Short takes 9 April: Doro phones to elderly isolated; funding to Vesta Healthcare, Zedsen; Anthem partners with Canvas EMR, Health Metrics (AU) new owner

Today’s News from all over roundup….

Doro in the UK is participating in the ‘Do Good’ initiative with the mobile network giffgaff. Doro is donating 500 Doro phones to isolated elderly people across the UK, as part of their efforts in other countries such as Germany, France, and the Nordics. The tie with giffgaff came about after their announcement of ‘goodybank’ to help those in UK communities facing hardship. Release

Vesta Healthcare raised $65 million in a venture round, bringing its financing since 2018 to $105 million (Crunchbase). Vesta connects a network of caregivers to at-home care and clinical care management. This round was led by Deerfield Management with participation from existing investors Oak HC/FT, Kaiser Permanente Ventures, Lux Capital, Generator Ventures, Nationwide, CareCentrix, and Epstein Partners plus K2 HealthVentures. Vesta is HQ’d in New York City and provides services in five states, which will be expanded with the new funding. Release. Hat tip to HISTalk

London-based Zedsen raised $12 million (£8.7 million) in a Series B which apparently is its first reported financing. Also joining them is Dr. Caroline Hargrove CBE, former CTO of Babylon Health, as Chief Technology Officer. Zedsen provides non-invasive skin biosensor-based monitoring of human body functions to create personalized insights about health, fitness, diet, and emotional wellbeing. The investors include: Joseph R. Grano, former Chairman and CEO of UBS Financial Services Inc; Nasser Kazeminy, Investor, Founder of NJK Holding and Chairman of the Ellis Island Honor Society (EIHS); Tony Rice, Former CEO of Cable and Wireless; Bonnie Mcalveen Hunter, Chairperson of the Red Cross; and Jim Harpel, Investor at Palm Beach Capital. Release, Mobihealthnews

Health payer Anthem is constructing an interesting partnership with a physician-targeted EMR, Canvas. Canvas will integrate Anthem member information into their EMR workflows as part of Canvas Payer SDK (software development kit). The company is leveraging this function as in primary care, usually health insurance claims data are a reliable source of patient data. They also gained a brand new Series A of $17 million funded by Inspired Capital and IA Ventures after seed and venture rounds. Becker’s Health IT, TechCrunch 

And Down Under, Tanarra Capital acquired a majority stake in Health Metrics, a software provider that supports Australia’s residential aged care, retirement living, community, and disability sectors.

Google’s Care Studio patient record search tool to pilot at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center

A cleaned-up Project Nightingale? Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC) in Boston announced their participation in a pilot with Google of Care Studio, described in the BIDMC press release as “a technology designed to offer clinicians a longitudinal view of patient records and the ability to quickly search through those records through a single secure tool.” In other words, it’s like Google Search going across multiple systems: the BIDMC proprietary EHR (WebOMR), core medical record system, and several clinical systems designed for specific clinical specialties. All the clinician need do is type a term and the system will provide relevant information within their patient’s medical record from these systems, saving time and promoting accuracy. (See left)

The BIDMC pilot will use a limited group of 50 inpatient physicians and nurses, to assess the tool’s quality, efficacy, and safety of its use. Technical work starts this month.

At the end of the BIDMC release, it’s carefully explained that the tool is “designed to adhere to state and federal patient privacy regulations, including the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) and industry-wide standards related to protected health information. BIDMC and Google Health have entered into a Business Associate Agreement (BAA) to ensure that both parties meet patient privacy obligations required under HIPAA. BIDMC patient data will be stored and maintained in a protected environment, isolated from other Google customers.” (Editor’s emphasis) The BAA was inked in 2018.

Without referring to it, it addresses the controversy surrounding Google’s Project Nightingale and Ascension Health, a major privacy kerfuffle pre-COVID that broke in early November 2019. From the TTA article, edited: “Google’s BAA allowed them apparently to access in the initial phase at least 10 million identified health records which were transmitted to Google without patient or physician consent or knowledge, including patient name, lab results, diagnoses, hospital records, patient names and dates of birth.” Ascension maintained that everything was secure and Google could not use data for marketing or other purposes not connected to the project, but handling was under wraps and Google employees had access to the data. Ascension’s core agreement was about migration of data to Google Cloud and providing G Suite tools to clinicians and employees. But apparently there was also a search tool component, which evolved into Care Studio.

Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of Civil Rights, which governs privacy, announced at the time an investigation. The only later reference this Editor was able to locate was in HIPAA Journal of 5 March 2020 regarding the request of three Senators from both sides of the aisle demanding an explanation on the agreements and what information Google employees accessed. The timing was bad as then COVID hit and all else went out the window. In short, the investigations went nowhere, at least to the public.

It would surprise this Editor if any questions were raised about Care Studio, though BIDMC’s goal is understandable and admirable. Also Becker’s Hospital Review, FierceHealthcare

Deal and news roundup: Therapy Brands’ big KKR investment, AppliedVR’s non-painful $29M Series A; Akili tests cognitive-boosting games; Firefly Health lights up $40M; Mastercard-b.well partner, two big IPOs filed, more

Behavioral health stays on the bubble. Therapy Brands, a Birmingham, Alabama-based company with a suite of mental and behavioral health practice tools for providers, announced (7 April) that major investment firm KKR will take a majority interest in the company. Existing investor PSG will participate. Exiting are current investors Lightyear Capital LLC, Oak HC/FT, and Greater Sum Ventures. Neither expected closing nor financial terms were disclosed. Previous investment was private equity and is not available (Crunchbase).

Therapy, founded in 2013, has a suite of practice management, telehealth, and data collection tools encompassing practice management; software tools for substance, psychotherapy, and rehab treatment; two HIPAA-compliant telehealth/e-prescription platforms; billing; and staff performance evaluation. It’s remained under the radar yet boasts leadership from Greenway Health–their CEO, Kimberly O’Loughlin–Community Brands, Advance Publications, ADP, and Henry Schein. 

