Short takes: PocketHealth, Brightside fundings; VA OIG reports hit Oracle Cerner; Change cyberattack/legal updates; UHG-Amedisys reviewed in Oregon; Optum to buy Steward Health practices

It’s a relatively quiet week before the Easter holiday, with a few fundings, more drama at the VA around Oracle Cerner, updating Change Healthcare’s comeback, and the continuing scrutiny around UnitedHealth’s acquisitions:

PocketHealth garners a US$33 million Series B. The Toronto-based company markets an AI-assisted platform to health systems and providers that allows patients to access their medical imaging and reports as well as for providers to easily share imaging information. The funding was an all-equity round by Round13 Capital with participation from Deloitte Ventures, Samsung Next, and existing investors Questa Capital and Radical Ventures to bring total funding since 2020 to $55.5 million. The fresh funding will be used to grow further within the US and Canada and develop new platform functions. Patients have access to three platforms:  Report Reader to explain medical terms in the patient’s report, Follow-Up Navigator for follow-up imaging recommendations, and MyCare Navigator to equip patients with relevant, personalized questions to ask their doctor. The platform is available in 775 hospitals and imaging centers across North America and is used by more than 1.5 million patients.  PocketHealth release, Mobihealthnews

Brightside Health moves to a Series C of $33 million. This round for the telemental health company was led by S32, along with Kennedy Lewis, Time BioVentures, and Anne Wojcicki (Redwood Pacific) with existing investors ACME, Mousse Partners, and Triventures. Total funding since 2018 is $114 million. Brightside provides telemental health through payers in 50 states such as CareOregon, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Texas, and Centene. The new funding will be used to expand into the usual new markets and offerings. Trip Hofer, who was former CEO of Optum Behavioral Health Solutions and now with .406 Ventures, will join the Brightside board of directors. Their most recent moves are expansion into Medicare and Medicaid programs for psychiatry, therapy, and their Crisis Care program for individuals with elevated suicide risk. Release

The Department of Veterans Affairs Office of Inspector General (OIG) released three reports last Thursday (20-21 March) that were sharply critical of the new Oracle Cerner EHR. While Oracle Cerner Millenium operates in only five VA locations, not including the joint MHS/Genesis Lovell FHCC, each one has been problematic from training to implementation–and are on hold. The OIG reports available here on the Electronic Health Records Modernization (EHRM) are scathing on the EHR’s scheduling and pharmacy features leading to patient safety and staff usability issues.

  • At VA Central Ohio Healthcare System (facility) in Columbus and elsewhere, this led to inaccurate medication and allergy information transmission from new EHR sites to legacy EHR sites that staff and pharmacists had to work around to provide adequate safety checks.
  • Also at VA Central Ohio, the Cerner EHR system error in 2022 led to a patient’s missed appointment since it was not routed to a queue to prompt rescheduling efforts. Subsequently, a nurse practitioner never evaluated the medication refill request, nor did a psychologist evaluate mental status and critical clinical information. The veteran patient died by accidental overdose approximately seven weeks after that missed appointment.
  • Regarding future implementations, the OIG was specific on what had to be fixed on both: “These concerns include the need for additional staffing and overtime to meet or exceed pre-deployment appointment levels, displaced appointment queue functionality, challenges related to providers and schedulers sharing information, inaccurate patient information, difficulties changing appointment type, and the inability to automatically mail appointment reminder letters. At facilities currently relying on the EHR, these issues have resulted in inconsistent workarounds and additional work, increasing the risk for scheduling errors.” 

Healthcare IT News, Healthcare Dive, EHR Intelligence, TTA 22 Feb

Change Healthcare’s systems are gradually returning. Since our last update on 14 March, UnitedHealth Group confirmed that 99% of pharmacy network services were up and running–and that they have fronted $2 billion to providers. Separately, they launched workaround software for medical claims preparation.

  • On 15 March, the electronic payments platform was restored.
  • On 20 March, UHG restored Amazon Web Services. It was backed up from Assurance, a claims and remittance management program, and claims clearinghouse Relay Exchange.
  • Relay Exchange went back online by 24 March to begin processing $14 billion in medical claims.

But on the legal and Federal fronts, UHG will be keeping its legal department busy. Starting the week of 11 March, the first class action lawsuit was filed by a women’s health practice in Albany, MS–Advanced Obstetrics & Gynecology PC. Another class action suit was filed on 18 March by Gibbs Law Group on behalf of providers to be named. Patients who have had compromised PII and PHI will be next from the 4 or 6 terabytes of payer information held by ‘notchy’ and other affiliates from the BlackCat/ALPHV masterminded attack as this is confirmed. Expect these to multiply like weeds in May. HIPAA Journal  And the American Hospital Association, Senators and House Representatives are jumping all over Health and Human Services (HHS) to ensure that payments are made to Medicare, Medicaid, and Medicare Advantage plans–as well as calls for investigating UnitedHealth. Becker’s, FierceHealthcare

As expected, UHG’s acquisition of Amedisys home health is running into more opposition at the state level. In this case, it’s the Oregon Health Authority (OHA) that will be conducting a full review. The Department of Justice (DOJ) has been investigating the acquisition on antitrust grounds almost since it was announced in June 2023. Shareholders approved the $3.3 billion buy the following September, but it has not closed. UHG’s plan is to merge it into Optum’s home health providers Contessa Health and LHG Group, creating a home health juggernaut. As noted earlier this month when DOJ announced a further antitrust probe of UHG around the UnitedHealth plan relationships with Optum services, “DOJ has a long memory, a Paul Bunyan-sized ax to grind, and doesn’t like losing. One wonders if now UHG has buyer’s remorse after fighting for two years to buy Change.” (And winning versus DOJ!) Fierce Healthcare

Yet UHG goes on buying providers, DOJ scrutiny or not. Optum is bidding for Steward Health Care’s Stewardship Health practices over nine states. For-profit Steward, headquartered in Dallas, needs to raise funds as it is in debt overall and facing major problems in Massachusetts, with several hospitals at risk of closure. In any case, the company wants to exit the state. A purchase price was not announced. The transaction is under review by Massachusetts’ Health Policy Commission (HPC) over the next 30 days. The Stewardship transaction would add to OptumCare’s total of 90,000 physicians–10% of US physicians, a number that is raising red flags on the state and Federal levels. FierceHealthcare, WBUR

Categories: Latest News and Opinion.

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