It’s not a bubble, really! Or developing? Analysis of Rock Health’s verdict on 2018’s digital health funding.

The doors were blown off funding last quarter, so whither the year? Our first take 10 January on Rock Health’s 2018 report was that digital health was a cheery, seltzery fizzy, not bubbly as in economic bubbles.  Total funding came in at $8.1 billion–a full $2.3 bn or 42 percent–over 2017’s $5.7 bn, as projected in Q3 [TTA 11 Oct]–which indicates confidence and movement in the right direction.

What’s of concern? A continued concentration in funding–and lack of exiting.

  • From Q3, the full year total added $1.3 bn ($6.8 bn YTD Q3, full year $8.1 bn) 
  • The deals continue to be bigger and fewer–368 versus 359 for 2017, barely a rounding error
  • Seed funding declined; A, B, C rounds grew healthily–and D+ ballooned to $59M from $28M in 2017, nearly twice as much as C rounds
  • Length of time between funding rounds is declining at all levels

Exits continue to be anemic, with no IPOs (none since 2016!) and only 110 acquisitions by Rock Health’s count. (Rock only counts US only deals over $2 million, so this does not reflect a global picture.)

It’s not a bubble. Really! Or is it a developing one? Most of the article delivers on conclusions why Rock Health and its advisors do not believe there is a bubble in funding by examining six key attributes of bubbles. Yet even on their Bubble Meter, three out of the six are rated ‘Moderately Bubbly’–#2, #3, and #5–my brief comments follow. 

  1. Hype supersedes business fundamentals (well, we passed this fun cocktail party chatter point about 2013)
  2. High cash burn rates (not out of line for early stage companies)
  3. Unclear exit pathways (no IPOs since ’16 which bring market scrutiny into play. Oddly, Best Buy‘s August acquisition of GreatCall, and the latter’s earlier acquisitions of Lively and Healthsense didn’t rate a mention)
  4. Surge of cash from new investors (rising valuations per #5–and a more prosperous environment for investments of all types)
  5. High valuations decoupled from fundamentals (Rock Health didn’t consider Verily’s billion, which was after all in January)
  6. Fraud or misuse of funds (Theranos, Outcome dismissed by Rock as ‘outliers’, but no mention of Zenefits or HealthTap)

Having observed bubbles since 1980 in three industries– post-deregulation airlines in the 1980s, internet (dot.com) in the 1990s, and healthcare today (Theranos/Outcome), ‘moderately’ doesn’t diminish–it builds to a peak, then bursts. Dot.com’s bursting bubble led to a recession, hand in hand with an event called 9/11.

This Editor is most concerned with the #5 rating as it represents the largest divergence from reality and is the least fixable. While Verily has basically functioned as a ‘skunk works’ (or shell game–see here) for other areas of Google like Google Health, it hardly justifies a billion-dollar investment on that basis alone. $2 bn unicorn Zocdoc reportedly lives on boiler-room style sales to doctors with high churn, still has not fulfilled its long-promised international expansion, and has ceased its endless promises of transforming healthcare. Peleton is a health tech company that plumps out Rock Health’s expansive view of Health Tech Reality–it’s a tricked out internet connected fitness device. (One may as well include every fitness watch made.)

What is the largest divergence from reality? The longer term faltering of health tech/telecare/telehealth companies with real books of business. Two failures readily come to mind: Viterion (founded in 2003–disclosure, a former employer of this Editor) and 3rings (2015). Healthsense (2001) and Lively were bought by GreatCall for their IP, though Healthsense had a LTC business. Withings was bought back by the founder after Nokia failed to make a go of it. Canary Care was sold out of administration and reorganized. Even with larger companies, the well-publicized financial and management problems of publicly traded, highly valued, and dominant US telemed company Teladoc (since 2015 losing $239 million) and worldwide, Tunstall Healthcare’s doldrums (and lack of sale by Charterhouse) feed into this. 

All too many companies apparently cannot get funding or the fresh business guidance to develop. It is rare to see an RPM survivor of the early ’00s like GrandCare (2005). There are other long-term companies reportedly on the verge–names which this Editor cannot mention.

The reasons why are many. Some have lurched back and forth from the abyss or have made strategic errors a/k/a bad bets. Others like 3rings fall into the ‘running out of road and time’ category in a constrained NHS healthcare system. Beyond the Rock Health list and the eternal optimism of new companies, business duration correlates negatively with success. Perhaps it is that healthcare technology acceptance and profitability largely rests on stony, arid ground, no matter what side of the Atlantic. All that money moves on to the next shiny object.(Babylon Health?) There are of course some exceptions like Legrand which has bought several strong UK companies such as Tynetec (a long-time TTA supporter) and Jontek.

Debate welcomed in Comments.