Virtual reality and its effects on the brain are growing warm as an approach to pain management. LA-based AppliedVR announced a $29 million Series A with F-Prime Capital, JAZZ Venture Partners, Sway Ventures, GSR Ventures, Magnetic Ventures, and Cedars-Sinai. Their EaseVRx was the first VR-based prescription therapeutic to receive FDA Breakthrough Device Designation late last year to care for treatment-resistant fibromyalgia and lower back pain. VR is used to modulate the brain’s perception of pain through cognitive behavioral therapy, mindfulness, and biofeedback, reducing it in intensity and emotional effect. Total funding is $35 million since 2016. While still in clinical trials for other types of pain management (recent release), EaseVRx is being used by 200 provider groups and 60,000 patients. This Editor noted their inclusion in a Louisville Thrive Center showcase back in 2017 when Care Innovations was there; they are still listed under Social Engagement. Release. FierceHealthcare includes AppliedVR with a roundup of March deals.

Related in brain management is therapy for a long-term effect of COVID-19 infection recovery–cognitive impairment. An emerging long-term effect of COVID-19 illness in some individuals has been ‘brain fog’. Akili Interactive of Boston is collaborating with Weill Cornell Medicine, NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital, and Vanderbilt University Medical Center to evaluate their video game-based digital therapeutic AKL-T01 as a treatment for patients with cognitive dysfunction following COVID-19. Their EndeavorRX has also been used with therapy for children with ADHD and includes a behavior tracking app. Release

Boston-based startup Firefly Health scored a luminescent Series B of $40 million. Their current platform provides integrated in-person and virtual primary health along with specialist referrals and behavioral support in what they term a ‘digital Kaiser’. The raise will be used to launch a targeted health plan offering. Firefly already works with Aetna, Anthem, Tufts Health Plan, and UnitedHealthcare, among others, but at this time is pretty much limited to Massachusetts and does not accept Medicare nor Medicaid. Jonathan Bush, former CEO of athenahealth, joined back in 2019 as executive chairman a year after his departure. FierceHealthcare

And in other news…

Two IPO filings plus a SPAC:

  • Privia Health, a national physician platform furnishing management services to providers such as group formation (ACOs) and technologies for coordination and value-based patient care, announced their S-1 with the SEC. No share offering information was disclosed. Lead managers are Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan, so it will be sizeable.
  • Agilon Health, another management services company organizing community physicians for Medicare Advantage in their ‘Total Care Model’ value-based care for 65+, announced their S-1 for 46.6 million shares priced between $20 to $23 per share. At the low price, this would be a raise of $932 million. JP Morgan, Goldman Sachs, and BofA Securities are leads. Hat tip on both to HISTalk Morning Headlines.
  • Better Therapeutics, a digital therapeutics/cognitive health platform addressing type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease, will be merging with a SPAC, Mountain Crest Acquisition Corp. II, closing by late summer for listing on NASDAQ. Projected: $113 million of cash proceeds, including a fully committed $50 million PIPE and up to $57.5 million of cash held in the Mountain Crest II trust account assuming no redemptions, for a valuation of about $187 million. Release, Mobihealthnews

Mastercard and b.well Connected Health, a consumer health management platform via employers, health systems, and health plans, are launching a patient identity verification tool for mobile phones. FierceHealthcare

And a health tech entrepreneur turns towards the payer side, for now. Karl Hess joins Texas Health Aetna, a joint venture between Arlington-based Texas Health Resources and Aetna, as interim CEO. Mr. Hess is better known to health techies on LinkedIn as principal of OnDigitalHealth Consulting, Kalico Partners in population health management, Welltok, and Collain Healthcare. Becker’s Payer Issues

A smash Q1 for digital health funding–but the SPAC party may be winding down fast

An Overflowing Tub of Big Funding and Even Bigger Deals. The bubble bath that was Q1 deals and funding is no surprise to our Readers. Your Editor at one point apologized for the often twice-weekly roundups. (Better the Tedium of Deals than COVID and Shutdown, though.)

Rock Health provides a bevy of totals and charts in its usual quarterly summary of US digital health deals.

  • US funding crested $6.7 bn over 147 deals during January through March, more than doubling 2020’s $3.1 bn in Q1 over 107 deals.
  • Trending was on par through February, until it spiked in March with four mega-deals (over $100 million) over two days: Clarify (analytics), Unite Us (SDOH tech), Strive Health (kidney care), and Insitro (drug discovery). These deals also exceeded 2020’s hot Q3 ($4.1 bn) and Q4 ($4.0 bn).
  • Bigger, better. Deals skewed towards the giant economy size. $100 million+ deals represented 66 percent of total Q1 funding
  • Deal sizes in Series B and C were bigger than ever, with a hefty Series B or C not uncommon any more. Series B raises were on average $49 million and C $77 million. One of March’s megadeals was a Series B–Strive Health with a $140 million Series B [TTA 18 Mar].
  • Series A deal size barely kept up with inflation, languishing in the $12 to $15 million range since 2018.
  • Hot sectors were a total turnaround from previous years. Mental health, primary care, and substance use disorders, once the ugly ducklings which would get their founders tossed out of cocktail parties, became Cinderellas Before Midnight at #1, #2, and #3 respectively. Oncology, musculoskeletal (MSK), and gastrointestinal filled out the Top 6 list.
  • M&As were also blistering: 57 acquisitions in Q1, versus Q4 2020’s 45

Given the trends and nine months to go, will it blow the doors off 2020’s total funding of $14 bn? It looks like it…but…We invite your predictions in the Comments below.

