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: 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.

After the COVID Deluge: a Topol-esque view of what (tele)medicine will look like

A typically cheery view by Eric Topol, MD of what medical practice will look like after COVID is over. With the full court press to go remote in hospitals and practices worldwide, telehealth and telemedicine has gone fast forward in a matter of under two months. But what will it look like after it’s over? Most of what the good doctor is prognosticating will be familiar to our Readers who’ve followed him for years–certainly he was right on mobile health overall and especially AliveCor/Kardia Mobile— but not so on point with mobile body scanners (anyone remember VScan?)

When the high tide recedes, what will the beach look like?

  • “Telemedicine will play the role of the first consultation, akin to the house-call of yore.” (Terminology note–interesting that Dr. T still uses ‘telemedicine’ versus ‘telehealth’–Ed.)
  • Chatbots will serve as screeners–once they are proven to be effective (a ways to go here, as the Babylon debate rages on)
  • Smartphones will be the hub, connecting with all sorts of monitoring devices (the ‘connected health’ Tyto Care and Vivify Health model–which makes the Editor’s former company, the late Viterion Digital Health, even more of a pioneer that died crossing the Donner Pass of 2016)
  • Smartwatches are also part of this hub (this Editor remains a skeptic) 
  • Now is the time to harness technology by both health systems and individual practices, but multiple barriers remain. (This Editor can speak to the difficulties for both primary care and specialty practices in not only practice but also reimbursement–and acceptance by patients.) Device expense is also a problem for the non-affluent.

As to the rest, it is pretty much what we’ve heard from Dr. T before.  The Economist

Your Editor will add:

  • Easy to use, secure platforms that don’t put users through multiple security steps remain a concern for users. This Editor’s concern is that easy to use = insecure. Skype and Zoom are inherently insecure–Skype’s user unfriendliness and insecurity outside enterprise platforms and Zoom’s major security problems on its platform and user flaws are well-known (ZDNet).
  • Reimbursement, again! CMS has done a creditable job in broadening reimbursement for telehealth a/v and telephonic services, but coding remains a nightmare for practices struggling to remain open and with some lights on. After COVID, will CMS and HHS get religion, or put it right back in its rural bottle? Covered in the CARES Act passed at the close of March, $200 million sounds like a lot from the FCC to bankroll telecom equipment for providers, but these funds will go quickly. At least they are not delayed in endless rule making, as the Connected Care Pilot Program has been for two years. Mobihealthnews 

CMS clarifies telehealth policy expansion for Medicare in COVID-19 health emergency, including non-HIPAA compliant platforms (US)

Today (17 March), the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) issued a Fact Sheet and FAQs explaining how the expanded telehealth provisions under the Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act and the temporary 1135 waiver will work. The main change is to (again) temporarily expand real-time audio/video telehealth consults in all areas of the country and in all settings. The intent is to maintain routine care of beneficiaries (patients), curb community spread of the virus through travel and in offices, limit spread to healthcare providers, and to keep vulnerable beneficiaries, or those with mild symptoms, at home. Usage is not limited to those who suspect or already are ill with COVID-19.

Previously, only practices in designated rural health areas were eligible for telehealth services, in addition to designated medical facilities (physician office, skilled nursing facility, hospital) where a patient would be furnished with a virtual visit. 

The key features of the 1135 telehealth waiver are (starting 6 March):

  • Interactive, real-time audio/video consults between the provider’s location (termed a ‘distant site’) anywhere in the US and the beneficiary (patient) at home will now be reimbursed. The patient will not be required to go to a designated medical facility.
  • Providers include physicians and certain non-physician practitioners such as nurse practitioners, physician assistants and certified nurse-midwives. Other providers such as licensed clinical social workers (LCSW) and nutritionists may furnish services within their scope of practice and consistent with Medicare benefit rules.
  • Surprisingly, there is ‘enforcement discretion’ on the requirement existing in the waiver that there be a prior relationship with the provider. CMS will not audit for claims during the emergency. (FAQ #7)
  • Even more surprisingly, the requirement that the audio/visual platform be HIPAA-compliant, as enforced by the HHS Office of Civil Rights (OCR), is also being waived for the duration (enforcement discretion again), which enables providers to use Apple FaceTime, Facebook Messenger video chat, Google Hangouts video, or Skype–but not public-facing platforms such as Facebook Live, Twitch, or TikTok. Telephones may be used as explicitly stated in the waiver in Section 1135(b) of the Social Security Act. (FAQ #8) More information on HHS’ emergency preparedness page and OCR’s Notification of Enforcement Discretion.
  • On reimbursement, “Medicare coinsurance and deductible would generally apply to these services. However, the HHS Office of Inspector General (OIG) is providing flexibility for healthcare providers to reduce or waive cost-sharing for telehealth visits paid by federal healthcare programs.”

