this year as a media supporter. Follow on Twitter at @CONN_Health_Smt  and #CONNHealth20. On LinkedIn, join the group here.

Registration here.  TTA Readers now enjoy 50% off the event cost–that is, a special rate of $250. Enter telecareaware20 in the promotional code field.

An admittedly skeptical take on the $18.5 billion Teladoc acquisition of Livongo (updated for additional analysis)

Gimlet EyeIs it time to call back The Gimlet Eye from her peaceful Remote Pacific Island? Shock acquisitions like Wednesday’s news that Teladoc is buying ‘applied health signals’ platform developer Livongo may compel this Editor to Send a Message by Carrier Seagull. 

Most of the articles (listed at the bottom) list the facts as Teladoc listed them in their announcement. We’ll recap ‘just the facts’ here, like Joe Friday of ‘Dragnet’ fame:  

  • The merged company will be called Teladoc and be headquartered in Purchase, NY. There is no mention of what will happen to operations and staff currently at Livongo’s Mountain View California HQ. 
  • The value of the acquisition is estimated at $18.5 bn, based on the value of Teladoc’s shares on 4 August. As both are public companies (Livongo IPO’d 25 July 2019, barely a year ago), each share of Livongo will be exchanged for 0.5920x shares of Teladoc plus cash consideration of $11.33 for each Livongo share. When completed, existing Teladoc shareholders will own 58 percent of the company and Livongo shareholders 42 percent. 
  • Closing is stated as expected to be in 4th Quarter 2020
  • Expected 2020 pro forma revenue is expected to be approximately $1.3 billion, representing year over year pro forma growth of 85 percent.

The combination of the two is, this Editor admits, a powerhouse and quite advantageous for both. It is also another sign that digital health is both contracting and recombining. Teladoc has over 70 million users in the US alone for telemedicine services and operates in 175 countries. Livongo is much smaller, with 410,000 diabetes users (up over 113 percent) and over 1,300 clients. They reported 2nd Q results on Tuesday with a revenue lift of 119 percent to $91.9 million but with a net loss of $1.6 million. 

What makes Livongo worth $18.5 bn for Teladoc? Livongo has made a major name (to be discarded, apparently) in first, diabetes management, but has broadened it into a category it calls ‘Applied Health Signals’. Most of us would call it chronic condition management using a combination of vital signs monitoring, patient data sets, and information from its health coaches to make recommendations and effect behavior change. Perhaps we should call it their ‘secret sauce’. For Teladoc, Livongo extends their virtual care services and provider network with a data-driven health management company not dependent on virtual visits, and integrates the virtual visit with Livongo’s coaching. It also puts Teladoc miles ahead of competition: soon-to-IPO Amwell, Doctor on Demand ($75 million Series D, partnerships with Walmart and Humana), MDLive, and ‘blank check’ SOC Telehealth. For Livongo’s main competitor in the diabetes area, Omada Health, it puts Omada certainly in a less competitive spot, or makes it attractive as an acquisition target.

It is also a huge bet that given the huge boost given by the COVID pandemic, the trend towards remote, consumer healthcare and management is unstoppable. Their projection is (from the release): expected 2020 pro forma revenue of approximately $1.3 billion, representing year over year pro forma growth of 85 percent; in year 2, revenue synergies of $100 million, reaching $500 million on a run rate basis by 2025. 

Taking a look at this acquisition between the press release and press coverage lines:

  • The market same day responded poorly to this acquisition. Teladoc was off nearly 19 percent, Livongo off 11 percent. (Shares typically recover next day in this pattern.) Livongo had, as mentioned, recently IPO’d and was experiencing excellent growth compared to Teladoc which was boosted by the pandemic lockdown. This Editor also recalls Teladoc’s financial difficulties in late 2018 with the resignation of its COO/CFO on insider trading and #MeToo charges.
  • The projected closing is fast for a merger of this size–five months.
    • Teladoc does business in the Medicare (Federal) and Medicaid (state) segments. It would surprise this Editor if the acquisition does not require review on the Federal (CMS, DOJ) and state health insurance levels, in addition to the SEC.
    • Merging the two organizations operationally and experiencing all those synergies is not done quickly, and cannot officially happen until after the closing. A lot is done formally behind the scenes as permitted, which has the effect of hitting the rest of the company like a hammer.
  • Unusually, the release does not advise on what Livongo senior executives, including Livongo founder Glen Tullman and CEO Zane Burke, will be coming over to Teladoc. The only sharing announced will be on the Board of Directors. It’s quite an exit for the senior Livongo staff.
  • Both have grown through acquisition. These typically present small to large organizational problems in merging the operations of these companies yet another time into yet another structure. There’s also always some level of client discomfiture in these mergers as they are also the last ones to know.
    • Livongo bought myStrength in 2019, RetroFit in 2018, and Diabeto in 2017. 
    • Teladoc just closed on 1 August its acquisition of far smaller, specialized hospital/health system telehealth provider InTouch Health. Originally a bargain (in retrospect) at $600 million in $150M cash and 4.6 million shares of TDOC stock, after 1 July’s closing, due to the rise in Teladoc’s stock, the cost ballooned to well over $1bn.
  • Neither company has ever been profitable

Your Editor can speak personally and recently to the wrench in the works that acquisitions/mergers of this size present to both organizations. Livongo is a relatively young and entrepreneurial organization in California with about 700 employees, compared to Teladoc’s approximately 2,000 or more internationally. Their communications and persona stress strong mission-driven qualities. On both sides, but especially on the acquired company side, people have to do their short and long term work amid the uncertainty of what this will mean to them. Senior management is distracted in endless meetings on what the merged organization will look like–departments, where will they be, who stays, who is packaged out, and when. Especially when the press releases make a point of compatible cultures, on the contrary, you may be assured that the cultures are very different. The bottom line: companies do not achieve $60 million in cost synergies without interrupting the careers of more than a few of their employees.

Another delicate area is Livongo’s client base, both individual and enterprise. How they are being communicated with is not necessarily skillful and reassuring. Often this part is delayed because the people who do this in the field aren’t prepared.

One has to admire Teladoc, almost without needing a breath, coming up with $18.5 billion quite that quickly from their financing partners after the InTouch acquisition. The growth claimed for the combined organization is extremely aggressive, on top of already aggressive projections for them separately. It’s 18x 2021 enterprise value to sales (EV/S) targets. The premium paid on the Livongo shares is also stunning: $159 per share including $550 million in convertible debt.  If patients start to return to offices and urgent care, Teladoc may have trouble meeting its aggressive goals factored into both share prices, as Seeking Alpha will explain.

Editor’s final comment: In the early stage of her marketing career, this Editor had a seat on the sidelines to much the same happening in the post-deregulation airline business–debt, buyouts, LBOs, and huge financings. Then there is the morning after when it’s all sorted out.

Wednesday’s coverage: TechCrunch, Investors Business Daily, STATNews, mHealth Intelligence, FierceHealthcare, MotleyFool.com

Joint announcement website    Investor Presentation    Hat tip to an industry observer Reader for assistance with the financial analysis.

While telehealth virtual office visits flatten, overall up 300-fold; FCC finalizes COVID-19 telehealth funding program (US)

As expected, the trend of telehealth visits versus in-person is flattening as primary care offices and urgent care clinics reopen. Yet the overall trend is up through May–a dizzying 300-fold, as tracked by the new Epic Health Research Network (EHRN–yes, that Epic). Their analysis compares 15 March-8 May 2020 to the same dates in 2019 using data from 22 health systems in 17 states which cover seven million patients. It also constructs a visit diagnosis profile comparison, which leads with hypertension, hyperlipidemia, pain, and diabetes–with the 2020 addition of — unsurprisingly — anxiety.