Les bon temps may rouler, but that cloud you see on the horizon may have SPAC written on it. A quick review: Special Purpose Acquisition Companies (SPACs) typically are public companies that raise money through their own IPOs for the express purpose of buying other companies. Often called a ‘blank check’, they have no purpose other than buying one or two other companies–in the latter case, merging them like the announced Cloudbreak and UpHealth last November–and converting over to the company’s identity and business. The timeframe is usually two years. Essentially, the active company goes public with a minimum of the messy, long, expensive, and revelatory process of filing directly with the SEC (in the US). This quarter, Rock Health’s stat on SPACs was that they raised $83.1 bn this quarter, exceeding by $0.5 bn all SPAC activity in 2020, mainly late in the year. Their count was two SPACs closing in Q1 and 8 more announced but not yet closed (counting Cloudbreak/UpHealth as one).

As an exit door for investors, it’s worked very well–but is dependent on private equity and public investors having confidence in SPACs. One thinning of the bubble may be the scrutiny of Clover Health’s SPAC by the SEC [TTA 9 Feb] over not revealing that they were under investigation by the Department of Justice (DOJ). Certainly this was a material circumstance that could dissuade investors, among other dodgy business practices later unveiled. Mr. Market tells a tale; Clover went public 8 Jan at $15.90 and closed today at $7.61. Their YahooFinance listing has a long list of law firms filing class-action lawsuits on behalf of shareholders.

Clover may be the leading edge of a SPAC bust. SPACs are losing their luster because there are too many going through, jamming bandwidth at the bank and law firm level. As time ticks by and deals are delayed, the private funders of SPACs are growing squeamish, according to this report in National Review’s Capital Note (yes, National Review has a finance newsletter). “In the past two weeks alone, four blank-check deals have been halted, with SPAC shares declining significantly from their highs early this year. The slowdown follows an influx of short-sellers into the opaque financial vehicles and a sell-off in high-profile SPACs such as Churchill Capital Corp IV.” Reasons why: lower quality of companies available to go public via SPAC–the low hanging ripe fruit has been picked–and the last mile in SPACs, which is PIPE funding (private equity-investment-in-public-equity financing) is getting skittish. The last shoe to drop? The SEC in late March announced an investigation into SPACs, making inquiries into several banks seeking information on their SPAC dealings, which is alluded to near the end of the Rock Health report. CNBC  (Read further down into the NR article for a Harvard Business Review dissection of the boom-bust dynamics of ‘controversial practices’ like reverse mergers as a forecast of what may happen to SPACs. Increased popularity led to increased negativity in reverse mergers.)

And speaking of SPACs...Health tech/digital health eyes are upon what Glen Tullman and the ‘late of Livongo’ team will be doing with their SPAC, Health Assurance Acquisition Corp., which is backed by Hemant Taneja’s General Catalyst, also a former Livongo funder. Brian Dolan, who is now publishing Exits and Outcomes. His opinion is their buy will be Color, formerly Color Genomics: opinion piece is here. Messrs Tullman and Taneja are also leading Transcarent, a company that brings together employers, employees, and providers in a seamless, app-driven integrated care model. Forbes

The cool-off in SPACs may burst a few bubbles in the bath–and that may be all to the good in the long term.

Zipnosis, health system telemedicine/triage provider, acquired by insurtech Bright Health Group

Breaking: Zipnosis, a telemedicine/telehealth company that provides telehealth and diagnosis triage for large health systems, had a stealthy announcement of its acquisition by Bright Health Group late yesterday. The announcement is not on either corporate website but was made by Zipnosis’ financial advisers in the transaction, Cain Brothers/KeyBanc. Neither the value of the transaction, the transition plans for Zipnosis management and staff, nor operating model, were disclosed. Both Zipnosis and Bright Health are HQ’d in Minneapolis. Release

Why This Is Verrrry Interesting. Zipnosis developed an interesting niche as a relatively early starter in 2009 by providing white-labeled telemedicine systems to large health systems. They made the case to over 60 health systems across the US, including large systems like Allina Health with a ‘Digital Front Door’ that provided initial triage for a claimed 2 million patients, moving them into synchronous or asynchronous care fully integrated with hospital EHRs. They were named as the ‘Hottest Digital Startup from Flyover Country’ by Observer.com, once upon a time in this Editor’s wayback machine an actual print weekly newspaper and, as is obvious, NYC-centric. Release Their funding to date is, surprisingly, limited: under $25 million from seven investors, including Ascension Ventures, Safeguard Scientifics, Hyde Park Ventures, and Waterline Ventures, with the last round back in 2019. Crunchbase

Bright Health Group, on the other hand, is an insurance provider in both the exchange and Medicare Advantage (MA) markets in 13 states and 50 markets, covering 500,000 lives. Their model integrates both technology like web tools and apps with their insurance plans to be an ‘insurtech’ like Oscar Health and Clover Health. They claim to be the third-largest provider of the highly specialized type of Medicare Advantage plans called Chronic Condition Special Needs Plans (C-SNP) for those with severe and/or disabling chronic conditions. Bright Health operates in 13 states and 50 markets. In January, they announced the acquisition of Central Health Plan in California with 110,000 MA members.

However, what is verrrry interesting about Bright’s model, compared to other ‘insurtechs’, is that they own or manage a care delivery channel–40 advanced risk-bearing primary care clinics delivering in-person and virtual care to 220,000 members. The ‘risk-bearing’ is also interesting as it leads one to believe that some of these practices may participate in Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) value-based care models such as Primary Care First, the Medicare Shared Savings Program, or End-Stage Renal Disease (ESRD).

Bright Health is also extremely well funded now–and may be even better funded in the near future. Last September, they raised $500 million in a Series E led by New Enterprise Associates with Tiger Global Management, T. Rowe Price Associates, and Blackstone, as well as existing investors including Bessemer Venture Partners and Greenspring Associates (Crunchbase and Mobihealthnews). The purpose stated at the time was new market expansion both geographically and to small groups. Last week’s rumor was that they are preparing for an IPO in the $1 bn range with a valuation between $10 and $20 bn, which is Big Hay indeed. No paperwork has been filed yet with the SEC. Twin Cities Business, YahooFinance.

As an acquisition for Bright Health, Zipnosis brings in large healthcare systems with a unique triage platform that could be modified for primary care practices. It seems like a snack-sized acquisition that doesn’t require Federal approval but can be operated stand-alone–as health systems may be leery of an insurer’s ownership–with technology that can be integrated into other parts of the Bright Health business. This will be updated as additional news develops.

