Weekend reading: HHS Office of Information Security presentation on security risks in AI, 5G, nanomedicine, more

Earlier this month, the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of Information Security’s Health Sector Cybersecurity Coordination Center issued a presentation/paper that discussed the cybersecurity risks for healthcare organizations in implementing artificial intelligence, 5G cellular, nanotechnologies in medicine (nanomedicine), ‘smart hospitals’, and quantum computing.

Each area is defined, benefits listed, and then security concerns.

Highlights of the cybersecurity risks:

  • AI: requires very large collections of data in order to learn; privacy and security concerns regarding personal health information (PHI); de-identified data can be re-identified (as TTA posited several years ago!)
  • 5G overlaps with IoMT (internet of medical things) tech: both devices and data need to be secured end-to-end as they connect to the network and on devices themselves; design and implementation of the software in medical devices should include a specification of cybersecurity features and validation of those features; regular updating needed
  • Nanomedicine: remote connectivity leading to ransomware and the disruption of nanotechnology devices with theoretically fatal consequences; weaponized inhalable particles as a delivery system for bioterrorism
  • Smart hospitals: an expanded attack service; considerations same as above; resilience and continuous monitoring critical
  • Quantum computing: affects all cryptographic algorithms, requiring review and updating of those that are part of  information infrastructure

Emerging Technology and the Security Implications for the Health Sector (34 slides)  Also Becker’s Health IT

Week-end news roundup: Fold Health launches OS ‘stack’; admin task automator Olive cuts 450 workers; 38% of UK data breaches from cyber, internal attacks; hacking 80% of US healthcare breaches; does AI threaten cybersecurity?

Startup Fold Health launched this week. It’s developed a suite of modular tools that are interoperable with existing EHRs or platforms to enable them to work better, together. Fold’s main claim is to “move primary care beyond the constraints of a 15-minute visit and provide a revolutionary consumer first experience through micro, automated workflows and campaigns of care.” There is an athenahealth connection, in that the founders were from Praxify, a virtual assistant/patient engagement app bought by athenahealth for $65 million in 2017. It has a $6 million seed investment from athenahealth. FierceHealthcare

On the other side of the funding mountain,  Olive, an AI-enabled data cruncher that automates routine administrative healthcare processes such as revenue cycle management, has pink-slipped 450 employees, about one-third of its staff. In a letter to employees excerpted in Axios, Olive cites ‘missteps’ and ‘lack of focus’. It follows hiring freezes, major staff departures, and overpromising/underdelivering, including not using AI or machine learning for automating tasks, featured in an April Axios investigation. Olive has gone through over $850 million in nine rounds of funding (the last July 2021, Series H–Crunchbase). FierceHealthcare

Cyber attacks with internal breaches account for 38% of UK organizations’ (of all types) data losses in 2022. This is based on the Data Health Check survey of 400 IT decision makers compiled by Data Barracks, a cloud-based business continuity organization. The second and third reasons for data loss are human error and hardware failure. Of those surveyed, over half have experienced a cyber attack, most commonly caused by ransomware. 44% paid the ransom, 34% didn’t and used backups. Their recommendations include frequent backups and keeping track of how many data versions–both will minimize downtime and data loss. Release, full report

By contrast, returning to the US and healthcare, malicious hacking activity accounts for nearly 80% of all breaches. Fortified Health Security’s mid-year report on the state of healthcare cybersecurity, reviewing HHS Office for Civil Rights (OCR) data,  noted that in first half 2022:

  • Healthcare data breaches primarily originated at providers– 72%. The remainder were at business associates at 16% and health plans at 12%.
  • The number of records affected was 138% higher than the first half of 2020 at over 19 million records
  • Breaches were concentrated in relatively few organizations: Seven entities experienced breaches of more than 490,000 records each, in total 6.2 million records or 31% to date.  
  • OCR’s data breach portal recorded 337 healthcare data breaches that each impacted more than 500 individuals, a small decline from 2021’s 368
  • Hacking incidents rose to 80% from 72% in 2021. Unauthorized access/disclosure incidents totaled 15%; loss, theft, or improper disposal accounted for only 5 percent of breaches.
  • AI and ML-enabled security offerings can bolster cyber infrastructure. Organizations should also look at how IT staff shortages impact their planning and security.    HealthITSecurity

Can AI (and machine learning-ML) lessen breaches–or open the door to worse problems, such as algorithmic bias, plus data privacy and security concerns? Vast quantities of data pumped through AI or ML algorithms are harder to secure. If the algorithms are built incorrectly–such as eliminating or underrepresenting certain populations–what comes out will be skewed and possibly misleading. In the Healthcare Strategies podcast, Linda Malek of healthcare law firm Moses & Singer, who chairs their healthcare, privacy, and cybersecurity practice group, discusses the problems. She suggests some best practices around transparency, security, privacy, and accuracy when developing an AI algorithm, including collecting as much data as possible, and as diverse as possible, for accuracy. Additionally, the design should incorporate privacy and security from the start. HealthcareExecIntelligence

Thursday news roundup: FTC now investigating Cerebral, Balwani’s Theranos trial rests at last, Proscia pathology AI $37M Series C, health data breaches pile up

Telemental health Cerebral’s miseries pile on. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is now investigating Cerebral on deceptive advertising and marketing practices. The Wall Street Journal (may be paywalled) reviewed the 1 June letter sent to the company. The letter requests the usual preservation of documents and asks ‘dozens of questions’ related to their business. Of particular interest to the FTC is the ‘negative option’ practice that continues the subscription fee unless the subscriber takes positive action to cancel it. Subscribers have complained that Cerebral did not cancel their subscriptions after repeated attempts to do so and did not refund their money. Reuters, FierceHealthcare

Also of interest to the FTC will be the dodgy advertising claims about ADHD and obesity which ran on TikTok and Instagram [TTA 10 May]. The WSJ reported that their ad spend topped $65 million for this year–$13 million on TikTok alone from January to May this year, making Cerebral the third-largest advertiser behind HBO and Amazon, according to research firm Pathmatics.