POLITICO Future Pulse analyzed EHRN data into July (which was not located in a cross-check by this Editor) and came up with its usual ‘the cup has a hole in it’ observation: “TELEHEALTH BOOM BUST”. But that is absolutely in line with the Commonwealth Fund/Phreesia/Harvard study which as we noted tailed off as a percentage of total visits by 46 percent [TTA 1 July]. But even POLITICO’s gloomy headline can’t conceal that telehealth in the 37 healthcare systems surveyed was a flatline up to March and leveled off to slightly below the 2 million visit peak around 15 April. 

Where POLITICO’s gloom ‘n’ doom is useful is in the caution of why telehealth has fallen off, other than the obvious of offices reopening. There’s the post-mortem experience of smaller practices which paints an unflattering picture of unreadiness, rocky starts, and unaffordability:

  • Skype and FaceTime are not permanent solutions, as not HIPAA-compliant
  • New telehealth software can cost money. However, this Editor also knows from her business experience that population health software often has a HIPAA-compliant telehealth module which is relatively simple to use and is usually free.
  • It’s the training that costs, more in time than money. If the practice is in a value-based care model, that is done by market staff either from the management services organization (MSO) or the software provider.
  • Reimbursement. Even with CMS loosening requirements and coding, it moved so quickly that providers haven’t been reimbursed properly.
  • Equipment and broadband access. Patients, especially older patients, don’t all have smartphones or tablets. Not everyone has Wi-Fi or enough data–or that patient lives in a 2-bar area. Some practices aren’t on EHRs either.
  • Without RPM, accurate device integration, and an integrated tracking platform, F2F telehealth can only be a virtual visit without monitoring data.

Perhaps not wanting to paint a totally doomy picture (advertising sponsorship, perhaps?), the interview with Ed Lee, the head of Kaiser Permanente’s telehealth program, confirmed that the past few months were extraordinary for them, even with a decent telehealth base. “We were seeing somewhere around 18 percent of telehealth [visits] pre-covid. Around the height of it, we’re seeing 80 percent.” They also have pilots in place to put technology in the homes of those who need it, and realize its limitations.

Speaking of limitations, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) COVID-19 Telehealth Program, authorized by the CARES Act, is over and out. The final tranche consisted of 25 applications for the remaining $10.73 million, with a final total of 539 funding applications up to the authorized $200 million. Applicants came from 47 states, Washington, DC, and Guam. FCC release. To no one’s surprise, 40 Congresscritters want to extend it as a ‘bold step’ but are first demanding that Chair Ajit Pai do handsprings and provide all sorts of information on the reimbursement program which does not provide upfront money but reimburses eligible expenditures. That will take a few months. You’d think they’d read a few things on the FCC website first. mHealth Intelligence

FCC approves 70 more COVID-19 telehealth funding applications for an additional $32 million

The US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) today (1 July) approved 70 additional applications for funding telehealth during the COVID-19 pandemic. This funding covers both urban and rural providers, from large health systems to local community health centers. The funds for this thirteenth group totals $31.63 million of the $189.27 million in total funds awarded. To date, the FCC’s COVID-19 Telehealth Program, authorized by the CARES Act, has approved 514 funding applications in 46 states plus Washington, D.C. Equipment covered includes telehealth, computers, smartphones, tablets, remote patient monitoring equipment, and software.

A small sample of this group of healthcare organizations:

  •  Avera Health, South Dakota
  • Barnabas Health in NJ for remote patient monitoring equipment
  • Boston Children’s Hospital
  • Greater Philadelphia Health Action
  • Lehigh Valley Health Network in Allentown PA
  • Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx, NY
  • Ryan Health in Manhattan
  • University of Alabama at Birmingham Hospital
  • UPMC in Harrisburg PA

FCC release. Full list of Telehealth Program recipients here.