Weekend reading: the strange reasons why Amwell doesn’t consider Amazon a competitor; ground rules for the uneasy marriage of healthcare and technology

Yahoo Finance interviewed co-CEO/founder of Amwell Ido Schoenburg, MD on the company’s 2020 results and forecast for 2021. It makes for interesting but convoluted reading on their growth last year in what is a consolidating field where Amwell was once one of the undisputed two leaders. They now compete against payers acquiring telehealth companies (MDLive going to Optum) and mergers like Doctor on Demand-Grand Rounds that are taking increasing market shares. Then there are specialty providers like SOC Telemed and white-labels like Bluestream Health. However, there are a couple of whoppers in the happy talk of growth for all. Dr. S pegs the current run rate of telehealth visits at 15-20 percent. The best research from Commonwealth Fund (October) and FAIR Health (August) tracked telehealth at 6 percent of in-office visits. Epic Health Research Network measured 21 percent at end of August. [TTA summary here

Then there’s the tap dance around Amazon Care. His view is that telehealth companies all need a connective platform but that each competitor brings ‘modular components’ of what they do best. What Amazon excels at is the consumer experience; in his view, that is their contribution to this ‘coalition’ because healthcare doesn’t do that well. There’s a statement at the end which this Editor will leave Readers to puzzle through:  

“And Amazon and others could bring a lot of value to those coalitions, they should not be seen as necessarily competing unless you’re trying to do exactly what they do. And there are some companies, including some telehealth companies, that that’s what they do. They focus on services. They try to sell you a very affordable visit with a short wait time and a good experience. They should be incredibly concerned when someone so sophisticated as Amazon is trying to compete in that turf.”

The last time this Editor looked, none of these companies were non-profit, though nearly all are not profitable.

Gimlet EyeLooking through her Gimlet Eye, Amazon Care is a win-win, even if the whole enterprise loses money. In this view, Amazon accumulates and owns national healthcare data far more valuable than the consumer service, then can do what they want with it, such as cross-analysis against PillPack and OTC medical shopping habits, even books, toys, home supplies, and clothing. Ka-ching!

A ‘bucket of cold water’ article, published in Becker’s Health IT last month, takes a Gimlety view of the shotgun marriage of healthcare and technology. Those of us laboring in those vineyards for the better part of two decades might disagree with the author in part, but we all remember how every new company was going to ‘revolutionize healthcare’. (The over-the-top blatherings of ZocDoc‘s former leadership provide a perfect example.) The post-Theranos/Outcome Health/uBiome world has demonstrated that the Silicon Valley modus operandi of ‘fake it till you make it’ and ‘failing fast and breaking things’, barely ethical in consumer businesses, are totally unethical in healthcare which deals in people’s lives. Then again, healthcare focused on ‘people as patients’ cannot stand either. Stephen K. Klasko, MD, President and CEO, Thomas Jefferson University and Jefferson Health in Pennsylvania, advocates for a change–far more concisely than Dr. Schoenburg. You may want to pass this along.

Deals and news roundup, April Fool’s Edition: SOC Telemed’s $196M acute care telehealth buy, HIMSS takes over SCAN Health, Livongo’s Burke joins Owlet board, CirrusMD text app raises $20M

(We’ve gone bug-eyed for 1 April!)

SOC Telemed ponies up a Spritely $196 million for competitor Access Physicians. The completed combination forms, according to SOC, the largest acute care telemedicine provider in the US serving 1,000 facilities, including over 700 hospitals, across 47 states. The deal is cash and stock. No transitional information other than the CEO of Access Physicians joins the SOC Telemed board. Both companies are in the enterprise acute care telemedicine area, facilitating virtual consults between specialists and to patient bedsides. In its SEC 10-K filing released earlier this week, SOC Telemed reported $59 million in 2020 revenue, up from $66.2 million in 2019. Q4 was a mixed bag: a 95 percent increase in Q4 bookings but a 13 percent revenue decline due to reduced hospital visits. Losses are limited–a net loss per share of $3.55 which is light for like telehealth companies (more in SOC release). For 2021, the projection is $107 to $113 million in pro forma annual revenue. SOC Telemed was one of the first digital health companies to use a SPAC to go public (amazingly) less than one year ago and with substantial assets at formation [TTA 4 Aug 20]. The combined company connects specialists in neurology, psychiatry, critical care, infectious disease, cardiology, maternal-fetal medicine, and nephrology. SOC Telemed release, Mobihealthnews, Becker’s Hospital Review 

HIMSS assumes the operations of SCAN Health, a networking and events company concentrating on best practices in the healthcare supply chain. SCAN was founded by the Canadian government out of the University of Windsor’s Odette School of Business. Their events are held with over 100 partners in North America and Europe, and will transfer to HIMSS effective immediately. SCAN’s founder, Dr. Anne Snowdon, launched the Clinically Integrated Supply Outcomes Model, a supply chain infrastructure strategic roadmap, with HIMSS Analytics in 2019. HIMSS release, Healthcare IT News.

Zane Burke, former CEO of Livongo, has joined another board–this time, with ‘sock’. Mr. Burke joins the board of Owlet, the baby monitoring sock company. In February [TTA 17 Feb], Owlet announced their SPAC estimated at $325 million. The transaction is expected to complete in Q2. Becker’s Health IT

CirrusMD, an on-demand text-first telehealth app, raised $20 million for its Series C led by The Blue Venture Fund and 7wire Ventures. Total funding to date is $47 million. Visits cover primary or urgent care, chronic condition management, women’s health, pediatrics, and behavioral health with text first then connection to a board-certified physician within one minute. Release, Mobihealthnews

US Department of Justice decides additional scrutiny needed of $13bn Optum acquisition of Change Healthcare

Change, so to speak, will not be fast for Optum. On Friday, Change Healthcare filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) a Form 8-K (PDF link) that confirms that the Department of Justice (DOJ) has asked for additional information pertinent to their proposed acquisition by UnitedHealthcare Group and integration into their Optum unit. On 24 March, both received a request from the DOJ for additional information and documentary materials (called a “Second Request”) as part of DOJ’s review of the merger under the Hart-Scott-Rodino Antitrust Act (HSR). The Second Request extends the waiting period for 30 days after UHG and Change comply with the review, unless either the DOJ shortens it or it is extended by the two companies (para. 3).