Related: Becker’s Hospital Review has a list of seven highly valued early stage companies that failed in 2018–including the Theranos fraud. Bubble photo by Marc Sendra martorell on Unsplash

The Theranos Story, ch. 20: How Arizonans fell hard and let Theranos change health policy

[grow_thumb image=”http://telecareaware.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/upside-down-duck.jpg” thumb_width=”150″ /]The face is in the lake, and the yellow duck is upside down–augering in! A flatly-spinning Yak-52 no longer describes the glide path of Theranos, now at value 0. So as the dust settles, the Tales of When The Circus Came to Town are dusted off and published. Here Tim Steller, a writer and columnist with the Arizona Daily Star, reminisces on those dazzling Arizona days back in March 2015–18 short months ago–when Elizabeth Holmes swept into Phoenix in her bodyguarded SUV, trailing lobbyists and dropping names. The state legislature and Governor Doug Ducey, by this telling, were mere putty in her hands, star-struck into approving a bill permitting direct consumer ordering of lab tests, over the objections of the Arizona Medical Association and the questioning of the two doctors in the legislature. The Big Question–“does your blood-testing technology work?”–never was asked, and only two voted against the bill. At least Theranos only sought deregulation to facilitate its placement in Walgreens; Zenefits, another one-time Unicorn, gained employment incentives for its online HR-benefits brokerage, which were voided with recent layoffs. Tucson.com  See here for the 19 previous TTA chapters.

The Theranos story, ch. 17: closing the barn door after the horse

[grow_thumb image=”http://telecareaware.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/Yak_52__G-CBSS_FLAT_SPIN.jpg” thumb_width=”150″ /] And it may work, though the horse is in the next county. Late last week, with American eyes elsewhere, Theranos announced that they hired two executives with regulatory responsibility–a chief compliance officer and an VP regulatory and quality–and formed a new board committee focused on same. The CCO is Dave Guggenheim, the former assistant general counsel for regulatory law at HIT/medical distribution giant McKesson. The VP, Daniel Wurtz, comes from a similar senior director position at biotech Thermo-Fisher Scientific.

The country maxim, ‘closing the barn door after the horse has bolted’, applies. In fact, the horse is in town and having a growler of beer at the local tavern. The Newark, California lab is shut and the principals, including the CEO Ms Holmes, are technically prohibited from operating a lab for at least two years (that means you, Ms Holmes) starting in a month. Messrs Guggenheim and Wurtz (or similar) should have been on board years ago. Even small companies in our field realize they HAVE to do this!

This also doesn’t affect the interesting interest that DOJ and SEC have in Theranos. [TTA 10 July]

However, this Editor will take the contrarian view that somehow, some way, the ‘fix’ is being worked out, if not in. Don’t make reservations for the fire sale quite yet. The ban on Ms Holmes won’t take place for another month, minimum. That gives time for David Boies, their legal supremo, and his firm to stall for more time, and time for some calls to ask favors from friends, of which he has many in this administration. More than likely, Boies on behalf of Theranos will appeal the CMS rulings to an administrative judge. Ms Holmes may take the hit, but may get a handsome payday to depart despite her reported control, if the investors can salvage something out of the company.

At HQ, they may be rehearsing saying ‘mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa’ three times, kneeling deeply, in preparation to Going Forth And Sinning No More.

The Object Lessons taught by the Theranos Troubles, to us in healthcare tech, continue.

WSJTheranos Hires Compliance, Regulatory Executives  (more…)

A weekend potpourri of health tech news: mergers, cyber-ransom, Obama as VC?

As we approach what we in these less-than-United States think of as the quarter-mile of the summer (our Independence Day holiday), and while vacations and picnics are top of mind, there’s a lot of news from all over which this Editor will touch on, gently (well, maybe not so gently). Grab that hot dog and soda, and read on….

Split decision probable for US insurer mergers. The Aetna-Humana and Anthem-Cigna mergers will reduce the Big 5 to the Big 3, leading to much controversy on both the Federal and state levels. While state department of insurance opposition cannot scupper the deals, smaller states such as Missouri and the recent split decision from California on Aetna-Humana (the insurance commissioner said no, the managed care department said OK) plus the no on the smaller Anthem-Cigna merger are influential. There’s an already reluctant Department of Justice anti-trust division and a US Senate antitrust subcommittee heavily influenced by a liberal think tank’s (Center for American Progress) report back in March. Divestment may not solve all their problems. Doctors don’t like it. Anthem-Cigna have also had public disagreements concerning their merged future management and governance, but the betting line indicates they will be the sacrificial lamb anyway. Healthcare Dive today,  Healthcare Dive, CT Mirror, WSJ (may be paywalled) Editor’s prediction: an even tougher reimbursement road for most of RPM and other health tech as four companies will be in Musical Chairs-ville for years.