Concerns for primary care practices of course are readiness for real-time audio/video consults, largely addressed by permitting telephones to be used, as well as Skype and FaceTime, and what services (routine care and COVID-19 diagnosis) will be offered to patients.

This significant expansion will remain in place until the end of the emergency (PHE) as determined by the Secretary of HHS.

In 2019, CMS also expanded telehealth in certain areas, such as Virtual Check-Ins, which are short (5-10 minute) patient-initiated communications with a healthcare practitioner which can be by phone or video/image exchange by the patient. This could be ideal for wound care where this Editor has observed, in one of her former companies, how old phones are utilized to send wound images to practices for an accurate ongoing evaluation via special software. E-Visits use online patient portals for asynchronous, non-face-to-face communications, initiated by the patient. These both require an established physician-patient relationship. Further details on both of these are in the Fact Sheet, the FAQs, and the HHS Emergency Preparedness page with links.

The American Medical Association issued a statement today approving of the policy changes, and encouraged private payers to also cover telehealth. The American Telemedicine Association didn’t expand upon its 5 March statement praising the passage of the Act but advocated for increased cross-state permission for telehealth consults.

Additional information at HISTalk today and Becker’s Hospital Review.

100% increase in physician telehealth and virtual care usage in three years: AMA study

The American Medical Association’s newest physician survey has a lot of good news for those of us in healthcare tech. It found greater across-the-board physician adoption of digital tools, whether virtual consults, patient visits, adoption of patient portals, workflow enhancements, or clinical decision support.

While current usage was greatest for other tools, the greatest increases were virtual visits via telemedicine, doubling from 14 percent to 28 percent, and remote monitoring for improved care from 13 percent to 22 percent of the over 1,300 physicians surveyed in both years. 

AMA last surveyed physicians on their digital health adoption in 2016. Both the 2019 and 2016 surveys were performed by WebMD and examined seven key digital tools. In current use, 2019/2016:

  1. Remote monitoring for efficiency: 16%/12%
  2. Remote monitoring and management for improved care: 22%/13%
  3. Clinical decision support: 37%/28%
  4. Patient engagement: 33%/26%
  5. Tele-visits/virtual visits: 28%/14%
  6. Point of care/Workflow enhancement: 47%/42%
  7. Consumer access to clinical data: 58%/53%

Also notable was that primary care physicians (PCPs) see greater advantages in digital health more than specialists, though in top two boxes, they are equal. Multi-specialty groups like digital health best.

Providing remote care is also a driver for digital health adoption, the only one which increased several points in the very/somewhat important indicator.

Not surprisingly, older physicians are less enthusiastic about digital health, but they have increased adoption much in line with younger cohorts.

And way back in the appendix of the study, doctors look to emerging technologies to assist them with their chronic care patients, with millenials not that far behind.

Articles: Health Data Management, HealthLeaders
Study: Summary, AMA Digital Health Study 2019

Consolidation crunch time in telehealth: Teladoc acquires InTouch Health for $600 million

Announced on Sunday just in time for Monday’s start of the annual, breathlessly awaited JP Morgan healthcare conference where ‘middle America’ ‘flyover’ companies are now the hot thing, was the acquisition by decidedly not-flyover Teladoc (Purchase, NY) of InTouch Health (Santa Barbara CA). InTouch is a mid-sized company for primarily hospital and health system-based telehealth. The purchase price was $150 million in cash and the remainder in Teladoc common stock, scheduled to close next quarter.

InTouch had made acquisitions of its own in 2018: REACH Health (enterprise telehealth) and TruClinic (DTC telehealth). Unusually, it also came fairly unencumbered by outside funding–only $49 million to date.