The integration of Change Healthcare into Optum already had significant competitive concerns for DOJ to consider. OptumInsight, Optum’s data analytics unit, and Change provide a similar range of services in health IT and revenue cycle management (RCM). However, Change is one of the largest independent companies providing these services to major providers, with access to the data of 1 out of 3 patients. Optum’s parent, UnitedHealthcare, is the largest US payer. These were the factors that made those represented by the American Hospital Association (AHA) very nervous indeed [TTA 25 Mar] regarding pricing of these services–and they expressed their misgivings cogently in a seven-page letter (PDF link) to DOJ on 17 March. In their view, Change integrated into OptumInsight would reduce competition and increase pricing in RCM, claims clearinghouse and payment accuracy services, and clinical decision support services.

Why it’s important. The closing of the $13 bn deal, originally forecast as second half 2021, now has a decent likelihood of being postponed. As CVS and Aetna found between 2017 and 2019, once the objections start in the flashpoint called US Healthcare, they tend to snowball into delays, even if it can be managed to a successful conclusion. (Extreme examples: the doomed to fail Aetna-Humana and Anthem-Cigna mergers) While RCM and data analytics are not as high profile as health plans and retail health, industry groups have a lot of clout in the DC Swamp when the cause is higher cost and DOJ, in this administration, is likely to be more activist. Another reason: if UHG or Change have to divest themselves of too much (UHG set a boundary of $650 million), they may Call The Whole Thing Off. Also Healthcare Dive and FierceHealthcare

Deals and news roundup: Ginger’s $100M, myNEXUS to Anthem, Everlywell snaps up PWN, Amwell’s banner year for revenue–and loss, VA reviews Cerner rollout, voice visits for MA, GE’s vScan goes wireless, uBiome founders indicted

Deals–and news–are piling up like Easter eggs before the hunt. Mental health and cognitive digital therapy scored another raise with Ginger‘s $100 million Series E to fund expansion into health plan and government partnerships. Blackstone Growth led the round. Total funding to date is $220 million. It’s entered unicorn status with a valuation just north of $1 bn. Ginger to date has concentrated on corporate mental healthcare. From being an ugly duckling only a few years ago, digital mental therapies are this year’s ‘it’. But competition is fierce: the traditional telehealth companies such as Teladoc, Doctor on Demand, and Amwell are closing in on the early entrants such as AbleTo. Direct-to-consumer models like Talkspace; UK/Ireland’s SilverCloud Health; and Lyra, Spring Health, and Happify, which just closed a $73 million Series D, all step out with slightly different ‘differentiators’ but target the same companies, health plans, and health systems. FierceHealthcare, Ginger release

Home health is also another former ugly duckling transformed into a swan. Anthem is acquiring home health/nursing management company myNEXUS, which manages home-based nursing services for 1.7 million Medicare Advantage members across 20 states. Their digital authorization and visit management couples with a nationwide network of providers and nursing agencies for local care. Exiting myNEXUS are private equity investors led by New York’s WindRose Health Investors, after four rounds and a conservative $31 million in funding (Crunchbase). Neither terms nor management transitions were disclosed. myNEXUS will join Anthem’s Diversified Business Group. FierceHealthcare, release.

Home testing+telehealth company Everlywell (not connected with the Everly Brothers) has a different take on home health. They are now integrating their self-test kits with fully owned lab testing. New acquisitions PWNHealth and its subsidiary Home Access Health Corporation will join Everlywell in Everly Group. PWN was Everlywell’s main telehealth partner and diagnostic testing partner since 2016. It will become Everly Health Solutions with their testing data kept separate from Everlywell’s. Home Access was PWN’s self-collected lab test company. Everly Health now will support more than 20 million people annually in all 50 U.S. states, Canada, and Puerto Rico. Acquisition terms were not disclosed. PWN’s CEO will take a seat on the Everly Group board to assist integration. Valuation is now estimated at $2.9 bn.  Mobihealthnews, Everly release, Bloomberg News

And in other news…

Amwell reported a Very Good Year in their telehealth services, with visits growing to 5.9 million from 2019’s 1.1 million. Total revenue was up over 65 percent to $245.3 million. However, profitability continues to be elusive, with net loss almost equaling revenue. Release

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) finally announced a review of the Cerner-Leidos EHR integration. Back in February, VA was hanging tough on the rollout after the GAO report questioning its wisdom and recommending postponement until high severity issues were corrected. Secretary Denis McDonough, new VA head, has directed the undertaking of a 12 week strategic review without pausing the project. Taking bets on that 12 weeks! Healthcare Dive

Payers and their lobbyists are supporting a newly reintroduced House bill that would permit telephonic-only telehealth visits to be reimbursed for their Medicare Advantage plans after HHS closes the pandemic period. There is considerable information that video/audio virtual visits still have limitations with the 65+ group, clustered around high-speed internet or good data connections, smartphones, and computers with cameras, making video visits difficult or impossible. Which begs the question about continuing coverage for those on Original Medicare. Healthcare Dive

Those readers with long memories will recall GE Healthcare’s heralded introduction of the VScan handheld clinical-grade ultrasound device–back in 2010, complete with Eric Topol rave and demo. Not much has been heard from GEHC since till this month, and other competitors, such as the Butterfly IQ from 4Catalyzer, have made handheld ultrasound common and affordable. GEHC announced Vscan Air, a fully wireless version that connects to iOS or Android. It was FDA cleared in November 2020 and will be shipping its dual-headed probe and accessories starting 1 April for a US-listed target price of $4,495. GEHC page (with the cute domain vscan.rocks), Mobihealthnews