COVID effect on US practices: in-person visits down 37%, telehealth peaks at 14%; ATA asks Congress to make expansion permanent

A Commonwealth Fund/Harvard University/Phreesia tracking study of outpatient visits in 50,000 US healthcare practices, specialty as well as primary care, has tracked the effect of the COVID pandemic on practice visits during the period 8 March through 20 June. Using as their baseline the week of 1-7 March, which was the last ‘normal’ week in line with February, the results are not unexpected:

  • From 15 March to 20 June (three months), practice visits, including telehealth, plummeted 37 percent
  • Disproportionately affected were pediatricians, pulmonologists, and surgical specialties such as orthopedics
  • Against the baseline, week of 14 June visits are still down 11 percent
  • The nadir was 29 March, off 59 percent
  • The rebound tracks the same by US region, with the least dip in South Central and Mountain regions. (The most affected, of course, are New England-Mid-Atlantic and Pacific, with the highest COVID rates and the least rebound.)
  • Looking at the ‘rebound week’ of 14 June, the effects linger on in pediatrics, pulmonology, and (interestingly) behavioral health. (Anecdotally, behavioral health patients are continuing with telehealth for convenience versus the physical visit.)
  • Telehealth visits took off starting 8 March and at their peak were 13.9 percent of visits (19 April)
  • Since 26 April, telehealth visits have declined as in-person visits resume, and are at 7.4 percent as of 14 June (46.7 percent less). However, compared to the baseline of nearly zero (0.1 percent), it’s nearly a 140 percent increase.

Phreesia is a scheduling and patient check-in platform. The practices surveyed are Phreesia clients, covering 1,600 provider organizations, with 50,000 providers in 50 states.

Physicians were also interviewed as part of the study. The office operation has had to change, and the patient experience in returning to practices is very different. Making up deferred care is complicated, and precautions to mitigate risk of viral transmission inevitably slow care down. 

Much of the press around this study is that telehealth is receding quickly. As a trend in an extraordinary time when there was no alternative, as practices reopen a shift back to the office is to be expected, and often there is no substitute for in-person exams and procedures. Still, there are elements of long-term uncertainty on the future of practice telehealth. Both CMS and payers announced that payments for telehealth (audio/visual and telephone only) would remain in place only for the duration of the pandemic. What are their long term plans? Providers are having difficulty getting paid or paid enough even in parity states. State Medicaid presents even more of an unwanted ‘discount’.  Telehealth also demands a commitment to (ultimately) a HIPAA-compliant platform, workflow/staff support, and input in the practice’s EMR/population health platform. STAT, HealthcareITNews

The American Telehealth Association (ATA), coming off their virtual annual meeting last week, sent a letter to Congress with 340 signatories supporting a permanent expansion of telehealth after the public health emergency (PHE) ends in four priority areas:

  • Remove location restrictions 
  • Maintain HHS authority to determine eligible practitioners who may furnish clinically appropriate telehealth services
  • Authorize Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHC) and Rural Health Clinics (RHC) to furnish telehealth services 
  • Make permanent the HHS Temporary Waiver Authority to respond to emergencies

Release and letter

The TeleDentists now in 14 states with Anthem

Updating our May article about The TeleDentists expanding their coverage via Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield (BCBS), our initial information was that Anthem was offering teledentistry in only nine states. The current total since May is actually 14 states and covers by state and plan:

  • CA – Anthem Blue Cross
  • CO, CT, GA, IN, KY, ME, MO, NH, NV, OH, VA, WI – Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield
  • NY – Empire BlueCross BlueShield

Part of this Editor’s puzzlement is that each health plan issues releases for its plan by state, and when our original article was written, only nine states had issued releases. This is in addition to their agreement with Cigna in employer-sponsored plans announced in April [TTA 15 April]. Hat tip to FischTank PR’s Kate Caruso-Sharpe for the update on behalf of Anthem.

ATA’s annual conference now 22-26 June–and fully virtual; announces three awards and Fellows

The American Telemedicine Association has reimagined their annual conference and gone fully virtual–including an exhibit hall and poster displays. This year’s theme is “Moving at the Speed of Innovation…. Accelerating Telehealth Adoption”–if it hasn’t accelerated enough during the COVID pandemic, there’s always consolidating the gains.

