Care Innovations sells off Validation Institute. But is there more to the story? And a side of Walmart Health action.

The Health Value Institute, part of Woburn, Massachusetts-based conference organizer World Congress, announced late last week the acquisition of the Validation Institute from Care Innovations. Terms were not disclosed. The Health Value Institute and the Validation Institute recently partnered to validate the outcomes for the Health Value Award finalists and awards this past April at the 15th Annual World Health Care Congress. According to both parties, the acquisition will help to expand the membership of validated companies, and the present offerings for HR, broker, and benefit executives. Release.

The Validation Institute was launched with fanfare back in June 2014, when GE still had a chunk of the company and during the 2 1/2 year repositioning (revival? resuscitation?) led by Sean Slovenski from the doldrums of the prior Louis Burns regime. Mr. Slovenski departed in early 2016 to be president of population health at Healthways/Sharecare, which lasted a little over a year. However, this week Mr. Slovenski made headlines as the new SVP Health & Wellness of Walmart, reporting directly to the head of their US business.  The hiring of a senior executive with a few years at Humana and a short time at Sharecare, another Walmart partner, coupled with several years in healthcare tech and provider-side is certainly indicative of Walmart’s serious focus on healthcare provision. It’s a fascinating race with Amazon and CVS-Aetna–with the mystery of what Walgreens Boots Alliance will do. Also Healthcare Dive.

But back to Care Innovations. Signs of a new direction–and a loss. The case can be made that the Validation Institute, the Jefferson College of Population Health, and validating individuals and companies was no longer core to their business which is centered around their RPM platform Health Harmony (with QuietCare still hanging in there!) However, this Editor notes the prominent addition of  ‘platform-as-a-service’ advisory services for those who are developing health apps, which appears to be a spinoff of their engineering/IT services. Vivify Health, a competitor, already does this. There is a vote of confidence; in June, Roche signed on with a strategic investment (undisclosed) as well as integration of the mySugr integrated diabetes management/app solution (release).

Looking around their recently refreshed website, there is an absence–that of the two or three pages previously dedicated to the Veterans Health Administration (VA) and the press release of the VA award. This tends to lend credence to the rumors that there was a second company that did not pass the Trade Adjustment Act (TAA) requirements that knocked out Iron Bow/Vivify Health from the VA, or for another undisclosed reason CI bowed out of a potentially $258 million five-year contract. If so, that leaves for the VA Medtronic and 1Vision/AMC Health. It’s certainly a limited menu for the supposedly growing numbers of veterans requiring telehealth and a limited choice for their care coordinators–and not quite as presented to the public or the 2015 competitors in the solicitation. Who benefits? Who loses? (Disclosure: This Editor worked for one of the finalists and a VA supplier from 2003, Viterion.)  Hat tip to one of our ‘Industry Insiders’, but the opinions expressed here are her own.

VA moves closer to doing Cerner EHR deal, real Choice for veterans (updated)

The Cerner EHR deal with the VA edges closer to closing. Another VA contractor, MITRE, reviewed the agreement and recommended 50 changes that, according to POLITICO Morning eHealth’s source, address many of the interoperability-related usability features “that irritate EHR users” such as reconciling data coming from outside sources (Home Telehealth, perhaps?–Ed.). VA officially updated the status with Congressional Veterans Affairs staff on Tuesday. The deal could be inked as early as next week, but never bet on this when the Secretary seems doubtful of the agreement date. In any case, it will be a decade before VA is fully transitioned from VistA. Speaking of the Secretary, Dr. Shulkin’s crisis of last week seems to have passed with a White House vote of confidence. He can ‘cashier’ his critics and according to him, everyone’s on board with a clear direction. We’ll see. 

Updated. Well, it’s 2 March and still no word on closing the Cerner contract. Meanwhile, the VA ‘revolt’ continues, with either true or false reports of demands for Dr. Shulkin’s resignation. It’s exhausting, and meanwhile who pays? Staff and veterans. See POLITICO from 1 March here.