‘thedarkoverlord’ allegedly holding 9.3 million insurance records for cyber-ransom. 750 bitcoins, or about $485,000 is the reputed price in the DeepDotWeb report. Allegedly the names, DOBs and SSNs were lifted from a major insurance company in plain text. This appears to be in addition to 655,000 patient records from healthcare organizations in Georgia and the Midwest for sale for 151 – 607 bitcoins or $100,000 – $395,000. The hacker promises ‘we’re just getting started’ and recommends that these organizations ‘take the offer’. Leave the gun, take the cannoli.  HealthcareITNews  It makes the 4,300 record breach at Massachusetts General via the typical unauthorized access at a third party, once something noteworthy, look like small potatoes in comparison. HealthcareITNews  Further reading on hardening systems by focusing on removing admin rights, whitelisting and endpoint security. HealthcareDataManagement

Should VistA stay or go? It looks like this granddaddy of all EHRs used by the US Veterans Health Administration will be sunsetted around 2018, but even their undersecretary for health and their CIO seem to be ambivalent in last week’s Congressional hearings. According to POLITICO’s Morning eHealth newsletter, “The agency will be sticking with its homegrown software through 2018, at which point the VA will start creating a cloud-based platform that may include VistA elements at its core, an agency spokesman explained.” Supposedly even VA insiders are puzzled as to what that means, and some key Senators are losing patience. VistA covers 365 data centers, 130 separate VistA systems, and 834 custom installations, and is also the core of many foreign government systems and the private Medsphere OpenVista. 6/23 and 6/24

[grow_thumb image=”http://telecareaware.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/Overrun-by-Robots1-183×108.jpg” thumb_width=”150″ /]Dr Eric Topol grooves on ‘The Fourth Industrial Revolution’ of robotics and AI. (more…)

Is the clock at the funding pub pointing to ‘last call’? (Updated)

[grow_thumb image=”http://telecareaware.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/12/crystal-ball.jpg” thumb_width=”150″ /]And we were having such a good time! UPDATED Having ridden a few hype curves (in health tech and out–remember airline deregulation?) and with the bruises to prove it, this Editor believes that she can spot a Cracking Market at forty paces. The hands on the clock appear to be near closing time, even as we party on. After all, DTC telehealth is forecast to be $25 bn in the US by 2025 (GrandView Research), if we make it that far!

Where are the sharp noises coming from?

  • The continuing fail of unicorns like Theranos [TTA 4 May and prior], now resorting to bullying the Wall Street Journal and negotiating with the alphabet (SEC, DOJ, FDA, CMS…), and the troubles of Zenefits. 
  • Another notable unicorn, the doctor booking site ZocDoc, being called out at last on their customer churn, low margins, and high customer acquisition costs. (As well as an irritant to doctors and office managers) New York Business Journal
  • Extremely high and perhaps insane rounds of funding to young companies with a lot of competition or a questionable niche. Higi is an odd little kiosk + consumer engagement program located in primarily Rite Aid drugstores–odd enough to score $40 million in its first venture round. (Ed. note: I shop at Rite Aid–and have never seen one.)This is after the failure of HealthSpot Station, which burned through approximately $43 million through its entire short but showy life. The low-cost, largely exchange plan insurer Oscar Health raised $400 million this February  ($727 million total) while UnitedHealth and others are dropping money-losing plans in most states. Over 50 percent of exchange co-ops went out of business in 2015, leaving doctors, health systems and patients holding their baggage. Again, low margins, high cost and high customer acquisition costs.
  • We’ve previously noted that funders are seeking ‘validation in similarity’–that a few targeted niches are piling up funding, such as doctor appointment setting, sleep trackers and wellness engagement [TTA 30 Dec 15]
  • Tunstall’s continuing difficulty in a sale or additional financing, which influence the UK and EU markets.
  • NEW More patent fights with the aim of draining or knocking out competition. We’re presently seeing it with American Well litigating Teladoc over patent infringement starting last year, which is only now (March) reaching court. It didn’t stop Teladoc’s IPO, but it publicly revealed the cost: $5 million in previously unplanned lobbying and legal costs, which include their fight with the Texas Medical Board on practicing telemedicine–which is beneficial for the entire industry. (But I would not want to be the one in the legal department explaining this budget line.) Politico, scroll down. But these lawsuits have unintended consequences–just ask the no-longer-extant Bosch Healthcare about the price of losing one. (more…)

‘VC tourism’ in Health Tech Land is over (updated)

The ‘silly money’ is packing its bags and taking the next flight from the Coast. An exceedingly tart take out of Fast Company confirms what your Editors have noticed in Rock Health and other year-end reports. Funding for digital health may have surpassed $4.2 billion in 2015, but it barely eked over 2014’s total of $2.3 billion despite rising geometrically since 2011 [TTA 16 Dec 15, revised by Rock Health since then]. Since then, we’ve had the Trouble Every Day of ‘unicorns’ (overreaching) Theranos and (ludicrously) Zenefits [TTA 17 Feb]; EHR Practice Fusion stalled out and cutting 25 percent of its staff, hoping to be acquired by athenahealth–or anyone (Healthcare Dive); shaky Fitbit shares [TTA 20 Feb]. Perhaps the high point was last year’s ‘Corvette Summer’ with yet another big round to a company yet to fulfill its promise, ZocDoc [TTA 15 Aug 15]. Even Castlight Health with decent revenue (still at a loss) has been dubbed an ‘absolute horror show’ when it comes to its share prices, if you were foolish enough to buy it at or near its IPO.