And in our Scandal Sheet section, a Federal grand jury in the Northern District of California has indicted the founders of now-bankrupt uBiome on 40-odd counts encompassing conspiracy to commit securities fraud, conspiracy to commit health care fraud, money laundering, and identity theft. Separately, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) also filed charges. Between 2016 and 2018, uBiome had raised $100 million through a Series C, and was likened to Theranos, after its fall, in the Big Claim (‘inventing the microbiome industry’). Its business was analyzing the DNA of fecal and other biological matter to sequence the bacteria of the body’s microbiome. Starting with low-cost, limited data comparison for at-home tests, the founders progressed to claiming to doctors that their diagnostic tests were clinical-quality and would be reimbursed by payers. Payers did–for awhile–and the investors piled in. By 2019, the wheels fell off their scheme and the FBI came knocking at their Silicon Valley offices after the founders cashed in. Chapter 7 followed in late 2019. The Register reports that the two married founders are on the run, whereabouts unknown. US Attorney’s Office release, SEC filing (PDF)

 

UK short news takes: Tunstall names new chair, Alcidion patient safety software partners with East Lancashire NHS Trust

Tunstall Healthcare named Peter Nicklin as Chairman of the Board. Mr. Nicklin has had a varied career in healthcare, including stints at companies such as Baxter International, Bayer Healthcare, Novartis, and Bristol-Myers Squibb. Before joining Tunstall, he was Chairman of Versantis, a Swiss pharmaceutical company, as well as Chairman of the Board of Healthcare at Home a leading pharma services company, focused on chronic, rare disease and oncology medicine management services. Prior to that, he was CEO and board member of Amann Girrbach AG of Koblach, Austria. Mr. Nicklin and his impressive background arrives at an interesting time for Tunstall, some months past a reorganization, purchase by a Jersey-based group [TTA 30 Oct 20], and a blistering market for health tech and associated in the US which hasn’t quite spread to the UK. Tunstall release 

Alcidion‘s Patientrack, a patient status monitoring software used to track patient conditions, particularly safety and deteriorating vital signs needing immediate attention, at bedside and remotely, announced a five-year, five hospital deal with East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust. Patientrack will integrate with East Lancashire’s Cerner Millenium EHR. Alcidion markets in the UK, Australia, and New Zealand, and was founded and remains HQ’d in Australia in 2000. Unusually for software, the chair and the group managing director are women.  Release

Propel@YH’s Demo Day for participants next Wednesday 31 March

Propel@YH, the Yorkshire and Humber Academic Health Science Network (Yorkshire & Humber AHSN) program organized to support digital health companies, will have a virtual Demo Day this coming Wednesday 31 March. The 2020-2021 cohort presenting could be called the ‘COVID Class’, as the program starting last October was focused on supporting the healthcare sector during the ongoing pandemic.  

Here are the finalists presenting on Wednesday:

  • Co-Opts ltd; a smart speaker for automated recording, transcription and summarisation of therapy sessions
  • CyberLiver Ltd; remote monitoring of at-risk cirrhosis patients using wearables and an app
  • I.M.M.E; a VR experience created to support Williams syndrome, supporting isolation, rehab mobility and mental health
  • Liria Digital Health; a technological solution addressing the health and wellbeing of perimenopausal, menopausal, and postmenopausal people.
  • My Food 24; an online food diary system which automates the diet tracking and analysis process
  • SeeAI; a platform that supports early fracture diagnosis through x-ray images
  • Ufonia Ltd; an AI-enabled accessible clinical assistant called Dora that can conduct an intelligent clinical conversation via a regular voice telephone call
  • Vastmindz; an AI face analysis app to measure real-time heart and respiration rates, oxygen saturation, stress level, blood pressure and atrial fibrillation risk
  • Warner Patch; a non-invasive, wearable wireless (using 2G network) sensor that predicts tissue health disease evolution using AI for clinicians to give preventive care, improve patient outcome and save care costs
  • Written Medicine; a pharmacy label and discharge summary translation system, that works across 11 different languages

The 15 AHSNs like Yorkshire & Humber function as innovation arms of the NHS and act as a bridge between health care providers, commissioners, academia, and industry. Joining the AHSN are the University of Leeds’ innovation hub, Nexus (academic and SME support); Barclays Eagle Labs (incubator network); law firm Hill Dickinson LLP; and Leeds City Council.

Register for the presentation via Eventbrite here. (Time 0900-1130 GMT)  Hat tip to Ellis Noble of KC Communications

Breaking: Sarah Wilkinson, CEO of NHS Digital, resigns, to depart by summer

Breaking News. NHS Digital announced Friday afternoon (UK time) that Sarah Wilkinson, CEO of NHS Digital since August 2017, has resigned and will be departing her post this summer. The rationale given in the release is to carry forward the work of NHS Digital after the COVID pandemic:

“As the work associated with the pandemic starts to stabilise, and planning commences for the ambitious program of transformation over the next few years, I have come to the conclusion that it would be better for a new CEO to step into the role now so that they can provide continuous leadership over the programs of that post-Covid agenda, and now is an appropriate time for me to leave the organisation. That new CEO will be able to build upon strong foundations in an organisation that knows what it can do, and I will work closely with them to ensure a smooth transition to new leadership for our programmes, products, and people.”

NHS Digital is seeking an interim CEO to transition the position from Ms. Wilkinson. The NHS Digital Board will start the open search for candidates to permanently fill the position later this year. NHS Digital provides and supervises information, data, and IT systems for the UK’s Department of Health and Social Care.

Ms. Wilkinson came to NHS Digital from the chief information officer (CIO) position at the Home Office (2015-2017) and previously from the banking sector with technology titles at Credit Suisse, HSBC, and UBS. Her board positions include NatWest Markets and King’s College London.

Certainly more to come from this!