Modern Healthcare reported that important reforms in the VA Choice legislation are closer to reality with the Senate Veterans Affairs committee. They are proposing changes, supported by the White House, that would open up VA Choice eligibility to nearly all veterans by “making VA facilities responsible for meeting access standards set by the VA secretary. If a facility can’t, the patient can seek out a community provider if both patient and a VA provider or an authorized provider in the community working closely with VA deem that a better option than a VA facility.” This is a step beyond the earlier proposed access standards which would have given the VA Secretary discretion to relax restrictions to community care provision. Currently the VA Choice program is used by only 1 million veterans who have to prove that they are facing wait times of 30 days or more, or 40-mile travel time to a VA clinic. While the tone in the article is slightly disparaging, firm standards and opening the VA to limited market pressures to this Editor is a good thing–and getting effective care faster to veterans, many of whom live in exurban or rural areas, is beyond all considerations, absolutely necessary. How this affects veterans monitored by telehealth programs–and interoperability of their records–are open questions.

Iron Bow’s uncertain future with $258 million VA Home Telehealth contract

Iron Bow Technologies’s setback with their VA contract confirmed. Iron Bow, which partnered last year with Vivify Health to provide telehealth services to the US Department of Veterans Affairs, received an unfavorable ruling on the US country of origin of the Vivify Health system that essentially stops the contract implementation.

Under Title III of the Trade Agreements Act of 1979, Federal suppliers must produce their products in the US or substantially transform the components in such a way that it becomes a product of the US. US Customs and Border Protection (CBP), Department of Homeland Security (DHS), makes this determination. Vivify Health contended that their Vietnam-produced tablet, because of their US-produced Vivify Health Pathways software and further US-based modifications to convert it into an FDA-regulated medical device, was transformed into a US product. In August, the CBP determined that the end product did not meet the transformation standard based on decades of precedent and the country of origin remained Vietnam. Transformation, yes, but not enough or the right kind for the CBP. Federal Register 8/22/17

An interesting Federal regulatory disconnect is that the FDA considers the Vivify tablet a regulated medical device. CBP considers it a communications device as the tablet transmits data from other medical devices but does not take those measurements itself. 

Vivify Health has publicly used in implementations with health organizations Samsung tablets. It is not known if the tablet reviewed by the CBP is manufactured by Samsung.

Both Iron Bow and Vivify Health were asked by this Editor for comments. Iron Bow’s response:

We have received an unfavorable ruling from United States Customs and Border Protection (“Customs”) regarding our proposed solution for the Home Telehealth contract. We respectfully disagree with the findings by Customs and have appealed the matter to the United States Court of International Trade. We are currently in discussions with our customer regarding the possible options for a path forward.

Vivify has not responded to date. 

Certainly, this is a sizable financial loss to both Iron Bow and Vivify if they cannot go forward with the VA, whether through a court decision or a different procurement process for the tablet to qualify it as US origin. Last February, we reported that the VA awarded the billion-dollar five-year Veterans Health Administration (VHA) Home Telehealth contract to four providers: incumbent Medtronic, Iron Bow, Intel Care Innovations, and service-disabled veteran-owned small business 1Vision. The award amount for each was $258 million over a five-year period, re-establishing the VHA as the largest telehealth customer in the US. All four awardees had in common that they were prior Federal contractors, either with the VA or with other Federal areas [TTA 1 Feb 17].

Medtronic and Care Innovations had long-established integrated telehealth systems but Iron Bow and 1Vision, as telemedicine and IT service providers respectively, did not have vital signs remote monitoring capability. In the solicitation, Iron Bow partnered with Vivify [TTA 15 Feb 17]. For 1Vision, it took nearly one year to announce that their telehealth partner was New York-based AMC Health, an existing provider of VA health services. It was also, for those in the field, a Poorly Kept Secret, as AMC Health had been staffing with VA telehealth veterans from the time of the award. (The joint release is on AMC Health’s site here.) The reason for the announcement delay is not known. AMC Health does not use a tablet system, instead transmitting data directly from devices or a mobile hub to a care management platform. They also provide IVR services.

Vivify has moved forward with other commercial partnerships, with the most significant being InTouch Health, which itself is on a tear with acquisitions such as TruClinic [TTA 19 Dec 17].