Telehealth and telemedicine are both rapidly consolidating and growing horizontally into payers (Teladoc and Aetna), corporate, and health systems.

An analysis over at Seeking Alpha emphasizes InTouch’s enterprise business as the charm for Teladoc, leading to a purchase price 7.5x revenue based on InTouch Health’s 2019 revenue of $80mm. InTouch had, with TruClinic, built itself up into a comprehensive system for over 450 hospitals reaching to the patient, but also developed specialty telehealth areas in stroke, behavioral health, critical care, neonatology, and cardiology. In their view for investors, the news is quite positive for Teladoc as–returning to JP Morgan–40 percent of hospitals expect to increase their telemedicine budgets. Release, MedCityNews

Tyto Care partners with Avera eCARE for telehealth delivered to medically underserved populations

Following on last week’s announcement of Tyto Care‘s partnership with Novant Health, Sioux Falls SD-based telemedicine provider Avera eCARE will be introducing Tyto Care’s professional version, TytoPro, into its telemedicine service using high-definition video for virtual consults. What TytoPro will add is remote diagnostic capability and collection via the TytoVisit platform, using the TytoApp and Clinician dashboard. Avera will use TytoPro’s hand-held device with exam camera, thermometer, otoscope, stethoscope (with volume, bell, and diaphragm filters), and tongue depressor adaptors.

In a test of Avera eCARE plus Tyto Care in an assisted living community, the pairing of the two systems reduced emergency department transfers by 20 percent, with 93% of residents treated in place.

Avera eCARE, a part of Avera Health, provides telemedicine services to medically underserved populations via local healthcare systems, rural hospitals, outpatient clinics, skilled nursing facilities, assisted living communities, schools, and correctional facilities. It has over 400 providers in its comprehensive virtual health network across the US. A ‘white paper’ on the Avera/Tyto Care partnership is here. Release 

A realistic look at why telemedicine isn’t succeeding in nursing homes

It’s the reimbursement. Telemedicine in nursing homes by specialists on call seems like a natural. A nursing home resident is usually older and frail. Nursing homes don’t generally have doctors in the facility; only 10 percent are estimated to have on-site doctors. A telemedicine consult administered by a nurse or even a trained assistant can provide proactive, just-in-time care, and possibly prevent an expensive hospital/ER visit–two-thirds of which may be potentially avoidable. That ER visit also can start a disastrous and expensive decline in the resident. 

So the problem in the stars is…economics.What insurance companies pay for telehealth/telemedicine services. It varies if the patient is covered by Medicare, Medicaid, or dual-eligible–and also by private or LTC insurance. Some providers and payers are engaged with value-based care and payment models–others are not. CMS is concerned that telehealth drives up costs, not reduces them. Finally, administrators and nursing/clinical staff in the facility are not necessarily comfortable with technology in general. (Excel spreadsheets are, believe it or not, foreign to many.)

As Readers know, Call 9 couldn’t figure out the reimbursement problem nor how to keep up with payer demands–and ceased business [TTA 26 June]. Others like Curavi and Third Eye Health provide a video cart and provide on-demand consults. On the Federal level with Medicare, payments have been expanded for end-stage renal disease and stroke treatment, and Medicare Advantage plans can now offer telehealth. Still, there is no direct payment under Medicare for virtual emergency medicine. And telemedicine remains a rarity in SNFs, who prefer to send their residents to ERs ‘just to be sure’. POLITICO

LIVI telemedicine app expands availability to 1.85 million patients with GPs in Birmingham, Shropshire, Northamptonshire, Southeast

The LIVI telemedicine app, which made news last year with UK partnerships in Surrey and Northwest England last year, has expanded to GP practices in Birmingham, Shropshire, Northamptonshire, and locations in the Southeast, as well as additional practices in Surrey. The Northampton General Practice Alliance and the Alliance for Better Care are among the federations partnering with LIVI.

LIVI offers NHS and private services for video consults with a GP. Patients can also access medical advice, referrals, and prescriptions. Unlike Babylon Health, the patient can use LIVI without having to register with a new, Babylon Health-linked practice and deregistering from the former GP practice. It is now available to 1.85 million UK patients. Known as Kry in the Nordic countries, LIVI also has a presence in France. 