News and deals roundup: AHA opposes Optum buy of Change Healthcare; big raises by Komodo Health, Evidation Health, Ro’s $500M; Appriss acquires PatientPing

Sometimes $13bn Mega Deals run into powerful opposition. The nearly 5,000 member American Hospital Association (AHA) is opposing UnitedHealth Group’s Optum‘s acquisition of software/analytics/revenue cycle management (RCM) company Change Healthcare. The AHA is urging that the Antitrust Division of the Department of Justice (DOJ) review it on anti-competitive grounds. Their position is that the OptumInsight integration of Change, planned for Q2, will drastically reduce competition for health care information technology (IT) services to hospitals and other health care providers, driving up costs to hospitals and patients. Optum is already one of the largest in this sector. It would also shift data from a third-party company to a subsidiary of the US’ largest payer. Change is the largest independent provider of health IT services for payments and RCM. Though substantial divestitures are part of the deal, the AHA opposition may kick off the same from other healthcare groups and successfully force DOJ to take action. FierceHealthcare, AHA letter to DOJ (PDF link).

Dizzy Digital Health Deals Continue This Week. Data analytics companies haven’t been as hot as other areas of digital health closer to telehealth and behavioral health, but Komodo Health just completed a big Series E of $220 million. This follows their snack-sized January Series D of $44 million (Crunchbase). Komodo feeds their 325 million patient encounter database drawn from EHR, pharma, lab, and government data into their proprietary software for analytics to drive better health outcomes across therapeutic areas. Their primary markets are life sciences and pharma for R&D, clinical trials, and medical affairs. The Series E was led by Tiger Global Management, which earlier this month invested in Tyto Care and Dispatch Health [TTA 4 March], with Casdin Capital plus existing investors ICONIQ Growth, Andreessen Horowitz, and SVB Capital. Release 

Evidation Health, another data aggregation and analytics company, raised $153 million in a Series E led by OMERS Growth Equity and Kaiser Permanente Group Trust for a total funding since 2012 of $259 million. This will be used for building out their virtual health analytics and research platform, Achievement. Release

In direct-to-consumer healthcare, integration gets tighter. For those who can stand their tacky commercials for Roman, you’ll be seeing many more of them because parent DTC/telehealth company Ro just raised $500 million in a Series D round, led by General Catalyst, FirstMark Capital, and TQ Ventures. The intent of co-founder Zachariah Reitano is to combine a nationwide telemedicine, pharmacy distribution, and in-home care network. Their total funding since 2017 is $876 million. According to the TechCrunch article, Ro is building out a patient-centric ‘vertical optimization’ model with 10 pharmacies scheduled for 2021 and the ability to provide 500 common drugs at $5 per month. Earlier this year, Ro acquired Workpath, a software platform that enables healthcare companies to offer on-demand, in-home care, and diagnostic services. Look for Ro to make another acquisition or two this year to bolster their telehealth capabilities. Release

PatientPing, a care coordination software that connects providers to create continuity of patient care to notify them of patient events, is in an agreement to be acquired by Appriss Health, a 25-year-old SaaS software company primarily known for behavioral health care coordination and data analytics solutions to identify and mitigate substance use disorders. The combined company will cover 1 million professionals, 2,500 hospitals, 7,500 post-acute facilities, 25,000 pharmacies including every national pharmacy chain, and 43 state governments. Terms of the transaction were not disclosed, nor valuation or management transition, but closing is expected in Q2. Release

CareCentrix files ‘corporate espionage’ on trade secrets lawsuit against Signify Health, former employee

Usually, laundry like this is not aired or dried in public, but it’s on the line nevertheless in a lawsuit. CareCentrix, a post-acute care/transitions of care management company, has sued in US Federal Court for the District of Delaware both Signify Health, a diversified home care company overlapping the same line of business, and CareCentrix’s former general manager, VP post-acute care Marcus Lanznar.  Initial charges were filed on 23 December and motions are piling up fast based on what is listed (paywalled, unfortunately) on PacerMonitor.

The Federal charge is covered under the Defend Trade Secrets Act of 2016 (DTSA), Cause 18:1836(a) Injunction against Misappropriation of Trade Secrets. The basics are that Mr. Lanznar was a senior executive of CareCentrix, had access to proprietary information, and had a restrictive covenant that would not allow him to go to a competitor for nine months. Yet he was engaged in interviews starting in July 2020, by August-September was having regular meetings with his counterpart, chief product officer Peter Boumenot, and passed CareCentrix information not only to his personal email but also to Signify into October, when Mr. Lanznar resigned. He joined Signify Health in November 2020 and is listed on LinkedIn as SVP product, though not on their management page. 

The lawsuit claims that Signify “targeted, recruited, and hired former CareCentrix executive Marcus Lanznar in a covert scheme that succeeded in providing access to CareCentrix’s confidential information and trade secrets” and also was aware of the conflict presented by the restrictive covenant. It seeks to prevent Mr. Lanznar and Signify Health from using its trade secrets and to award it damages and attorneys’ fees. 

This is a David versus Goliath matchup. Signify Health in February had a highly successful IPO gaining over $560 million and is valued with a market cap of over $7 bn. CareCentrix to date is most definitely the David in this scenario in terms of size, having raised all private equity funding via Summit Partners starting in 2011. However, it has made two acquisitions of its own recently: Vesta Healthcare at $30 million and Turnkey Health for an undisclosed amount (Crunchbase). The stakes are piled high in this hot segment of healthcare. 

There are a number of high-powered law firms dueling in this lawsuit, which also includes CareCentrix’s parent, NDES Holdings. Note: this article is based on both reporting in Healthcare IT News, which initially filed the story, and FierceHealthcare’s close on follow-up.