Hat tip to two alert Readers who assisted in the development of this article but who wish to remain anonymous.

VA says goodbye to VistA, hello to Cerner for new EHR–and possible impacts (updated)

The new sheriff just turned the town upside down. Veterans Affairs’ new Secretary, Dr. David J. Shulkin, as expected moved quickly on the VA’s EHR modernization before the July 1 deadline, and moved to the same vendor that the Department of Defense (DoD) chose in 2015 for the Military Health System, Cerner. VA will adapt MHS GENESIS, based on Cerner Millenium. The rationale is seamless interoperability both with DoD and with private sector community providers and vendors, which base their services on commercial EHRs. The goal is to have one record for a service member through his or her lifetime and to eliminate the transition gap after discharge or retirement. (Transition gaps are also repeated when reservists or National Guard are called up for active duty then returned to their former status.) Another priority for VA is preventing the high rate of suicide among vulnerable veterans.

Updates: VA confirmed that Epic and Leidos will keep the development of the online medical appointment scheduling program, awarded in 2015 and currently in pilot, to be completed in 18 months. The contract is worth $624 million over five years. Wisconsin State Journal  The House Appropriations subcommittee on Veterans Affairs likes the Cerner EHR change. The Senate Veterans Affairs Committee is meeting Wednesday to discuss the VA budget sans the EHR transition. The EHR numbers are expected to be sooner rather than later. POLITICO Morning eHealth 

Dr. Shulkin is well acquainted with the extreme need for a modernized, interoperable system serving the Veterans Health Administration (VHA), having been on the US Senate Hot Grill for some years as Undersecretary of Health for VA. The foundation for the move from homegrown VistA to Cerner was laid last year during the prior Administration through an August RFI for a COTS (commercial off the shelf) EHR [TTA 12 Aug 16] and in later hearings. “Software development is not a core competency of VA” and it has been obvious in system breakdowns like scheduling, maintaining cybersecurity and the complex interoperability between two different systems. To move to Cerner immediately without a competition, which took DoD over two years, Dr. Shulkin used his authority to sign a “Determination and Findings” (D&F) which provides for a public health exception to the bidding process. The value of the Cerner contract will not be determined for several months.

For those sentimental about VistA, he acknowledged the pioneering role of the EHR back in the 1970s, but that calls for modernization started in 2000 with seven ‘blue ribbon’ commissions and innumerable Congressional hearings since. He understated the cost in the failed efforts on interoperability with DoD’s own AHLTA system, VA’s own effort at a new architecture, and modernizing the outpatient system. This Editor tallied these three alone at $3 billion in GAO’s reckoning [‘Pondering the Squandering’, TTA 27 July 13]. 

It is still going to take years to implement–no quick fixes in something this massive, despite the urgency.

  • Both MHS and VA will be running two systems at once for years (more…)

White paper identifies potential and challenges of telehealth

Telehealth is a rapidly growing field that has the potential to help states leverage a shrinking and maldistributed provider workforce, increase access to services, improve population health and lower costs says a report published a few days ago. Called “Telehealth Policy Trends and Considerations”, the white paper from the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) focuses on three areas: reimbursement of telehealth encounters, licensure for telehealth providers and patient privacy, safety and security.

This white paper is the result of a year’s work by a group brought together by the NCSL consisting of state legislators, legislative staff and private industry. The white paper provides options for state policymakers in these areas.

The paper also covers recent research into cost-effectiveness of telehealth, the impact of telecommunications connectivity and some specific examples of telehealth/telemedicine usage. Examples of effective use of telehealth includes the use of telehealth/telemedicine by the Veterans Health Administration. Another example cited is the telemedicine usage by the Unversity of Mississippi Center for Telehealth about which we have reported previously

The full 28-page report, is available to download here.

Breaking news confirmed: Bosch exiting healthcare and telehealth in US–UPDATED

Breaking News–UPDATED with Bosch response

Bosch has confirmed they are closing their telehealth business in the US. Please see their statement at the end of this article.