The FTC action follows the Department of Justice (DOJ) investigation of their prescribing of controlled (Schedule 2, high potential for abuse) substances such as Adderall and Xanax, CVS and Walmart refusing their prescriptions, the unceremonious booting of the CEO and co-founder, and a wrongful dismissal lawsuit by a former VP of product and engineering, Matthew Truebe. Certainly, its investors led by SoftBank, which raised $300 million in December less than six months after a raise of $127 million, are unhappy at watching their $4.8 billion baby crash and burn.

The second “rerun” Theranos trial of Sunny Balwani rests. This much-muted trial is winding towards its close. Receiving much less breathless and near-sensational coverage than Elizabeth Holmes’, Theranos president Balwani was tried in the same San Jose Federal district court, with the same prosecutor (Robert Leach), just about the same charges (12 counts of wire fraud), and Judge Davila presiding. Holmes was convicted and her sentencing is scheduled for September.

The prosecution rested on 20 May and the defense on 9 June. The trial took some delays due to at least two jurors falling ill from Covid. The defense strategy rested on Holmes’ founding and operating the company without Balwani for a few years and that he never sold his shares, making him as victimized as any ordinary investor. The prosecution is relying on how close Holmes and Balwani were, that he had great power at Theranos–and used it, plus in his position was well aware of the problems with the lab machines and deliberately sought to defraud investors by covering it up. Unsurprisingly, Holmes did not testify at his trial, although she was a looming presence at his as he was somewhat at hers, especially in her testimony about their relationship. Closing arguments took place on Tuesday (14 June) and the jury will be charged after their conclusion. NBC Bay Area, New York Post, Wall Street Journal

Happier news comes from Proscia, a pathology software company, funding a $37 million Series C. Highline Capital Management, Triangle Peak Partners, and Alpha Intelligence Capital led the round along with participation from five earlier investors. Their total funding is up to $72 million. Their AI-enabled Concentriq platform combines “enterprise scalability with a broad portfolio of AI applications to accelerate breakthroughs and unlock clinical insights that advance precision medicine.” Clients include 10 of the top 20 pharmaceutical companies as well as the Joint Pathology Center, Proscia release, Becker’s 

Adding to the tally of healthcare data breaches are several this week. The year-to-date winner, of course, are the 2 million at Shields Health Care Group in Massachusetts [TTA 10 June], but this week, reports have been breaking out like late spring roses:

  •  A clinical guidance software vendor’s breach reported 10 June has exposed the protected health information (PHI) of patients at Omaha, Nebraska-based CHI Health and Sioux Falls, South Dakota based Avera Health. Avera has about 900 exposed patients, but the number at CHI is not yet known. MCG Health is the vendor. Becker’s
  • Yuma (Ariz.) Regional Medical Center reported an April ransomware attack that while short in duration, exposed PHI of 700,000 patients. An unauthorized user removed files from the hospital’s system that included patient health information such as names, social security numbers, health insurance information, and limited medical information relating to care. The hospital went offline until it was resolved, including reporting to law enforcement. Becker’s, Healthcare Dive
  • UChicago Medicine had its employee accounts hacked in March by an unauthorized user. It exposed about 2,500 patient records that included patient first and last names, social security numbers, health information, legacy Medicare beneficiary identification numbers, health insurance policy numbers, and driver’s license numbers. Becker’s
  • And Kaiser Foundation Health Plan of Washington had about 70,000 patient PHIs exposed on 5 April when an unauthorized user gained access to one employee’s emails with information on patient first and last names, dates of service, laboratory test information, and medical record numbers.

Short, but certainly not sweet, and expensive.

Weekend news and deals roundup: Allscripts closes sale of hospital EHRs, closing out CEO; DEA scrutiny of Cerebral’s ADHD telehealth prescribing; more telehealth fraud; Noom lays off; fundings; and why healthcare AI is only ML

That was fast. Allscripts closed its $700 million March sale of its hospital and large physician practice EHRs to Constellation Software Inc. through N. Harris Group. The Allscripts EHRs in the transaction are Sunrise, Paragon, Allscripts TouchWorks, Allscripts Opal, and dbMotion. They reported their Q1 results today. According to HISTalk earlier this week, CEO Paul Black will be stepping down, with President Rick Poulton stepping in immediately. Update–this was confirmed on their investor call Thursday and the transition is effective immediately. No reasons given, but there were no effusive farewells.  Healthcare Dive

A damper on telemental health? Online mental health provider Cerebral, which provides talk therapy, audio/video telehealth, and prescriptions for anxiety, depression, insomnia, ADHD, and other conditions, is finding itself under scrutiny. This week, its main mail fulfillment pharmacy partner, Truepill, stopped filling prescriptions for Adderall, Ritalin, Vyvanse, and other controlled Schedule 2 pharmaceuticals. Cerebral is redirecting current patients with these prescriptions to local pharmacies and as of 9 May, will not prescribe them to new ADHD patients.

Based on reports, the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) is looking at Cerebral in particular as part of a wider scrutiny of telehealth providers and pharmacies filling telehealth-generated prescriptions due to allegations of overprescribing. It also didn’t help that a former VP of product and engineering plus whistleblower claims in a wrongful dismissal lawsuit that Cerebral execs wanted to prescribe ADHD drugs to 100% of diagnosed patients as a retention strategy. Bloomberg Law. Unfortunately, Insider is paywalled but you may be able to see a report in the Wall Street Journal. Becker’s Hospital Review, FierceHealthcare

Also troubling telehealth is recurrent fraud, waste, and abuse cases involving Medicare and Medicaid. Back in 2020 the National Healthcare Fraud Takedown took down over 80 defendants in telemedicine fraud [TTA 2 Oct 20, 30 Jan 21]. The Eastern District of NY based in Brooklyn has indicted another physician, an orthopedic surgeon, in a $10 million fraud involving durable medical equipment (DME). In exchange for kickbacks from several telemedicine companies, he allegedly prescribed without examination and with only a cursory telephone conversation DME such as orthotic braces. DOJ release