News and deals roundup: Strive Health’s $140M for kidney care, coalition lobbies for more home telehealth, codes removed from PFS, Hinge Health buys Enso, HelloSelf £5M raise, Tyto Care adds

Strive Health, which is integrating digital health and analytics into the much-needed area of chronic kidney disease management, secured a $140 million Series B round of funding led by CapitalG, Alphabet’s independent growth fund. Another new investor, Redpoint, joins current investors NEA, Town Hall Ventures, Ascension Ventures, and Echo Ventures. Strive’s total funding at this point is over $223 million. Strive’s model is the improvement of renal disease through managing specialized patient care delivery with payers and providers, with data analytics integrated into a patient care model focused on the home, e.g. telehealth and home dialysis. Financially, they take risk on chronic kidney disease (CKD) and end-stage renal disease (ESRD) patients. Current contracts are with Humana, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina, Independence Blue Cross, SSM Health, and Conviva Care Centers.   Release, FierceHealthcare

Speaking of home telehealth, the Moving Health Home coalition, formed by lobbyist Sirona Strategies, has onboard a founding group of companies that are generally competitive with each other: Amazon Care, Amwell, hospital systems Ascension Health and Intermountain Health, risk-based senior care group Landmark Health, Signify Health, and big Series D winner Dispatch Health [TTA 4 March]. Their stated intent is to influence policy to expand reimbursed home health care and advance the usage of home-based health based on evidence of effectiveness and cost savings. STAT,  MHH release

Meanwhile, back in DC, CMS says “oops!” on four telehealth codes inadvertently included in the Medicare Physician Fee Schedule (PFS) [TTA 3 Dec 20]. The 3 March Federal Register notice removes four codes listed in the temporary Category 3, which will remain in place through the end of the year as the pandemic public health emergency (PHE) has gone into 2021. Becker’s Hospital Review:

1. 96121: Neurobehavioral status exam by physician or other qualified health professional
2. 99221: Initial hospital care
3. 99222: Initial hospital care
4. 99223: Initial hospital care

Hinge Health acquires Enso. Enso developed a high-frequency pulsed, non-invasive, drug-free musculoskeletal (MSK) pain therapy which has been branded and added to Hinge Health’s MSK offerings. Product website. In January, Hinge Health raised $300 million in a Series D [TTA 14 Jan] as a rumored prelude to an IPO and made some management changes in preparation for same [TTA 27 Feb]. Terms and management alignments were not disclosed. Release

UK’s HelloSelf has raised a £5.5 million Series A funding round from OMERS Ventures. HelloSelf provides digital therapy and access to “the UK’s best clinical psychologists”. HelloSelf enters a crowded field of behavioral therapy providers, with SilverCloud Health dominant in the UK with the NHS. HelloSelf is concentrating on the B2B segment with employers. This Editor notes the much lower raises UK companies enjoy even in this hot area. Mobihealthnews

Tyto Care added Spectrum Health, a western Michigan health system, for live 24/7 video consults using Tyto Care’s exam kit. Release

Two major moves and what they mean: Doctor on Demand, Grand Rounds to merge; Amazon Care will go national by summer (updated)

This week’s Digital Health Big Deal (as of Wednesday!) is the merger agreement between telehealth/virtual visit provider Doctor on Demand and employer health navigator Grand Rounds. Terms were not disclosed. It’s important because it extends Grand Rounds’ care coordination capabilities beyond provider network navigation and employee clinical/financial tools for six million employees into an extensive telehealth network with 98 million patients in commercial, Federal, and state health plans.

Both companies had big recent raises–$175 million for Grand Rounds in a September 2020 Series E (Crunchbase) and Doctor on Demand with a $75 million Series D last July (Crunchbase). The transaction is a stock swap with no cash involved (FierceHealthcare, CNBC), and the announcement states that the two companies will operate under their own brands for the time being. Owen Tripp, co-founder and CEO of Grand Rounds, will run the combined company, while Doctor on Demand CEO Hill Ferguson runs DOD and joins the board. The combined company is well into Double Unicorn status with over $2 bn in valuation. Also Mobihealthnews.

What it means. Smaller (than Teladoc and Amwell) telehealth companies have been running towards M&A, with the most recent MDLive joining Optum’s Evernorth [TTA 27 Feb] creating interstate juggernauts with major leverage. Doctor on Demand was looking at their options for expansion or acquisition and decided 1) the time and the $ were right and 2) with Grand Rounds, they could keep a modicum of independence as a separate line while enjoying integration with a larger company. The trend is profound enough to raise alarms in the august pages of Kaiser Health News, which decries interstate telehealth providers competing with small and often specialized in-state providers, and in general the loosening of telehealth requirements, including some providers still only taking virtual visits. Contra this, but not in the KHN article, this Editor has previously noted that white-labeled telehealth providers such as Zipnosis and Bluestream Health have found a niche in supplying large health systems and provider groups with customized telehealth and triage systems.

UPDATED. In the Shoe Dropping department, Amazon Care goes national with virtual primary care (VPC). To no one’s surprise after Haven’s demise, Amazon’s pilot among their employees providing telehealth plus in-person for those in the Seattle area [TTA 17 Dec 20] is rolling out nationally in stages. First, the website is now live and positions the company as a total care management service for both urgent and primary care. Starting Wednesday, Amazon opened the full service (Video and Mobile Care) to other Washington state companies. The in-person service will expand to Washington, DC, Baltimore, and other cities in the next few months. Video Care will be available nationally to companies and all Amazon employees by the summer.

Notably, and buried way down in the glowing articles, Amazon is not engaging with payers on filing reimbursements for patient care. Video Care and Care Medical services will be billed directly to the individual who must then send for reimbursement to their insurance provider. The convenience is compromised by additional work on the patient’s part, something that those of us on the rare PPO plans were accustomed to doing back in the Paper Age but not common now. It also tends to shut out over 65’s on Medicare and those on low-income plans through Medicaid. It is doubtful that Amazon really wants this group anyway. Not exactly inclusive healthcare.

TechCrunch, FierceHealthcare. Jailendra Singh’s Credit Suisse team has a POV here which opines that Amazon continues to have a weak case for disruption in VPC, along with their other healthcare efforts, and an uphill battle against the current telehealth players who have already allied themselves with employers and integrating with payers.