In January, LIVI also acquired some notoriety when their current VP of product, Juliet Bauer, departed her chief digital officer spot with NHS England after an all-too-glowing article about LIVI’s Surrey pilot in The Times–without disclosing that she was joining the company in April [TTA 24 Jan] leading to charges of the ‘brazenly revolving door’ et al.

Call9: we’ll be back — with a different model!

“It wasn’t viable in the way that we did it,” Peck said. “We were very far ahead of the curve.”

Call9‘s founder, Tim Peck, MD, interviewed by local business publication Crain’s New York Business, shed a bit more light on the company’s planned reorganization as Call9 Medical. According to Dr. Peck, Call9 Medical will be in a much larger network of nursing homes and add primary care physicians to its services. The reopened company will be backed by its Silicon Valley lender, Western Technology Investment, which apparently forced the closing issue when the company’s cash on hand fell below the amount lent by WTI. No timing for resumption was given.

In the interview, Dr. Peck returned to reasons why the Call9 original model did not work. Insurers would pay for fee-for-service based telemedicine visits in nursing homes but not pay on their operating concept of fewer hospitalizations and better health outcomes that saved money, which had a longer-term payoff. 

Apparently this led to a standoff with controlling (over 50 percent) funder Redmile, which encouraged the FFS revenue stream. “We had to do services in a particular way that in no way brought value to our model,” Peck said. The ‘change in funders’ as noted in TTA’s article on the shutdown now is in a fuller context; Redmile will not be participating in the repositioned company. Confirmed in the article is that a few former investors, WTI, and some former employees will be part of it.

In this Editor’s view, Call9 had trouble accommodating both payment tracks, perhaps because they were overly invested in their concept. In the real world, it seems odd in a company of this size and investment level, which at one point employed close to 200 people and was about 100 at shutdown. Young companies, if anything, learn to be flexible when it comes to getting profitable cash flow into the exchequer, including standing their ground against ‘pilot-itis’–especially when their major investors encourage it.

One of their earliest customers also warned them of another flaw in their model. The author interviewed the CEO of one of Call9’s earliest clients, ArchCare, a Catholic nonprofit LTC organization in New York. ArchCare was able to “get its patients’ hospitalization rates low enough on its own that paying the startup no longer made sense.” “Their model wasn’t able to move the needle sufficiently to justify the ongoing expense,” CEO Scott LaRue explained. 

One hopes that Call9 Medical will avoid those pitfalls in being too far ahead of the curve and recast their telemedicine model to improve health outcomes for our most frail, vulnerable, and poorly served. Hat tip to HIStalk.

Breaking News–Teladoc: while accredited by NCQA, placed on ‘under corrective action’ status (updated)

Breaking News. Teladoc–one of the two giants in telemedicine–has been placed on ‘under corrective action’ status in its latest (15 May) two-year accreditation with the National Committee for Quality Assurance, better known by its initials, NCQA. Their next review is slated for six months (18 Nov).

According to the earliest breaking report on Seeking Alpha, a business and stock market website, the move to ‘corrective action’ status has been brewing for some time. Teladoc was the first telemedicine company to win this coveted status in 2013. Now, of course, all major telemedicine players have this accreditation.

This is the latest mark against the company, which has gone through some recent ‘interesting times’ financially with accounting problems based on booking stock awards (2018), the CFO’s resignation, and lack of replacement. The report by a ‘bear’ on the stock indicates that its large contract with Aetna, among others, is up for renewal.

Exactly what this ‘corrective action’ is related to has not been made public by either NCQA or Teladoc. Comments under the article sourced from a Wells Fargo analyst that the action is arising from a workflow that Teladoc uses for credentialing providers.

A good portion of this article discusses revisions on the Teladoc website and marketing materials which ensues when something like this happens and it is the basis for a superiority or credentialing claim.

NCQA is a non-profit that advocates quality standards and measures for healthcare organizations, health plans, and organizations that provide services to the former. Their standards are widespread in the industry as a means of review and accreditation for providers and hospitals, as well as incorporated into quality metrics used by HHS and CMS. For those who may not be able to access the full article–requires free membership (but you’ll get emails) registration with the Seeking Alpha site–attached is a PDF of the article.

