As practices reopen, telemedicine visits continue to plunge from 69% to 21%: Epic (US)

The extreme high tide has receded–but still way up than before the pandemic.  The Epic Health Research Network (yes, that Epic EHR), updated its earlier study through 8 May [TTA 22 July] to compare in-office to telehealth visits through 12 July. The trend that EHRN spotted (as well as Commonwealth Fund/Phreesia/Harvard) continued with telemedicine visits declining as practices reopened. As of mid-July, telehealth visits, as a  percentage of national ambulatory visits, declined to 21.2 percent compared to 78.8 percent in-office. 

The new EHRN study used a broader sampling than previously. They surveyed healthcare providers of data: 37 healthcare organizations representing 203 hospitals and 3,513 clinics in 50 states. The decline in telehealth visits noted in early May continued, with May finishing with a national 50/50 split.

But in context, telehealth visits immediately before the COVID-19 pandemic were a whopping .01 percent

Regionally, the Northeast leads in July telehealth visits with 25 percent. The South has the least adoption of telehealth with only 13 percent. In terms of total office visits, neither the South nor West have rebounded to pre-pandemic levels, whereas the Northeast and Midwest have.

The key to the future of the telehealth bubble bath is if telehealth usage versus in-person stabilizes for several months. But there’s another factor which has come about through higher telehealth usage. Noted in our July article was speculation on the reasons why the sudden decline, other than practices reopening, most of which pointed to practice training, reimbursement, and older/sicker patients falling into the smartphone/digital divide. The STAT article has statements from telehealth providers which are quite bubbly and quotable, with the CEO of MDLive stating that new bookings are up 300 percent and mental health hasn’t declined. But a problem now surfacing is providing patients with the right care at the right time–and fitting it into the office schedule. What visits can best be handled as telehealth and which require an in-person visit? This Editor recalls that Zipnosis, a white-labeled telehealth system we haven’t heard from in a while, incorporated for health system applications a triage intake which would direct the patient to the right level of care. Can this be rolled out in a similar way to the practice level?

TTA’s Summer Like No Other: Amwell’s Googly IPO, CVS’ cash offer, Humana sues ‘telehealth’ scam, Theranos trial delayed, a movie project to engage on dementia needs funding

Getting close to the unofficial end of summer in a year like no other (unless you count 1919?). We catch up with news and ISfTeH, Amwell finally IPOs with a Google kicker, Theranos’ denouement moves to 2021, and payer Humana sues a scam masquerading as a telehealth company. And we profile a movie project which will engage people on dementia.

Last Days for our exclusive offer for Readers to attend the fully virtual Connected Health Summit 1-3 September at half price!

For our UK Readers, enjoy your bank holiday on the 31st. US readers follow with Labor Day one week later. Alerts and articles will be on holiday from early next week to 14 September. 

Connected Health Summit 1-3 September (virtual): last days to register–50% off for TTA Readers! (see above)
Is the NHS ready to adopt telemedicine through and through–and is telemedicine ready? (COVID revealed the need, now for getting to the goal)
News roundup: CVS cashing out notes, catching up with ISfTeH, India’s Stasis Labs RPM enters US, Propeller inhaler with Novartis Japan, Cerner gets going with VA
QuivvyTech: a ‘telehealth’ company, sued by Humana in telemarketing scheme (US)
(An apparent scam with telehealth ‘lipstick’)
The Theranos Story, ch. 64: Holmes’ trial moved to March 2021 (Lady Justice is crying with boredom under that blindfold)
Amwell plans $100 million IPO, plus $100 million from Google as a kickoff (As predicted, but surprisingly modest in scope)
‘Before the Ashes Fall’: the story behind the book and the movie in development about dementia (Funding needed)

More signs of normality as we turn to topics other than COVID. We return to issues like data privacy and a Genomic Bill of Rights. ‘What’s hot in digital health’ lists reappear. And there’s another bumper crop of funding and acquisitions. Plus a fresh look at VR in medical education stimulated by the pandemic reaction.

Will the rise of technology mean the fall of privacy–and what can be done? UK seeks a new National Data Guardian. (Guarding the chicken coop with an open gate?)
CB Insights rounds up a 2020 Digital Health Top 150 (Not that different from 2019)
News Roundup of acquisitions, funding: Health Catalyst-Vitalware, Change Healthcare-Nucleus.io, Medtronic-Companion Medical, Cecelia Health; Proteus Health sale contested, but sold (updated 20 Aug) (More signs that we’re returning to a frothy ‘normal’)

Medical education going digital, virtual, and virtual reality (US/UK) (How med ed is adapting)

Is something vaguely resembling normality returning? We note and opine on multiple sales, acquisitions, and IPOs. The Propel@YH accelerator in Yorkshire returns for year 2. Walmart Health’s leader departs mysteriously. And another gimlety take on the Teladoc-Livongo deal from the ‘flight deck’.

News roundup: Ancestry sells 75% to Blackstone, Cornwall NHS partners with Tunstall, most dangerous health IT trends, Slovenski departs from Walmart Health (Activity a leading indicator of a return to normality)
Propel@YH digital health accelerator open now for applications to 24 September (UK) (Return to normality #2–important for your early stage company)
Doro AB acquires Eldercare (UK) Limited, creating #2 in telecare  (Piece by piece strategy)
Drug discounter GoodRx plans US IPO; Ginger mental health coaching raises $50 million (It’s getting foamier out there in the Digital Health Bubble Bath) 
Reflections in a Gimlet Eye: further skeptical thoughts on the Teladoc acquisition of Livongo (updated) (A message to Teladoc: just like on the flight deck, Human Factors will make–or doom–your success)

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)

And a bit more….Walgreens Boots goes big with billion-dollar medical office deal with VillageMD (See the competition move–and raise ’em)

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)
Hackermania runs wild, Required Reading Department: The Anatomy of a Ransomware Attack (Weekend reading for you and your IT department)

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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Is the NHS ready to adopt telemedicine through and through–and is telemedicine ready?

This analysis by Dominic Tyer in Pharmaphorum discusses the rapid adoption of telehealth during the COVID pandemic, both telephonic and online, to keep people in touch with their doctors. Health Secretary Matt Hancock quantified the changes wrought as “I’ve lost count of the number of times someone said to me: ‘what would have taken months took minutes’.” The article goes on to quote him as saying that COVID-19 has “catalysed deep structural shifts in healthcare that were already underway”, citing as examples data-driven decision-making, working as a system, and telemedicine. In fact, to Secretary Hancock, “From now on, all consultations should be teleconsultations unless there’s a clinical reason not to.”

For all the advances, Mr. Tyer points out flaws such as safeguarding sensitive health issues, particularly for young people, use by rare disease patients and those with a genetic condition, and reaching the 10 percent of the population who do not use the internet. All of these are significant. He concludes that “in the UK there’s clearly the political will and healthcare backing for wider use of telemedicine by the NHS, despite some, as-yet not entirely resolved, technological and safety issues.”

Will the UK revert to ‘underuse’, as the US has rolled back as well as practices have reopened? (What is ‘underuse’ defined as anyway?) Will these issues be resolved or ignored in a push forward for telehealth? And teleconsultations as a norm, with in-person an exception, is perhaps at this time, and in improving health outcomes, an overreach? Hat tips to Roy Lilley of the nhsManagers.net newsletter and Steve Hards

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

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.)