TTA’s Spring Debut: CMS’ big telehealth expansion, conferences vaporize to virtual, Cera’s $70M raise, news from RxHealth, TeleDentists; Caravan buys Wellpepper, more

 

 

Did you forget it’s Spring? Your Editor finds a shiny silver tulip in in CMS’ major telehealth expansion versus C-19. We also caught up with Industry News that was largely (but not entirely) free of Virus News. (At this point, Theranos News would be comic relief….) Sadly, the entire spring season of conferences is gone either to virtual or vapor.

(Our Alert is a day late because your Editor’s Fios internet went on the fritz (C-19?) for the second time in 10 days. But it is now fully recovered–we hope!)

Virus-(almost) free news: Cera’s $70m raise, Rx.Health’s RxStitch, remote teledentistry to rescue, Alcuris responds, Caravan buys Wellpepper, and Teladoc’s heavy reading
Further ‘virtualization’ of industry meetings: DHACA Day, HITLAB, NAACOS, HXD, now ATA 2020 (updated) (Cabin fever strikes deep, but there is nowhere to creep…)
CMS clarifies telehealth policy expansion for Medicare in COVID-19 health emergency, including non-HIPAA compliant platforms (US) (BIG news in expanding telehealth)

It’s hard to move beyond the coronavirus talk permeating everything in healthcare to other news, but there is some. American Well’s rename, a Senate look at Project Nightingale, and a $16 million digital health Series A surfaced in the sea of spread and conference cancellations. And there’s more on how telehealth can be very useful in both diagnosis and treatment of the virus–even if the consulting doctor is quarantined or sick.

News roundup: Kompaï debuts, Aging Tech 2020 study, Project Nightingale may sing to the Senate, Amwell, b.well, Lyft’s SDOH, more on telehealth for COVID-19 
Update: healthcare/digital health conferences canceled/postponed due to COVID-19 include SXSW, Naidex, EPIC (updated 13 Mar). (The busiest season for meetings suddenly isn’t)

The only real news this week is around the effects of the coronavirus on the business of healthcare–HIMSS20 and other conferences are casualties–and on population health. The US is funding public health, NIH research, telehealth and more with an additional $8.3bn. Let’s hope that the last weeks of winter and (in US) springing forward on the clocks presage the end of its spread.

$8bn COVID-19 supplemental funding House bill waives telehealth restrictions for Medicare beneficiaries (US) (Passed and now to the Senate)
Breaking News: HIMSS20 canceled; Naidex update; what is the outlook for other major conferences? (updated) (The business effect of COVID-19 hits healthcare. Hard.)

How does one celebrate a Leap Year? Certainly not with a trip to China, as you may not have to go that far to have a coronavirus adventure. But digital health is going to the rescue in several significant ways, including treatment. Symptom checkers are much in the news, not only with COVID-19, but also with K Health’s big raise and Babylon’s profile on Newsnight with @DrMurphy11’s reveal. GGI and Legrand debut their study on digital tech’s potential to deliver more efficient health services. NYC events abound. And if you’re in London, leap to DHACA Day on 18 March! 

Digital health on the front lines of coronavirus checking, treatment, and prevention (What wasn’t around during the SARS and swine flu epidemics may make a big difference)
Symptom checker K Health gains $48 million Series C (NY/Tel Aviv) (A big bet made, and not on Babylon)
Babylon Health fires back at critic @DrMurphy11; Dr. Watkins–and Newsnight–return fire (UK) (Why can’t they just get along? Watch the video and find out.)
A potpourri of upcoming NYC events (HITLAB and Columbia University)
Unleashing the Digital Premium’ for health in the public sector (UK) (Good Governance Institute and Legrand study) 

The consumer DNA/genetics biz is frosty, IBM certainly isn’t feeling the love from 3M, and malware’s worse than rain you have to shovel. VA’s Cerner debut won’t be till the daffodils bloom. But Hollywood tech is helping stroke rehab, and it’s warming up around post-surgery telemedicine usage and physician telehealth use. Plus Yorkshire & Humber AHSN’s back with their Propel accelerator.

News roundup: stroke rehab uses Hollywood technology, 3M sues IBM Watson Health on analytics software misuse, AI-based skin cancer detection apps fail, Dictum’s successful telemed use post-pediatric surgery, malware attacks Boston practice network 
Is the bloom off the consumer DNA business? It’s past time for a Genomic Bill of Rights. (Ancestry, 23andme’s declining fortunes)
100% increase in physician telehealth and virtual care usage in three years: AMA study (Progress in this market, especially for chronic care)
Propel@YH opens again for 2020 accelerator candidates (Yorkshire & Humber AHSN’s 2nd year)
VA running at least one month late on Cerner implementation launch (Not unexpected after last week’s turmoil)

February is here, can Spring be far away? It might be an early one for Mark Bertolini, booted from the board of the company he worked so hard to put together. Ashik Desai of Outcome Health may be looking at a Club Fed ‘vacation’. And James Byrne of the VA got an early furlough from Washington for that Florida holiday. So we can take a Mid-Winter’s nap courtesy of NHS, dream of digital health investments for 2020, and won’t buy into a company paying a $1 million monthly rent.

But do wake up in time for DHACA Day on 18 March! A good reason to be in London….

Considering 2019’s digital health investment picture: leveling off may be a Good Thing (Less froth, more quality)
Outcome Health’s Desai reaches settlement with DOJ, SEC (Another cautionary tale of Young Entrepreneurs Gone Wrong–somewhat like Theranos)
Comings and goings, wins and losses: VA’s revolving door spins again, NHS sleep pods for staff, Aetna’s Bertolini booted, Stanford Med takes over Theranos office

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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.