Update: While to the ‘bear’ Teladoc is a glass half empty and cracked, to another Seeking Alpha writer, the glass is more than half full even though the company continues to run substantial losses. Here’s an analysis that is mostly positive, though acknowledging the issues above.

Babylon Health’s expansion plans in Asia-Pacific, Africa spotlighted

Mobihealthnews’ interview with Ali Parsa of Babylon Health illuminates what hasn’t been obvious about the company’s global plans, in our recent focus on their dealings with the NHS. For its basic smartphone app (video consults, appointments, medical records), Babylon last year announced a partnership with one of Asia’s largest health insurers, Prudential [TTA 18 Sept 18], licensing Babylon’s software for its own health apps across 12 countries in Asia for an estimated $100 million over several years. Babylon has also been active in Rwanda and now reaches, according to their information, nearly 30 percent of the population. There’s also a nod to developments with the NHS.

Parsing the highlights in Dr. Parsa’s rather wordy quest towards less ‘sick care’, more ‘prevention over cure’, and making healthcare affordable and accessible to everyone ’round the clock:

  • Asia-Pacific: Working with Tencent, Samsung and Prudential Asia through licensing software is a key component of their business. By adding more users, they refine and add more quality to their services. (Presumably they have more restrictions on the data they send to Tencent than what they obtain in China.)
  • Africa: How do you offer health apps in an economically poor country where only 5 percent of the population has a smartphone? Have an app that works for the 75 percent who have a feature phone. Babyl Rwanda has 2 million users–30 percent of Rwanda’s population–and completes 2,000 consultations a day. Babyl also works with over 450 health clinics and pharmacies. The service may also be expanded across East Africa, and may serve as a model for similar countries in other regions.
  • UK and NHSX: About the new NHS-formed joint organization for digital services, tech, and clinical care, Dr. Parsa believes it is ‘fantastic’ and that “it is trying to bring the benefits of modern technology to every patient and clinician, and aims to combine the best talent from government, the NHS and industry. Its aim, just like ours, is to create the most advanced health and care service in the world, to free up staff time and empower patients.” (Editor’s note:  NHSX will bring together the Department of Health and Social Care, NHS England and NHS Improvement, overseeing NHS Digital. More in Digital Health, Computer Weekly.)

Tyto Care inks deal with Best Buy for retail sales of remote diagnostic device

Tyto Care’s long-planned retail debut of the TytoHome remote diagnostic device has arrived at Best Buy. The telehealth device which incorporates a camera, stethoscope, otoscope, tongue depressor, basal thermometer, and smartphone app can be bought online for $299.99. According to their release, TytoHome will be available at select Minnesota Best Buy stores and will roll out to North Dakota, South Dakota, California and Ohio.

TytoHome has been from the start (late 2016) pitched to parents as a 24/7 service for ill children in that middle-of-the-night sick call to the doctor, but more recently for adults as an adjunct to a virtual visit. The Israel-based company with US offices in NYC partnered with American Well early [TTA 2 Dec 2016]. For Best Buy customers outside of Minnesota, North and South Dakota, TytoHome will connect to doctors via LiveHealth Online, an American Well partner. In those three states, TytoHome will connect to Tyto Care health system partner Sanford Health and their medical providers. Each visit will be $59, possibly less if the service is covered by the person’s or family insurance plan.

Best Buy, of course, has made a large bet on retail health tech with its purchase of GreatCall, well-known for its Jitterbug phones targeted to older adults with its 5-Star PERS, but also prior to the acquisition with GreatCall’s purchases of Lively’s tech for consumer devices and HealthSense in LTC systems. Their current plans are outlined in a recent interview with CEO David Inns.

Suddenly hot, redux: mental health telemedicine in long term care, analytics to help predict rehospitalizations in skilled nursing facilities

The positive side of telemedicine for two areas–Long Term Care (LTCF). Skilled Nursing (SNF). Two types of care facilities that don’t get a lot of excited cocktail party chatter or much respect in the health tech field. Yet the needs are there, the tech attention has returned, and apparently the money has as well.