A home care industry newsletter, along with our own reliable industry sources, have confirmed the recent industry discussion that Bosch Healthcare, since January a solely US operation, is winding down its business without a definite turnover to a buyer. This Editor, in calling various departments in their Palo Alto, California offices for confirmation on Thursday, was (when she reached a human being) forwarded to HR where she could leave only voice mail. An email to marketing also received no response. All sources indicate that staff layoffs took place last Monday.

Editor’s Note: Bosch’s official press response follows this article. We have also made certain corrections to this article (see in red).

  1. The Home Care Technology Report, published by industry consultant Tim Rowan, on Wednesday posted two articles stating that Bosch laid off nearly all of its staff on Monday (15 June) save for customer service and some key operating areas. His information indicated that Health Buddy sales–new and existing orders–have been terminated. This includes orders placed through its McKesson partnership. Non-VA service will be terminated in 60 to 90 days.
  2. Home Care Technology also reported that Bosch’s business with the Veterans Health Administration (VA) will be maintained through April 2016, which is near to the contract end in May, but no new units will be delivered. The original contract was with Health Buddy hub developer Health Hero Network, sold to Bosch in 2008With the later acquisition of ViTel Net, Bosch developed into one of the two leading VA Home Telehealth remote monitoring hub suppliers–the other being Cardiocom. VA Home Telehealth is the largest telehealth program in the US with over 156,000 patients (Federal Year 2014) (Ed. Note: VA has a third authorized and active VA supplier, Viterion).

As Mr Rowan did, this Editor will speculate on the reasons why there is this reported exit without a sale or spinoff, despite the substantial VA and other healthcare placements of Health Buddy. Our take is somewhat different than his: (more…)

VA calls IBM Watson for decision making, PTSD assistance (US)

The US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Veterans Health Administration (VHA) area is working with IBM Watson to develop and pilot a Clinical Reasoning System to assist and accelerate decision making by primary care physicians. The $6.8 million, two-year project will concentrate on acquiring and analyzing the data generated by hundreds of thousands of VHA documents, medical records, EMRs and research papers. The second focus of the VA-Watson relationship will also include mental health–supporting veterans with PTSD who constitute 12-20 percent of US veterans from Vietnam to present. The pilot phase, interestingly, will use simulated, not real, patients.

(more…)

Reforms, restructuring at Veterans Affairs announced (US)

A new Secretary, but the same old process? New Secretary of Veterans Affairs (VA) Robert McDonald is quickly finding out that cleaning house at a government agency is not quite as straightforward as at Procter & Gamble, where he had been CEO. Since being confirmed by the Senate in late July, he has had to fight the fires of multiple scandals, beginning with the Phoenix VA ‘secret’ veterans care wait list leading to uncovering disastrous delays in care at VA regions across the nation. As of this week, and convincingly timed around Veterans Day, McDonald announced a reorganization of the VA to the Washington Post–a restructuring of the VA around the creation of:

  • A new customer service organization across the entire VA, headed by a “chief customer service officer” reporting to McDonald
  • A standardized regional framework meant to streamline partnering and coordination
  • Realignment of internal business processes into a shared services models to improve efficiency, reduce cost and increase productivity
  • Collaboration with partners to create a national network of Community Veteran Advisory Councils

Heads are rolling, but slowly. There are pending disciplinary actions affecting at least 35 employees and perhaps as many as 1,000 employees upcoming. (more…)

12 percent of US veterans now using VA telehealth services

The US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has some good news (for a change)–that during the just-closed Federal FY 2014, 690,000 veterans, or 12 percent, used telehealth services. This was a 13.3 percent increase over FY 2013 (608,900). While this report is preliminary (beware!), we see a slowing of growth in the number of veterans accessing telehealth and a concentration–not dispersal–of telehealth services in rural areas (+ 10 points). This chart compares the numbers:

[grow_thumb image=”http://telecareaware.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/VA-2014-vs-2013.jpg” thumb_width=”350″ /]

Chart: EIC Donna. Please note that percentage of telehealth users add up to over 100 percent due to usage (one patient could access two or three forms of telehealth. FY14 telehealth user breakout is estimate based on FY13 percentage, to be eventually compared to official figures.)

Telehealth as defined by VA: (more…)