Some fundings and a sale of note–and a big layoff at a well-known digital health leader:

  • Blue Spark Technologies, an RPM company with a patented Class II real-time, disposable, continuous monitoring body temperature patch good for 72 hours, TempTraq, raised a $40 million intellectual property-based debt solution (??) to fund growth led by GT Investment Partners (“Ghost Tree Partners”) with support from Aon plc (NYSE: AONRelease
  • Specialty EHR Netsmart acquired TheraOffice, a practice management platform for physical therapy and rehabilitation practices which will be added to its existing CareFabric platform. Neither terms nor management transitions were disclosed in the release.
  • ‘White label’ telehealth/virtual health provider Bluestream Health is implementing its systems in Mankato Clinic, with 13 facilities across southern Minnesota. It’s a rarity–physician-owned and led–and in business since 1916. This also fits into a new telehealth trend–providers working with ‘white label’ telehealth companies and not with the Big 5. Release
  • Ubiquitously advertised (in US) weight-loss app Noom is laying off a substantial number of employees–180 coaches plus 315 more employees. Reportedly they are pivoting away from on-demand text chat to scheduled sessions that don’t require so many people. While profitable in 2020 ($400 million) and with Series F funding of over $500 million in 2021, it’s come under criticism that while its pitch heavily features easy behavioral change achieved through cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), their real core of weight loss is severe calorie restriction. Engadget
  • Element5, an administrative software provider for post-acute facilities, raised a $30 million Series B from Insight Partners. They claim that their software is AI and RPA (robotic process automation) based. ReleaseMobihealthnews

And speaking of the AI pitch in healthcare, a VC named Aike Ho explains why she doesn’t invest in healthcare AI companies because there’s no such thing in healthcare–it’s just machine learning. On that, Ms. Ho and your Editor agree. She also makes the point that the market they address is ancillary and not core services, plus they have difficulty clinching the sale because they don’t relate well to achieving or can’t prove at this stage improved clinical outcomes. Ms. Ho’s looooong series of Tweets is succinctly summarized over at HISTalk (scroll down halfway).

Thursday roundup: UHG/Optum, Change extend merger deadline to 31 Dec, buys Kelsey-Seybold; $2B Tivity Health sale; General Dynamics enters derm AI diagnostics; MobileHelp PERS sold to Advocate Aurora

UnitedHealth Group’s Optum unit and Change Healthcare, to no one’s surprise, have cast the die and extended their merger deadline to 31 December. Originally, the acquisition was to be completed at end of 2021 and later pushed to 5 April.

In a joint release, they touted their shared vision for a “simpler, more intelligent and adaptive health system for patients, payers and providers”. Backing this up is a break fee of $650 million from Optum to Change Healthcare in the event the court scuppers the deal.

On 25 February, the US Department of Justice filed a lawsuit in US District Court in Washington, DC to stop the acquisition on anti-competitive grounds [TTA 25 Feb]. UHG/Optum and Change, despite divestitures, could not evade DOJ’s reasoning that Optum was buying its only major competitor in areas such as hospital claims data, claims processing, claims editing, and EDI clearinghouse, which facilitates the transfer of electronic transactions between payers and physicians, health care professionals, or facilities. Less than a month later, Optum and Change responded, contesting the charges in that same District Court, and contending that it would be ‘economic suicide’ for Optum to be anti-competitive, since Optum’s business model is dependent on payers other than UnitedHealth. Fighting rather than switching off the deal, it’ll be heard on 1 August [TTA 23 March]. FierceHealthPayer

As noted last week, Optum is writing big checks for LHC Group home care/management services and Refresh Mental Health. This week’s jumbo buy is the Kelsey-Seybold Clinic of Houston. This is a multi-faceted operation with multiple multi-specialty care centers, a cancer center, a women’s health center, two ambulatory surgery center locations, and a 30-location specialized sleep center. It also has a highly regarded ACO and KelseyCare Advantage, a 5 Star Medicare Advantage plan, in addition to partnering with insurers on commercial value-based health plans. If it closes, Optum will be more than likely well over its goal of owning or controlling over 5% of US providers. Terms were not disclosed, but TPG’s private equity arm made a minority investment in Kelsey-Seybold two years ago. At the time, the valuation was rumored to be $1.3 billion.

Tivity Health is being acquired by funds managed by Stone Point Capital for $2 billion. The $32.50 per share is a 20% premium to the 90-day price average, which reflects its 40% financial share growth in the past year. Having sold its original name of Healthways and a sizable chunk of its original business to the digital health conglomerate Sharecare, it rebranded in 2017 as Tivity and concentrated on fitness businesses: senior-targeted SilverSneakers, gym chain Prime Fitness, and alternative/complementary medicine WholeHealth Living. Closing is anticipated to be Q3. CEO Richard Ashworth will remain with the company, and headquarters stay in Franklin, TN. Release, Becker’s

A palate cleanser: a division of defense/aerospace giant General Dynamics, General Dynamics Information Technology (GDIT) has developed an AI diagnostic for remote dermatologic use for the active service/veteran market. It classifies images of skin lesions, determines if they are indicative of skin disease, and will recommend follow-up care. According to the GDIT release, “the GDIT skin lesion classifier tool won third place in the VA National AI Tech Sprint 2020-2021, a competition organized by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) National Artificial Intelligence Institute (NAII) to match private sector talent with veterans, VA clinicians and other experts to brainstorm AI-based solutions that can improve veteran health and well-being.” Also Healthcare IT News

MobileHelp, one of the earliest mobile PERS, and sister company Clear Arch Health, a remote patient monitoring provider, have been purchased by Advocate Aurora Enterprises. Terms were not disclosed, but management will remain in place in Boca Raton. MobileHelp was private, so estimates of valuation are difficult, but their private equity backing included ABRY Partners and Topmark Partners (Crunchbase). Their PERS market claimed 300,000 households. Clear Arch had a separate clinical base with provider care management of chronic condition patients connected to EHRs. For AAE, a division of Advocate Aurora Health systems in Illinois and Wisconsin, MobileHelp’s acquisition will complement their recently acquired home health provider Senior Helpers and Xhealth clinical digital solution ordering. The traditional PERS and call center business continues to be of interest, but blending into other businesses. Release, Healthcare IT News

Predictions, predictions for telehealth, digital health, and all those cybersecurity risks

crystal-ballJanuary is the month for predicting what’s ahead, and while this Editor has no pretensions to be Sibyl the Soothsayer despite the picture, let’s look at what others see in their cloudy crystal balls.