Perhaps due to the complete cancellation of HIMSS and the addition of Joe Kvedar, MD, incoming ATA President, this year’s ATA has a five-day menu of healthcare leaders and over 300 speakers in 100+ sessions. Here’s a sample from the keynotes:

  • Ken Abrams, MD, Chief Medical Officer, Deloitte Consulting
  • Rachel Dunscombe, CEO, NHS Digital Academy; Tektology
  • Jesse Ehrenfeld, MD, Chair, AMA Board of Trustees
  • Thomas Goetz, Chief of Research, GoodRx
  • Jennifer Goldsack, Executive Director, Digital Medicine Society
  • Victoria Guyatt, Head of Ethnography, IPSOS
  • Joe Kvedar, MD, Professor, Harvard Medical School; Senior Advisor, Mass General Brigham (Partners HealthCare); Incoming President, the ATA
  • Ali Parsa, Founder and CEO, Babylon Health
  • Suchi Saria, Assoc. Professor, Machine Learning & Data Intensive Computing Group, Johns Hopkins University and Bayesian Health
  • Jennifer Schneider, MD, President, Livongo
  • Michelle Segar, Director, Univ. of Michigan Sport, Health and Activity Research & Policy Center
  • Jeroen Tas, Chief Innovation & Strategy Officer, Philips Healthcare

Registration is priced gently at $450. Full information, schedule, and registration here.

ATA 2020 Awards

The ATA Champion award this year is to the Veterans Health Administration, US Department of Veterans Affairs. The VA has been a leader in telehealth and store-forward technologies since, well, 2002 or so. VA Video Connect last year had 1.3 million appointments. (Sadly, your Editor’s former company, Viterion, which pioneered with VA in a RPM platform, is not currently a telehealth/RPM vendor–VA’s sole vendor is Medtronic.)

The President’s Award for the Transformation of Healthcare Delivery went to The Children’s Health Virtual Care Program at Children’s Health in Dallas. They have pioneered telemedicine programs for children.

The ATA’s Woman of the Year is  Tania S. Malik, J.D., an entrepreneur and a lawyer focused on healthcare, and specifically, telehealth solutions that facilitate online patient-provider interactions for primary care, mental health treatment, and naturopathic and integrated medicine.

Six Fellows were also named to ATA’s College of Fellows. Release.

 

Telehealth and the response to COVID-19 in Australia, UK, and US: the paper

Published last week in the Journal of Internet Research (JMIR) is the study by Malcolm Fisk, PhD which TTA previewed last month on telehealth’s part in the two-week response, starting 12 March, in response to COVID-19 in Australia, UK, and the US. Malcolm Fisk, PhD, who our readers know as Senior Researcher at the De Montfort University in Leicester, led a group from Australia in comparing these three countries in including telehealth in their responses to the pandemic. It looks at how telehealth models were used, awareness of the role of telehealth in response, and how restrictions previously in place were dealt with. 

The study’s conclusions, briefly summarized:

  • Australia: immediately funded on 11 March with AUS $100 million (US $68 million) a “new Medicare service,” at no cost for patients, for telehealth consultations. Telehealth in Australia is well developed, particularly in rural areas, for health and social care needs. The added funding will aid in the rollout.
  • UK: at the same time, the UK was in a ‘containment’ phase with the PM’s admission that “many more families will lose loved ones before their time”. At that point, telehealth was not in the plans, but the Imperial College projections and recommendations on home quarantining and ‘social distancing’ severely affected the most vulnerable, older people. COVID wound up being quite a jolt to the NHS since telehealth is underdeveloped in most of the UK with the exception being Scotland. Clinicians to this point did not see a need, and many older people do not have access to smartphones, tablets, or the internet. Intents are good–NHSX and the Topol Report setting a framework for telehealth–but to this point telehealth rollout is limited.
  • US: 17 March could be called ‘Telehealth on Steroids’ Day, as CMS announced the ‘dramatic’ expansion of telehealth services via non HIPAA compliant platforms such as Skype and Facetime for Medicare, retroactive to 6 March. Telehealth mushroomed starting 11 March in hospitals first, reporting 15 and 20-fold increases in telehealth consults. Then CDC and the AARP got on board. The US has an uneven system, between differences in state parity reimbursement, Medicare concentrating on rural health, state Medicaid, private pay, and integrated hospital systems’ approaches. What holds telehealth back are providers and areas in the US that simply do not have the internet connectivity that telehealth consults demand.