A major provider of behavioral health services for LTCF, Deer Oaks, is turning to telemedicine (SnapMD) to expand their reach. Already working with 1,400 LTCFs in 27 states in the central to southern US, Deer Oaks has been active since 1992 in providing both psychiatric and psychological services for geriatric and disabled patients.

The problem is coverage and the lack of providers. Psychiatry is itself aging out with few young doctors in the field–as well as the uneven distribution of practitioners. Mental health is a significant concern in the older adult population, including those dealing with depression and dementia.

Deer Oaks is adding telemedicine to expand to facilities in smaller, in rural areas, to extend hours, and to reach people with limited mobility. Facilities receive equipment and training. Two significant challenges they found were the lack of tech expertise in the staff, and importantly, the reliability of Wi-Fi in those areas, which is needed at 500 kbs of bandwidth to work. This expansion fits with CMS’ extension of covered telemedicine in rural areas and FCC’s continuing Connected Care Pilot Program, San Antonio-based Deer Oaks is estimated to have over $18 million in revenue (CrunchBase) and sees their growth in this area, according to an interview in mHealth Intelligence.

Assessing developing conditions in a SNF or LTC patient and preventing readmissions will always get this Editor’s attention, as she started in the field with behavioral telemonitoring for this area.

  • Real Time Medical Systems raised at end of February $9.2 million from SunBridge Capital Management to fund the growth of their analytics software which uses EMR information plus information from clinicians in routine monitoring of resident status to alert for early changes in resident conditions. Appropriate intervention could prevent hospitalization or a more serious development. Real Time currently has 500 SNFs and 30 hospitals, for a total of about 60,000 covered residents.
  • Skilled Nursing News also notes that Call9, an emergency medicine provider that embeds first responders at SNFs to provide onsite care and reduce unnecessary transfers to ERs, has raised a stunning $34 million and is concentrating on both SNF and assisted living. It is connected with several major payers and Medicare Advantage plans.
  • More conservatively, Third Eye Health, which provides post-acute emergency telemedicine to 220 SNFs, recently raised $7 million. All these companies have claimed readmission reductions of 40 to as high as 70 percent, and savings from services such as these may be billions.

None of which gets buzzy panels at HIMSS, Health 2.0, or CES, or viral videos on the news as the plight of Mr. Quintana did [TTA 13 Mar, below] but provides a badly needed advance in care services–and savings–for LTCs/SNFs and badly needed and better care for their patient residents.

A telemedicine ‘robot’ delivers end of life news to patient: is there an ethical problem here, Kaiser Permanente?

Bad, bad press for in-hospital telemedicine. A 78 year-old man is in the ICU in a Kaiser Permanente hospital in Fremont, California. He has end-stage chronic lung disease and is accompanied by his granddaughter. A nurse wheels in an InTouch Telemedicine ‘robot’ (brand is clearly visible on the videos; KP is one of their marquee customers). The mobile monitor screen is connected to a live doctor on audio/video for a virtual consult. The doctor is delivering terminal news: that not much can be done for Mr. Quintana other than to keep him comfortable in the hospital on a morphine drip, and that he would likely be unable to return home to hospice care.

Granddaughter Annalisia Wilharm videoed the consult. The screen is high above the bed, the doctor is wearing headphones, and is looking down. The doctor’s voice is accented and hard to understand through the speakers–is the volume low because it’s set low or due to privacy regulations? In any case, the doctor is asked time and again to repeat himself by the granddaughter as the patient cannot hear or understand the doctor. Another factor apparent on the video to this Editor is that the patient is on a ventilator–and ventilators make noise that mask other sounds.

Mr. Quintana passed away in the hospital last Tuesday 5 March, after a two-day stay.

The video has gone viral here in the US, with the family going to local press first (KTVU). The story was picked up in regional Northern California coverage and blew up into national coverage from USA Today (edited video complete with emotive background music), Fox News (San Jose Mercury News video), and picked up in media as diverse as the Gateway Pundit–if you want to get a feel for vox populi, see the comments.