Frank McGillin, CEO of The Clinic by Cleveland Clinic, works intensively with telehealth in this joint venture between Cleveland Clinic and Amwell. His prediction: telehealth will evolve towards concierge care, as providers reduce “platform sprawl”, coordinate the virtual care experience, and provide multidisciplinary virtual care.

  • Telehealth is now “a permanent mode of access”, though the pandemic created “platform sprawl” as providers reached for any and all modes and providers which could be implemented quickly
  • Healthcare providers and plans now have to scale back and reconcile all this to “design a digital trajectory with intention”
  • This means developing a personalized approach to telehealth delivery and to provide a seamless, highly coordinated care experience
  • Their approach is to focus on multidisciplinary virtual visits and case analysis for patients with complex conditions, such as their Virtual Second Opinions program for conditions such as brain tumors and prostate cancer.
  • Virtual multidisciplinary support reduces the risk of suboptimal treatment plans and can eliminate long travel times and exposure to COVID-19 for vulnerable patients. For payers and employers, this can add up to better outcomes and reduced cost of care.
  • “Intelligent” remote monitoring also removes another layer of risk in providing the right care at the right time
  • Continuation of relaxed interstate licensure requirements are needed to provide fast access to medical experts, particularly for primary care providers.

Interview with Healthcare IT News 

Healthcare Dive has been running a series on industry trends, and this installment focuses on digital health.

  • Healthcare will become more predictive and proactive, with insights fed by connected devices and analytics (commonly lumped under AI) that enable organizations to collect, analyze, and act on massive amounts of data.
  • But algorithms don’t have judgment and data can have bias, leading to poor decisions, such as the distribution of vaccines. Expect more oversight from the Federal level down on AI research and policymaking, 
  • Virtual care will continue to grow in virtual diagnostics, patient-reported outcomes applications, and digital homecare platforms
  • Telehealth and digital health is integrating into the traditional delivery and payment model–partnerships with health systems, payers, and employers.
  • Virtual care access is booming in niche areas such as women’s health, hospital at home, and mental health, with investment dollars flowing in. Telemental health is moving into consolidation.
  • Cybersecurity will become more of a focal point for healthcare companies in 2021, with hackers finding their way into all these contact tracing apps designed in a hurry, plus digital health systems, many of which are poorly protected. Targeted attacks have skyrocketed.

And speaking of cybersecurity, over at HealthITSecurity, they rounded up the experts to opine on All Those Security Risks that fast implementation of telehealth and moving devices out of the hospital walled garden have created. Remote patient management is now an asset, no longer a ‘nice to have’, for providers, setting up a situation where patients are increasingly both the beneficiaries of more convenient health delivery and victims of security breaches and ransomware.

  • ‘Out of hospital’ care means that data is being transmitted between multiple points. Network security isn’t guaranteed. So attacks can originate at the weak points–either the home or hospital environment.
  • The fast implementation of telehealth during the pandemic meant not only did systems not work together well, it also meant multiple points of vulnerability
  • Over 80% of surveyed healthcare providers globally harbor concerns about data security and privacy (Kaspersky/Arlington Research). And a shocking 70% admitted that their practice used outdated legacy operating systems, exposing them to security vulnerabilities.
  • “A culture of security” means maintaining endpoint security and BYOD policies across the organization’s network, identity management and zero trust tactics, and yes, security consciousness on patients’ parts.
  • Patients should not be responsible for security, providers partly, which leaves the responsibility with the vendor. But healthcare organizations are responsible for evaluating their vendors, and how they are interacting with and storing their data.  

News & deal roundup: Oak Street adds telespecialty RubiconMD, ATA plumps for wider telehealth access, yet claims fall to 4%, West Suffolk NHS adds Zivver mail/file security, Northwell’s $100M for AI–and miss industry shows yet?

Primary care network Oak Street Health acquired virtual specialty telehealth provider RubiconMD for $130 million. Oak Street is a 19-state network of physicians in care centers who specialize in Medicare patients. RubiconMD has 230 specialists who provide doctor-to-doctor teleconsults (eConsults) in 120 specialties, with an emphasis on cardiology, nephrology, and pulmonology, which is a strong fit for Oak Street. RubiconMD also has separate offerings for specialty care panels and behavioral health. The $130 million includes up to $60 million in cash or cash/stock, subject to achievement of defined performance milestones. Management transitions were not disclosed. Release, FierceHealthcare

The American Telemedicine Association wants to preserve wider telehealth access into 2022–even if the public health emergency (PHE) for Covid has to be extended. Although the Medicare Physician Fee Schedule proposed by CMS for 2022 includes areas of wider telehealth access and reimbursement (temporary access under Schedule 3 added in 2021) into 2023 regardless of the PHE, Congressional action is required to permanently expand telehealth beyond the existing programs mostly for rural areas. If necessary, ATA is advocating that Health & Human Services (HHS) extend the PHE through 2022 so that telehealth access and reimbursement are preserved. ATA releaseFierceHealthcare

While this Editor can understand ATA’s frustration and the sincerity of its aims, it distorts the emergency meaning of a PHE that is just about nonexistent except for mandates. And telehealth claims, even with current access, have sunk down to a tick above 4%, 60% of which are mental health codes (FAIR Health July national data). Too many providers, too little demand? 