Fortunately a large dose of sanity may prevail among VCs with a sobering realization–no different than five or ten years ago–that investment has to be strategic and far longer than the usual 18 month-and-out time frame. Too many companies have systems which work the same niche–you don’t need 50 companies doing these things: data analytics for care management, patient engagement platforms, med reminders or diabetes management. [We’ve already noted the ‘sameness’ in companies getting funded in 2015, almost as if investors were seeking reassurance in similarity, a sure sign of a coming fail–TTA 30 Dec 15.]

Developers must fill a need–uniquely. And have a superb business plan, squeeze the nickels till they squeak and forget about the party culture. Investors: Dumb Money For Digital Health Will Vanish As Quickly As It Came In

 

A deserved goring of whiz-bang unicorns Theranos and Zenefits (updated)

[grow_thumb image=”http://telecareaware.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/1107_unicorn_head_mask_inuse.jpg” thumb_width=”150″ /]A blog posting this Editor wish she had written. Fred Goldstein, who is a consultant to healthcare systems focused on building accountability and improving population health, has pressed a sharp point to the sparkly bubbles surrounding two Silicon Valley billion-dollar valuation darlings, Theranos and Zenefits, on their playing fast and loose with basic regulations.

Some background for our readers. It’s a pile-on with Theranos, which has been stepped on by FDA for their nanotainers [TTA 20 Nov 15], then whacked by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) last month for ‘deficient practices’ at their California testing lab (a remedial plan has been filed this week) and likely losing its lucrative Walgreens Boots deal if problems aren’t fixed in 30 days (having already lost its program with Capital Blue Cross in the Harrisburg area of Pennsylvania). According to Bloomberg, its proprietary testing is now used in only 1 of every 200 tests. Zenefits claims to be the ‘first modern benefits broker’ with cloud-based software designed to simplify and automate such HR tasks as health insurance signups for small businesses, but its software that facilitated skating around required licensure requirements by its staff got its CEO forced out by a key investor, Andreessen Horowitz. (And it gets worse…read on….)

It’s so…whiz-bang! (Updated) Your Editors, past and present, have made hash (corned beef and otherwise) of companies promising revolutions in healthcare since our inception. ‘Whiz bang’ (more…)

Onward the 76 Hundred! Healthcare M&A, funding jam the news

Healthcare mergers, acquistions, investments and joint ventures are doing their own Charge of the Light Brigade as we cross the mid-year bar.

* Onward the 76 Hundred! 7,600 startups around the world are developing solutions in digital health, according to accelerator/investor StartUp Health’s 2015 mid-year report. It also notes that ‘personalized solutions’ are the It Girl of digital health, and that data analytics/big data has fallen to third in investor interest after wellness/benefits (largely skewed by Zenefits) and patient/consumer 
experience received large funding rounds. Cheering news is that StartUp Health notes that investment in 50+ health companies is remaining steady. But the rest might be a bit frothy. The Gimlet Eye’s tut-tut: “whatever Zenefits is, it can’t produce enough Employee Wellness and manage enough HR to be worth an investment of $500 million”. For our Readers, we give you a direct link to their 2015 Midyear Funding Insights Report. (We await RockHealth’s take on the the Year to Date.)

* Onward with an IPO! Telemedicine darling Teladoc (TDOC, NYSE) is even more so with a smashing initial public offering, targeted to open at $19 which closed on Wednesday at $28 and today (Thursday) at same. Rosy forecasts abound despite those annoying losses ($12.7 million in 1st quarter ’14) and court action (Dallas News, TTA 9 June) . We at TTA are sticklers on terminology; still, we were happily surprised to see USA Today in our corner chiding Mr Gorevic on his misapplication of telehealth for telemedicine.

* Onward to Invest in Each Other! The new Allscripts-NantHealth deal gives new meaning to swap. EHR Allscripts bought a $200m, 10 percent equity stake in NantHealth, the health informatics chunk of Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong’s NantWorks mini-conglomerate. Meanwhile another Soon-Shiong company bought stock valued at $100m in Allscripts. Neil Versel in MedCity News

* Onward from Amsterdam to Tel Aviv! MedCity News and Reuters also report that Teva Pharmaceuticals and Philips Healthcare have inked a joint investment (more…)