Good reading. Telehealth in the Context of COVID-19: Changing Perspectives in Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States Hat tip to Dr. Fisk for sending it our way!

Optum buys naviHealth for reported $1 billion; Amwell raises $194 million in Series C

In non-COVID-19 news, Optum has confirmed to industry press that they have acquired post-acute management company naviHealth. Becker’s HealthIT cites sources that the purchase price is in the vicinity of $1 billion. Continuing their PAC-MAN path, this pharmacy benefit, population health, and care services wing of UnitedHealth Group in the past six months finalized the purchase of DaVita Medical Group from renal treatment giant DaVita for over $4.3 bn and is reportedly closing on a full acquisition of virtual behavioral health provider AbleTo [TTA 29 Apr] for a less stunning $470 million.

naviHealth provides post-acute care clinical decision-making tools that manage pre and post-acute care as part of value-based care programs such as the Bundled Payments for Care Improvement (BPCI) program with CMS. Their customer base includes health plans (4.5 million members within Medicare Advantage alone), over 140 hospitals, and post-acute care providers such as nursing homes, LTC facilities, rehabilitation, and home health. The company will retain current management and staff, and operate as a stand-alone company within OptumHealth. It’s a well-paid exit for Cardinal Health and Clayton, Dubilier & Rice. Also MedCityNews

Amwell raises $194 million in a second Series C. The former American Well did not need telehealth to receive a gratifying boost from its investors Allianz X and Takeda Pharmaceuticals. This follows on a February $60 million venture round from Chetrit Ventures (BostInno). Amwell has raised $711 million in nine funding rounds (Crunchbase). Their main business has been with payers, health systems, and employers. In April, they added a branded program, Amwell Private Practice, for practices under 100 providers for these mostly shuttered offices to reach their patients at home and to continue care. Release, Mobihealthnews.

Founder of Call9 springing back with Curve Health for nursing home telemedicine

Tim Peck MD, founder of Call9, which provided in-facility emergency care staff with telehealth capability for nursing homes, announced a new venture also targeted to nursing home/skilled nursing home (SNF) and rehabilitative health. Curve Health will provide telemedicine and health information exchange technology to SNFs and physician groups. Physicians calling on SNF patients will be able to access patient information before a telemedicine visit. According to Dr. Peck, Curve Health’s telehealth and HIE software are built on that of Call9’s. POLITICO Morning e-Health.

Call9 closed operations last July after four years and $34 million in investment. It achieved some success in New York state, covering 3,700 beds and a total of 11,000 patients treated. While they experienced measurable success–in a 200-bed SNF, they achieved a 50 percent reduction in ER admissions and a savings of $8M per year–made inroads with major payers like Anthem and Healthfirst plus expanded into community telemedicine, it ran into a funding wall all too common with this sector. While the book of business was decent and they had gone through two well-funded rounds, Call9 could not move easily into a Series C. Value-based care is a great buzzword and beloved by CMS, but it is a long payout curve, too long for many investors. More discussion on this is in our article 26 June 2019

It is a shame as New York has been the epicenter of COVID-19 nursing home fatalities, due to a foolish (and this Editor is understating) state mandate of returning recovering patients right back to their nursing homes, which could not provide the level of care or isolate them. These patients often worsened, but also infected other patients and staff. Perhaps this could have been mitigated by Call9 or similar–but likely not.