The West Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust (WSFT) has selected Zivver UK to secure its mail and file transfer systems, as it migrates from NHS Mail to Microsoft 365. It includes encrypted email to patients as a core requirement meeting NHS digital standards, and ease of use for both sender and recipient in MS Outlook. 4,800 staff at WSFT, which covers 280,000 people who live in West Suffolk. Release. Hat tip to HISTalk for this and the next two stories.

Northwell Health backs AI health startups via joint venture with Aegis Ventures with $100 million stake. The JV between the two New York-based companies “will ideate, launch, and scale AI-driven companies to address healthcare’s most challenging quality, equity, and cost problems” with stakeholders across Northwell’s extremely large system. According to the release, “Northwell has a track record of success in AI research, including the development of a landmark algorithm that predicts patients’ overnight stability to reduce the need to wake them for vital sign checks.” Nice to know that a health system appreciates patient sleep. 

And finally–miss the grip and grin of a F2F industry trade show and presentations? Your Editor, who was once a habitué of meetings from Boston to Florida, does. Really! Virtual conferences, once fun, are now tedious. So enjoy this walk through of HLTH21 by Ben Rooks, the Investor Man, at the Boston Seaport (a great venue, though not precisely central), right down to the barbers, puppy rescue, disco ball, and juice shots. Courtesy of HISTalk

IBM Watson Health’s stumble and possible fall

This Editor hadn’t thought about or seen news about IBM Watson Health in over a year…and likely, neither did you. Granted, our minds have been Otherwise Engaged, but for the company that was supposed to dominate AI and health analytics, it’s notable that TTA’s last two articles mentioning Watson Health was 25 April 2019, on a report that its Drug Discovery unit was being cut back as the latest in a series of executive cutbacks and lawsuits (MD Anderson on a failed oncology initiative), and 14 Feb 2020 on 3M’s lawsuit on unauthorized use of their software.

The New York Times in an investigative piece (may be paywalled or require signup for limited access), brings us up to date on what is happening at IBM Watson, and it’s not bright for Watson Health. IBM, like so many other companies, badly underestimated the sheer screaming complexity of health data. Their executives believed they could translate the big win on the “Jeopardy!” game show in 2011, based on brute computing power, into mastery of healthcare data and translation into massive predictive models. The CEO at the time called it their ‘moon shot’. Big thinkers such as Clayton Christensen chimed in. IBM managers sang its praises to all in healthcare who would listen. This Editor, on a gig at a major health plan in NJ that was ‘thinking big’ at the time and used IBM consultants extensively, in 2012 was able to bring in speakers from Watson for an internal meeting.

But we haven’t been on the moon since 1972 (though probes have visited Mars). Since the big push in 2011-12, it’s been one stumble after another. According to the Times:

  • The bar was set much too high with oncology. Watson researchers knew early on in their research at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine that their genetic data was filled with gaps, complexity, and messiness. The experience was similar with Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. The products growing out of the UNC and MSKCC research, Watson for Genomics and Watson for Oncology, were discontinued last year. These were in addition to the MD Anderson Cancer Center initiative, Oncology Expert Advisor for treatment recommendations, that was kicked to the curb [TTA 22 Feb 2017] after $62 million spent. At the same time, IBM’s CEO was proudly announcing at HIMSS17 that they were betting the company on multiple new initiatives. 
  • Watson Health, formed in 2015, bought leading data analytics companies and then didn’t know what to do with them. TTA noted in August 2018 that Phytel, Explorys, and Truven Health Analytics were acquired as market leaders with significant books of business–and then shrank after being ‘bluewashed’. HISTalk, in its review of the Times article, noted that along with Merge Healthcare, IBM spent $4 billion for these companies. IBM’s difficulties in crunching real doctor and physical data were well known in 2018 with revealing articles in IEEE Spectrum and Der Spiegel

Six years later, Watson Health has been drastically pared back and reportedly is up for sale. Smaller, nimbler companies have taken over cloud computing and data analytics with AI and machine learning solutions that broke problems down into manageable chunks and business niches.

What’s recoverable from Watson? Basic, crunchy AI. Watson does natural language processing very well, as well as or better than Amazon, Google, and Microsoft. Watson Assistant is used by payers like Anthem to automate customer inquiries. Hardly a moonshot or even clinical decision support. For business, Watson applications automate basic tasks in ‘dishwashing’ areas such as accounting, payments, technology operations, marketing, and customer service. The bottom line is not good for IBM; both areas bring in a reported $1 billion per year but Watson continues to lose money. 

Lightning news roundup: AI for health systems Olive scores $400M, VA’s sticking with Cerner EHR, Black+Decker gets into the PERS game

As here in the US we are winding up for our Independence Day holiday (apologies to King George III)….

Olive, a healthcare automation company for healthcare organizations, scored a venture round of $400 million from Vista Equity Partners. To date, it’s raised $856 million through a Series G plus this round and is now valued at $4 billion according to the company release. Olive’s value proposition is automating via AI routine processes and workflows, such as benefit verification discovery, prior authorizations, and billing/payments for health systems. About 900 US hospitals have adopted Olive’s systems. Mobihealthnews.