News roundup: Current Health’s Class II, Healthware Italy’s €10 million boost, the low state of Latin America telemedicine, weekend reading on digital health in health systems

Scottish startup gains FDA Class II clearance, pilots with Mount Sinai Brooklyn. Edinburgh’s Current Health has received FDA Class II clearance for its AI-enabled remote patient monitoring wearable monitors. The single arm-worn wearable sends data every two seconds on oxygen saturation, respiration rate, pulse rate, temperature, activity, and posture. Algorithms analyze the data and alert clinicians to patient status and deterioration. The Mount Sinai pilot follows on Dartford and Gravesham NHS Trust for a post-discharge monitoring program, with a 22 percent reduction in home visits plus fewer hospital readmissions and emergency department visits. Current Health is the renamed snap40. Mobihealthnews, BusinessWire release

Healthware, a Salerno, Italy-based consultancy group primarily concentrated in marketing and sales, has received a €10 million investment from Fondo Italiano d’Investimento SGR (FII Tech Growth). The investment will be used over the next two years has received to expand Healthware’s business transformation for life sciences companies and product development and services for digital health start-ups which improve health outcomes through new technologies. Release.  Hat tip to Healthware’s Antonietta Pannella

Telemedicine adoption in hospitals ranges from 65 to below 30 percent in Latin America. A study published this week in Health Affairs Global Health Policy (paywalled) looks at the different rates of hospital-based telemedicine adoption in nine Latin America countries. Leading is Chile with the aforementioned 65 percent; Argentina, Costa Rica, Mexico and Peru with less than a 30 percent. In the middle: Panama (35 percent), Uruguay and Guatemala in the 40 percent range. Despite supportive official policies in many of these countries, “Efforts to implement telemedicine are isolated and scattered, often left to the public sector or taking the form of insulated projects that are not sustained” or scaled up nationally and regionally. Mobihealthnews

For weekend reading. Intersecting with the Latin America story above is this. This Editor missed the October issue of Global Health: Science and Practice published out of Johns Hopkins, but here it is. The focus of the six articles is digital health integration into health systems in the US and internationally. Hat tip to Alain B. Labrique via Twitter

The wind may finally be at the back of telehealth distribution and payment (US)

Medicare Advantage may lead, but Medicaid and regular Medicare are not far behind. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) has announced in two proposed rules changes expansion of telehealth access for both privately issued Medicare Advantage (MA) plans (26 Oct) and state-run Medicaid and CHIP (Children’s Health Insurance Plan) (14 Nov) plan members. This may mean greater acceptance by providers because they will be paid for these services.

For MA, the proposal would, starting in 2020 as part of government funded basic benefits, eliminate geographic restrictions (rural telehealth) and allow members in urban areas to access telehealth services. It would also broaden present location restrictions, allowing MA members to receive telehealth from home versus traveling to a health care facility. The most intriguing wording is here: “Plans would also have greater flexibility to offer clinically-appropriate telehealth benefits that are not otherwise available to Medicare beneficiaries.” which very well could mean remote patient monitoring in conjunction with visits. MA plans have always had more latitude to offer telehealth benefits to members, which are about 1/3 of Medicare-eligibles (over 65). Over 11 percent growth is forecast and it is highly competitive though dominated by United Healthcare and Aetna–over 600 new plans are entering the market next year. Enrollments close on 7 Dec for 2019. CMS.gov release, mHealth Intelligence, Healthcare Finance News.

For Medicaid and CHIP, which states use to extend insurance to low-income individuals and families via private plans, states would be able to, under an approved rule, to more flexibly determine what criteria determine telehealth access. Currently, states use proximity factors–distance from provider and time. The proposed criteria under 10. Network Adequacy (pages 15-16) recommends that time and distance be deleted and instead “adding a more flexible requirement that states set a quantitative minimum access standard (later listed) for specified health care providers and LTSS (long term services and supports) providers”. The reasons why are the limited supply of providers and the functional limitations of the LTSS population. Also notable was language in section 8 discussing access to provider directories via smartphone, as 64 percent of the population with incomes less than $30,000 own a smartphone and use it to access health information.  CMS proposed rule, POLITICO Morning eHealth

This adds to the momentum of the Medicare Physician Fee Schedule published on 1 Nov that added even more:

  • Virtual brief patient checkins and evaluation of patient-recorded photos and video to payments
  • CMS is also finalizing separate payments for three new codes covering chronic care remote physiologic monitoring that unbundle 99091 (CPT codes 99453, 99454, and 99457) and interprofessional internet consultation (CPT codes 99451, 99452, 99446, 99447, 99448, and 99449).
  • Two new codes covering telehealth for prolonged preventive services
  • Finalizing the addition of renal dialysis facilities and the homes of ESRD beneficiaries receiving home dialysis as originating sites
  • After 1 July, the home will be permitted as a permissible originating site for telehealth services furnished for purposes of treatment of a substance use disorder or a co-occurring mental health disorder. CMS.gov fact sheet 

The importance of this is that more digital health covered by Medicare and government payments in public/private programs such as Medicaid and MA lead private insurers to pay doctors for these services, who will then be willing to pay vendors for providing them. For the telehealth and telemedicine companies that have weathered the storms and lean times of the past decade, there may be light at the end of the tunnel that is not an oncoming train.