Sadly, there’s a spotlight on nursing homes, rehabs, and LTC because of this pandemic. We look forward to more news from Dr. Peck and Curve Health in this specialized and underserved area of telehealth.

Telehealth and the response to COVID-19 in Australia, UK, and US: video

Malcolm Fisk, whom our Readers know as Senior Researcher at the De Montfort University in Leicester, was kind enough to forward information on a recent video interview with André Martinuzzi of the Living Innovation Project, a Europe-wide innovation group with 14 partners ‘co-creating the way we will live in 2030’.

This 17:30-minute video covers a lot of ground on the UK response to the coronavirus (the uncertainty as of mid-April), how the UK, US, and Australia have used telehealth in response, and how telehealth can ‘stick’ after the crisis, but only if we design an inclusive infrastructure. You can view the video on the Living Innovation page by clicking on ‘View Video’ on the upper right hand side, or go directly to YouTube.

There’s a brief preview in the video of Dr. Fisk’s paper (awaiting publication, co-authored with Anne Livingstone and Sabrina Pit) on ‘Telehealth in the Context of COVID-19: Changing Perspectives in Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States’. Telehealth was very rapidly put into use for diagnosis, monitoring, and home treatment of COVID patients. Restrictions were lifted and investments made in communicating the availability of telehealth. However, the infrastructure for telehealth is strained, especially in the US with a mixed, primarily private model dependent on payers or individuals paying per virtual visit. In the UK, health trusts have encouraged the use of telephonic and audio/video models. In Australia, telehealth, particularly in remote areas, is well established. TTA will keep Readers posted on the publication of this paper. A big hat tip to Malcolm Fisk.

10 years in 2 months: prognosticating the longer-term effect of COVID-19 on telehealth, practices, and hospitals

crystal-ballThis Editor recounted last night in the article below on The TeleDentists’ fresh agreements with Cigna and Anthem the observation of a former associate who has been in the thick of the remote patient monitoring wars for some years that telehealth/telemedicine has progressed 10 years in 2 months. Seema Verma, the head of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), stated to the Wall Street Journal (paywalled),  “I think the genie’s out of the bottle on this one. I think it’s fair to say that the advent of telehealth has been just completely accelerated, that it’s taken this crisis to push us to a new frontier, but there’s absolutely no going back.” Even in a short period of time, CMS-reported telehealth visits as of 28 March trebled from 100,000 to 300,000. When the April numbers are in, it would not be surprising to see it grow well into seven figures.

The genie may be out of the bottle, but what will the genie do? Genies are, after all, unpredictable, and fly around.  Out of the smoke, some educated guesses:

  • Insecure, non-HIPAA compliant audio/video platforms will be the first which should be struck from CMS approval. Zoom has become a hackfest, with all sorts of alerts from mobile providers like Verizon on how to secure your phone. (An organization of which this Editor is a member had a panel this week completely disrupted by a hacker in five minutes.) Skype’s problems are well known. The winners here will be telehealth platforms that integrate well with EHRs, population health platforms (or may be part of population health platforms), and have robust security.
  • Primary care practices and specialists, who’ve been surviving on non-F2F visits, will be adjusting their practices to patient demand, and integrating telehealth with physical visits in a way that their patients will prefer. This means a search for integration of EMRs/EHRs with secure platforms and reconfiguring areas such as care coordination. If planned correctly, this could create better management of patients with multiple chronic conditions.
  • Actual physical visits will rebound, creating financial pressure on Medicare, hospitals, and private payers. How many people’s health has declined in two-three months is key. Small practices, who may see this first, will see another level of pressure, because they will be held to their Medicare quality metrics in value-based models even if adjusted. Hospitals will also rebound–if they are able. The dark side: private payers may run the numbers and scale back on benefits for the 2021 year especially if COVID is projected to make a return.
  • Behavioral health may benefit, yet drive individual practices and a wave of retirements, or a consolidation into clinic or group settings. There’s a reason why Optum is buying out AbleTo; we may see a wave of competitor acquisitions in this area with the emphasis will be on cognitive health and short courses. Why retirements? Many psychiatric practices are still independent, concentrated geographically, and the average psychiatrist is over 50. Psychiatric EHRs are both costly and not particularly suited to practices. If faced with technological challenges, a lot of MDs and senior clinical psychologists may very well exit–threatening clinics which need MDs to legally operate.
  • Rural health’s failure accelerated. USA Today’s analysis pinpointed at least 100 rural hospitals to close within the year. They already operated on thin margins, but with COVID expenses for additional equipment, the closing down of more profitable elective procedures and dependence on Medicaid, the over 1,100 unprofitable hospitals, over half of which are the only hospital in their county, have received a body blow. HHS allocated $10 billion to rural hospitals and clinics of the $100 billion aid package, but it may be too little and too late. Becker’s Hospital Review continues to track the bankruptcies and closures. Here there are no easy solutions from the digital health area.
  • A culture of cleanliness should accelerate. If the genie pulls this out of the bottle, one major benefit will be that hospital-acquired infections will decline. Effective sanitization methods that reduce human application and scrubbing will be the ones to look at: disinfecting foggers and UV full room or area systems–or combinations of same. Cleanliness and lack of virii and bacteria may become a new metric. Look and bet on companies that can provide this, from rooms to computers/mobile tablets and phones.