Breaking: The US Department of Veterans Affairs will be staying with Cerner Millenium for their EHR modernization from VistA. This follows a 12-week review of the implementation following failures within the $16 billion program itemized by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) in February [TTA 19 Feb]. Secretary Denis McDonough is scheduling two further review weeks to determine additional changes to the program. The intent is to build a cloud-based system fully interoperable with the Department of Defense’s Military Health System (MHS) also built with Cerner. FedScoop, Healthcare IT News

And in the What Are They Drinking in Marketing? I want some of that, stat! department…

Black + Decker is now becoming a PERS provider with the introduction of Black+Decker Health and the goVia line of mobile and home-based PERS with optional fall extension and call center monitoring through Medical Guardian . The devices are a fairly predictable line of cellular-connected (Verizon, AT+T) with a ‘classic’ home landline unit. The units are being sold through Amazon. B+D release

From a marketing perspective, the Black+Decker name, identified for decades with home and power tools, on a PERS line is also a classic–a classic mistaken line extension like Cadbury mashed potatoes or Colgate frozen entrees. Buy a PERS, get a drill? Relevance and fit to a older, female-skewing group?  It surely looks like their parent Stanley, which is a leading company in institutional alarm and location services. offloaded this legacy business to them. (Judging from the website, someone’s in a rush as some pages still have ‘greek’ copy under headings.) Hat tip to a Reader who wishes to remain anonymous.

Mayo Clinic creates AI-powered clinical decision/diagnostics support platform, two digital health portfolio companies

“Changing the nature of healthcare from episodic to continuous”. Mayo Clinic announced the launch of the Remote Diagnostics and Management Platform (RDMP) that will connect data to artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms and create a ‘next generation’ of clinical support tools, diagnostics, and care protocols for faster diagnostics and more continuous care. According to Mayo Clinic Platform president John Halamka, MD, “clinicians will have access to best-in-class algorithms and care protocols and will be able to serve more patients effectively in remote care settings.” Patients will be able to access information to take better control of their health and make more informed decisions.

Mayo Clinic, with partners, is also organizing two portfolio companies to support RDMP:

  • Anumana, Inc. With nference, a synthesizer of biomedical data, Anumana will bring to market digital sensor diagnostics to decipher electrocardiograms (ECGs). The objective is to more effectively spot heart disease at the pre-symptomatic stage, enabling early treatment that saves patients and costs. Their first project will be to develop neural network algorithms based on billions of relevant pieces of heart health data contained in Mayo’s Clinical Data Analytics Platform, including millions of raw ECG signals. nference with Mayo in the past year has released COVID-19 molecular research based on Mayo data. Anumana completed a Series A of $25.7 million funded by the partner companies plus Matrix Capital Management, Matrix Partners, and NTTVC.  nference release.
  • Lucem Health Inc. With Commure, a General Catalyst portfolio technology company that accelerates healthcare software development, Lucem will develop the platform for connecting remote patient telemetry devices with AI-enabled algorithms. Lucem is kicking off with a jointly funded $6 million Series A. 

We noted back in 2019 Dr. Halamka’s move to Mayo to head up a machine learning/AI initiative which took a while (during a pandemic year) but is moving quickly. The Mayo release includes a YouTube video of Drs. Halamka and Friedman explaining Anumana’s objectives in early diagnosis reading ‘those invisible signals’ well ahead of an event, especially needed with heart disease as the first symptom may be devastating or deadly. Hat tip to HISTalk, which also amusingly notes Dr. Halamka’s sartorial changes.

 

AI-powered contact tracing as part of an ‘application ecosystem’ for COVID-19 information and vaccination

Following up with Avaya UK on October’s Perspectives on COVID-19 contact tracing and the use of AI to automate virtual agents for initial contact, they have released details on their contact tracing application that integrates with current Avaya software or into a company’s call center system. Based on their materials, it automates the initial contact with the individual using natural language text to a smartphone or tablet messaging app, web chat, or email. AI in the contact tracing app helps to screen the response and directs it to the correct agent. Augmentation tools provide real-time prompts and suggestions during a live call with the individual. Notifications can also be automated and also individual follow up can be made via text message. Additional features are detailed on their web page and in the contact tracing overview (PDF). Having heard horror stories from friends who have been subject to contact tracing and follow up apps in the wake of COVID-19 contacts and diagnoses, a great annoyance was daily live phone calls with agents repeatedly asking the same information and making the same assistance offers. Text messages would have been far more acceptable and directive.

Contact tracing is a part of their OneCloud Communications Platform as a Service (CPaaS) which enables organizations to design their own applications and workflows with a platform that supports SMS, MMS, voice, messaging, transcriptions, and digital channels. With vaccination now front and center, for provider organizations, OneCloud can be used to build systems for COVID-19 vaccination information access, recruiting staff, and administering the process. Additional details are in their OneCloud CPaaS overview.

This week, OneCloud for healthcare was awarded Frost & Sullivan’s Competitive Strategy Leadership Award. Release.

Hat tip to Mary Burtt of AxiCom UK

Early detection of Parkinson’s via AI (and a surprising medium); Ed Marx on the digital transformation (or not) of health systems and COVID treatment at home

Somewhat off our normal beat….but of interest.

Ardigen and The BioCollective are collaborating on early detection research for Parkinson’s Disease, based on a microbiome-based biomarker. Ardigen has developed an Artificial Intelligence (AI) Microbiome Translational Platform. The BioCollective has a bank of metagenomic and patient metadata generated from an unexpected source: Parkinson’s patients’ stool samples. Release

The BioCollective is headed by Martha Carlin, who came from well outside of healthcare and pulled together a research group to address her husband’s diagnosis. A visit to this website is worth an examination on how these samples are collected for microbiome extraction. An interesting twist is the marketing of a probiotic mix developed using their BioFlux metabolic model for ‘gut health’.

Ed Marx, the former CIO of the Cleveland Clinic, has written a new book, ‘Healthcare Digital Transformation: How Consumerism, Technology, and the Pandemic are Accelerating the Future’. It’s billed as a wake-up call for healthcare systems and hospitals under challenge by Big Retail, Big Pharma, and Big Tech. This Editor met Mr. Marx when he premiered his entertaining memoir, ‘Extraordinary Tales from a Rather Ordinary Guy’, a few years ago. On treatment for COVID patients, except for the very sickest, he advocates it being done from home. From the release: “When the pandemic hit, a lot of progressive organizations would send most of their Covid patients home with monitoring equipment hooked up to phones unless they needed a ventilator. It’s a lot cheaper than staying in the hospital.”