Kaiser Permanente has apologized in guarded terms: “We offer our sincere condolences,” said Kaiser Permanente Senior Vice-President Michelle Gaskill-Hames. “We use video technology as an appropriate enhancement to the care team, and a way to bring additional consultative expertise to the bedside.” Also: “The use of the term ‘robot’ is inaccurate and inappropriate,” she exclaimed. “This secure video technology is a live conversation with a physician using tele-video technology, and always with a nurse or other physician in the room to explain the purpose and function of the technology. It does not, and did not, replace ongoing in-person evaluations and conversations with a patient and family members.” The family also was well aware of Mr. Quintana’s status but is equally upset at his treatment at this critical time.

Despite all this exclaiming, this Editor, an advocate of innovations in telemedicine and telehealth since 2006, finds fault with Kaiser Permanente’s deploying a telemedicine consult in this situation on the following grounds:

  • End-of-life news this serious needs to be delivered by a human. Period.
  • Despite Ms. Gaskill-Hames’s statement, the video consult was not intermediated by a human. There is someone in scrubs behind the InTouch mobile monitor, but there is no standing by the monitor nor any effort to interpret what the doctor is saying. Explaining the technology is not explaining what the patient and family can do.
  • The patient had difficulty understanding the doctor’s voice, either through hearing or language comprehension. A ventilator could be blocking or masking the audio. Even so, the audio, depending on the source, is muddy, and the video worse than you get on a smartphone. 
  • The monitor is at the foot of the bed, not close to the patient. The patient may not be able to see the monitor at that distance due to poor vision.
  • It doesn’t take much thought to believe there may be an issue of cultural inappropriateness.
  • There is no patient advocate or a chaplain present. Whether one visited later is not known.
  • Another open question: why was additional comfort care and a ventilator not available at home if Mr. Quintana was truly terminal? Did this man die needlessly in an ICU?

The popular takeaway about Kaiser, the VA, and other health systems which are deploying telemedicine by their patients is that robots are replacing doctors. We may know better, but that is what the consumer press runs with–an emotional video that, BTW, breaks patient-doctor confidentiality by showing the (unnamed, but not for long) doctor giving medical instructions to Mr. Quintana.

It is not the telemedicine technology, it is how it is being used. In this case, with insensitivity. The blame will be laid, in this shallow time, at the feet of the ‘robot’. Rightly, blame should also be laid at the feet of the increasingly ‘robotic’ practices of major health systems.

There will certainly be more to this story.

A view at some variance, but winding up in the same place, is expressed by Dr. Jayne in HIStalk.

RSM’s Medical apps: mainstreaming innovation with Matt Hancock

This event on 4 April run by the Royal Society of Medicine’s Digital Health Section continues the successful series started by this editor (now no longer involved) seven years ago. It will examine the growing role that apps are playing in healthcare delivery.

Join colleagues to hear renowned speakers, including the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Matt Hancock, discuss the current and future part apps can play in the NHS and broader healthcare industry. We will hear Wendy Clarke, executive director at NHS Digital talk about the new NHS app. As apps move from concept to pilot to practice, demonstrating efficacy becomes increasingly important, so will be looking at how we can best assess clinical effectiveness. It is well recognised that poorly designed software can hamper rather than enhance healthcare. Matt Edgar Head of design for NHS Digital will talk of the importance of good design in medical apps, and how it can improve patient and clinician experience. The use of cutting edge technology in healthcare necessarily opens new regulatory and legal issues. We are pleased to have our legal counsel, Julian Hitchcock back to share his experience with this, with a particular focus on the use of artificial intelligence in healthcare. We will also be examining the importance of interoperability, as medical apps become more mainstream, and how to make this happen. We have some presentations, too, from new and established medical start-ups, showcasing the transformative effects these new technologies can have. Finally, we will take a look at what the future may hold with futurologist Lewis Richards, Chief Digital Officer of Servest.

Aims:

This meeting aims to: 

  • Encourage clinicians to consider medical apps when deciding on an appropriate intervention
  • Aid understanding of the medicolegal issues around medical app use
  • Reduce the fear, uncertainty and doubt about the use of medical apps

Objectives:

By the end of this meeting, delegates will be able to,

  • Have an understanding of the current state of the art of medical apps
  • Explain the latest position on regulation and endorsement of medical apps
  • Have an appreciation of how to assess the clinical effectiveness of medical apps. 

Book here – best to book soon too, as currently the RSM has not allocated the largest lecture theatre to the event so it will almost certainly sell out.