Readers can help with these prognostications and especially how they will play out not only in the US, but also in the UK, Europe, and worldwide.

FCC opens application window for $200 million telehealth cost reimbursement program

In more COVID related news, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will be administering the $200 million allocated by the CARES Act to fund telehealth related expenses for providers to furnish connected care for patients. The program will fully fund practices and health systems in telecommunications services, information services, and devices necessary to provide critical connected care services. Funding will continue through the national health emergency or until the program funds have been fully spent out.

The application period opened on Monday 13 April. Applicants can download a fillable PDF form linked to the FCC’s program web page, but before they do that, there’s several pre-requirements typical of any Federal program:

  • Obtain an FCC Registration Number (FRN) from the Commission Registration System (CORES), as well as a CORES username and password at that link. An FRN is a 10-digit number that is assigned to a business or individual registering with the FCC and is used to identify the registrant’s business dealings with the FCC.
  • Obtain an eligibility determination from the Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC) by filing FCC Form 460 through My Portal on USAC’s webpage. (Filers do not need to be rural health care providers in order to file Form 460 for this program.)
  • Register with the federal System for Award Management (SAM)

When approved, the program operates as a reimbursement program where approved providers will have to submit invoices and supporting documentation which are also subject to audit.

FAQs are linked here. Also HISTalk.

Cigna launches dental telehealth with Dental Virtual Care–including The TeleDentists

In the US, most insurance payers have been responding to the COVID-19 pandemic by waiving cost-sharing, such as deductibles and co-pays, for coronavirus treatment–and also waiving co-pays for medical telemedicine/telehealth visits for any reason. A medical area that hasn’t been considered previously, but is becoming more important as restrictions continue, is dental treatment. Nearly all dental practices have been shut or open for emergency treatment only since mid-March.

Cigna is possibly the first payer to innovate a Dental Virtual Care program for emergency care using its own dental network and that of The TeleDentists [TTA 19 June 19]–and at no cost through 31 May. (For instance, The TeleDentists’ average consult cost is $69.) Cigna’s 16 million members of their employer-sponsored insurance plans are eligible for the program. 

Teledentristry is designed for urgent situations, such as pain, infection, and swelling, and to avoid an initial visit to the ER. The visit is done through a video consult plus chat (TeleDentists uses the VSee platform) to evaluate the plan member, then to guide on next steps. If necessary, the dentist will prescribe medications, such as antibiotics and non-narcotic pain relievers.

The program will continue later than 31 May subject to state regulations and benefit plans as part of Cigna Dental Health Connect. Cigna release. Hat tip to CEO Howard Reis.