Discovering ways to non-invasively early detect COVID-19 from heart rate, sleep, or a cough sound, even among the asymptomatic

Heart rate, sleep quality, daily movement–cough sound frequency? Several studies in the US and UK are attempting to turn up ways to early diagnose mildly symptomatic, asymptomatic, or even pre-symptomatic COVID-19 cases, without the PCR swab or a blood test.

The more obvious of the two comes out of the Scripps Research Translational Institute. The DETECT study started in March (!) with 30,500 participants sending in data in the first six weeks of the study on heart rate, sleep quality, and daily movement. This information was then matched with self-reported symptoms and diagnostic tests taken if any. In this way, new infections and outbreaks could be detected at an earlier stage.  The study is attempting to confirm if changes in those metrics in an individual’s pattern can identify those even at a pre-symptomatic or asymptomatic stage. 3,811 reported symptoms, 54 reported testing positive, and 279 negative for COVID-19. The numbers seem small, but the analysis carries out that the combination of sensor and symptom data performed better in discriminating between positive and negative individuals than symptom reporting alone. The symptom data were taken from Fitbits and any device connected through Apple HealthKit or Google Fit data aggregators, then reported on the research app MyDataHelps. FierceBiotech, Nature Medicine (study)

Also using vital signs, back in August, Fitbit released early data on a 100,000+ study where changes in heart rate and breathing could detect about half of diagnosed cases at least one day to a week before diagnosis. Symptomatic cases were 1,100 in this sample. Heart rate and breathing were detected to become more frequent in the symptomatic, with the variability in time between each heartbeat dropping, resulting in a more steady pulse. The preferred tracking was at night during rest. However, there was a 30 percent false positive rate on the algorithm used, which is extremely high. FierceBiotech Related to this work, Fitbit was selected at the end of October by the US Army Medical Research and Development Command (USAMRDC) to receive nearly $2.5 million from the US Department of Defense through a Medical Technology Enterprise Consortium (MTEC) award to advance a wearable diagnostic capability for the early detection of a COVID-19 infection. Fitbit will be working with Northwell Health’s Feinstein Institutes for Medical Research to validate their early detection algorithm. Business Wire

And what about that ‘Covid Cough’? MIT is researching that this cough is different than other coughs, like from cold or allergy. Their research found that there’s a difference in the sound of an asymptomatic individual’s cough–and that sound frequency difference could not be heard by human ears. (Dog ears perhaps?) MIT researchers created “the largest audio COVID-19 cough balanced dataset reported to date with 5,320 subjects” out of 70,000 cough samples. The algorithm performed well. “When validated with subjects diagnosed using an official test, the model achieves COVID-19 sensitivity of 98.5% with a specificity of 94.2% (AUC: 0.97). For asymptomatic subjects it achieves sensitivity of 100% with a specificity of 83.2%.” This sure sounds like an AI screening tool that is inexpensive and convenient to use with multiple populations even daily. IEEE-EMB  BBC News reports that similar studies are taking place at Cambridge University, Carnegie Mellon University, and UK health start-up Novoic. The Cambridge study used a combination of breath and cough sounds and had an 80 percent success rate in identifying positive coronavirus cases from their base of 30,000 recordings.

All of these will be useful, but still need to be validated–and that takes time, for which this Editor thinks is short as this virus, like others, will eventually 1) mutate out or 2) be effectively treated as we do with normal flus. But down the road, these will serve as a template for new ways for early screening or even diagnosis of other respiratory diseases.

Perspectives: How Advanced Communications Technology Has Created A ‘New Normal’ In Healthcare

TTA has an open invitation to industry leaders to contribute to our Perspectives non-promotional opinion area. Today, we have a contribution from Dave O’Shaughnessy, Avaya’s Healthcare Leader for EMEA and APAC, with a brief discussion of how AI and advanced communications technology can help healthcare in the long term. (It’s hard to say ‘a post-COVID world as France and Germany are experiencing second round lockdowns, and UK may not be far behind.) Interested contributors should contact Editor Donna. (We like pictures and graphs too)

Across industries, we see working patterns being transformed to create the ‘new normal’ as a result of COVID-19 and our reactions to the pandemic. The healthcare sector has been no different. The pandemic and its restrictions have brought a great number of new challenges to healthcare systems. And as has been the case across so many other sectors, communications technology has stepped in to plug the gaps caused by the pandemic.

The good news is that, not only have communications solutions successfully plugged the gaps, but they’ve also provided a blueprint for the future of healthcare. As we’ve found in other industries, we’ve actually seen the intelligent adoption of this technology lead to better experiences for patients, and better outcomes for providers, than were present before.

The most important (and immediate) area where this is most obvious is in contact tracing – tracking the physical, interpersonal interactions of those who have tested positive for COVID-19. This helps identify people who may need to be quarantined more quickly, therefore reducing the spread of the virus.

Helping government and healthcare organizations across the world with their contact tracing efforts, what we’ve found is that the most effective contact tracing efforts make use of artificial intelligence and automation. After all, the effort involves mountains of meticulous information gathering and analysis—all required to meet standards set by global health and government agencies. Acting upon that data manually just isn’t feasible, given the immediate needs at hand.

Therefore, the best systems employ AI virtual agents for initial patient contact, as well as for the simple data collection interactions – only falling back to live agents when the interaction becomes more complex. AI is also employed to deliver cloud-based, proactive notifications to automatically reach out to individuals or groups with optional response tracking, text interaction, and auto-forms to capture critical information.

Patients benefit from a smoother experience while providing the tracing information required, while healthcare providers and governments are able to collect more information with the resources they have.

Even without these focused AI technologies, however, our customers are putting their advanced contact centers to good use in combating the pandemic. In Saudi Arabia, for instance, one medical facility adopted a multi-experience approach, making it easy for patients to get the COVID-19-related information they need through a wide range of communications channels. This provided demonstrated results for improved knowledge on coronavirus safety measures in the community.

Going forward, we see tremendous use cases for extending this technology to make it easier for patients to directly engage with their doctors through asynchronous messaging. Such capabilities are of particular interest to mental health providers, who have found themselves unable to conduct in-person therapy sessions in the face of increased demand.

All of these solutions were implemented because of specific, pandemic-related challenges. But once the pandemic subsides, they’ll continue providing value, making it easier for patients to consume healthcare services, while delivering increased efficiency for providers.

Hat tip to Mary Burtt of AxiCom UK

Weekend ‘Must Read’: Are Big Tech/Big Pharma’s health tech promises nothing but a dangerous fraud?

If it sounds too good to be true, it isn’t. And watch your wallet. In 14 words, this summarizes Leeza Osipenko’s theme for this article. It may seem to our Readers that Editor Donna is out there for clicks in the headline, but not really. Dr. Osipenko’s term is ‘snake oil’. It’s a quaint, vintage term for deceptive marketing of completely ineffective remedies, redolent of 19th Century hucksters and ‘The Music Man’. Its real meaning is fraud.

The promise is that Big Data, using Big Analytics, Big Machine Learning, and Big AI, will be a panacea for All That Ails Healthcare. It will save the entire system and the patient money, revolutionize medical decision making, save doctors time, increase accuracy, and in general save us from ourselves. Oh yes, and we do need saving, because our Big Tech and Big Health betters tell us so!

Major points in Dr. Osipenko’s Project Syndicate article, which is not long but provocative. Bonus content is available with a link to a London School of Economics panel discussion podcast (39 min.):

  • Source data is flawed. It’s subject to error, subjective clinical decision-making, lack of structure, standardization, and general GIGO.
  • However, Big Data is sold to health care systems and the general public like none of these potentially dangerous limitations even exist
  • Where are the long-range studies which can objectively compare and test the quality and outcomes of using this data? Nowhere to be found yet. It’s like we are in 1900 with no Pure Food Act, no FDA, or FTC to oversee.
  • It is sold into health systems as beneficial and completely harmless. Have we already forgotten the scandal of Ascension Health, the largest non-profit health system in the US, and Google Health simply proceeding off their BAA as if they had consent to identified data from practices and patients, and HIPAA didn’t exist? 10 million healthcare records were breached and HHS brought it to a screeching halt.
    • Our TTA article of 14 Nov 19 goes into why Google was so overeager to move this project forward, fast, and break a few things like rules.
  • We as individuals have no transparency into these systems. We don’t know what they know about us, or if it is correct. And if it isn’t, how can we correct it?
  • “Algorithmic diagnostic and decision models sometimes return results that doctors themselves do not understand”–great if you are being diagnosed.
  • Big Data demands a high level of math literacy.  Most decision makers are not data geeks. And those of us who work with numbers are often baffled by results and later find the calcs are el wrongo–this Editor speaks from personal experience on simple CMS data sets.
  • In order to be valuable, AI and machine learning demand access to potentially sensitive data. What’s the tradeoff? Where’s the consent?

Implicit in the article is cui bono?

  • Google and its social media rivals want data on us to monetize–in other words, sell stuff to us. Better health and outcomes are just a nice side benefit for them.
  • China. Our Readers may also recall from our April 2019 article that China is building the world’s largest medical database, free of those pesky Western democracy privacy restrictions, and using AI/machine learning to create a massive set of diagnostic tools. They aren’t going to stop at China, and in recent developments around intellectual property theft and programming back doors, will go to great lengths to secure Western data. Tencent and Fosun are playing by Chinese rules.

In conclusion:

At the end of the day, improving health care through big data and AI will likely take much more trial and error than techno-optimists realize. If conducted transparently and publicly, big-data projects can teach us how to create high-quality data sets prospectively, thereby increasing algorithmic solutions’ chances of success. By the same token, the algorithms themselves should be made available at least to regulators and the organizations subscribing to the service, if not to the public.

and

Having been massively overhyped, big-data health-care solutions are being rushed to market in without meaningful regulation, transparency, standardization, accountability, or robust validation practices. Patients deserve health systems and providers that will protect them, rather than using them as mere sources of data for profit-driven experiments.

Hat tip to Steve Hards.

Symptom checker K Health gains $48 million Series C (NY/Tel Aviv)

While we’re on the subject of symptom checkers (Babylon Health below), K Health, a competitor in the US HQ’d in NYC, but also based in Tel Aviv, announced today their win of $48 million in a Series C funding round, led by 14W and Mangrove Capital Partners. Lerer Hippeau, Anthem (also a partner), Primary Ventures, and others participated. Their total funding is $97 million since November 2016. The new funding, according to Crunchbase News, will be used to scale the model, expand primary care to mobile devices, and expand to international markets. 

K (as they call themselves) concentrates on three areas. One is an AI-powered symptom checker that uses millions (they state) of anonymized medical records to provide a virtual consult. According to Crunchbase, the medical records came from Israel’s second-largest HMO, Maccabi, over 20 years. The app questions the user based on previous answers. K contrasts it to static protocols, or rules-based symptom checking. The second is to provide a primary care visit via text for $19/visit (or unlimited for $39/year) with free follow-ups over two weeks. The third is mental health, specifically treatment for anxiety and depression, a growing area both online and via mobile. The $29/month fee covers unlimited doctor visits and delivered prescription medication, excepting meds that require blood testing.

The symptom checker is available throughout the US and primary care in 47 states. According to Crunchbase’s interview with CEO Allon Bloch, they recently passed their 3 millionth user and are now available in Spanish. The company has grown in the past year from 80 to 200 people. Originally, the company linked to New York-based providers, but moved away from that to the primary care/text model. Their overall goal is to provide affordable diagnoses that are a lot more accurate than ‘Dr. Google’ and that steer the patient to the right care.

Should Babylon Health be serious about expansion to the US, they will be running up against K Health, as well as competitors such as 98point6. In the hybrid app-and-physical model, there are Carbon Health and One Medical. Also Mobihealthnews