TTA’s Last Swing of Summer: CVS wins $8B Signify auction, Amazon-One Medical gets FTC look-see, UHG/Change decision now Oct, Holmes files motions before sentencing, keeping digital treatment tools safe by design, more!

 

Weekly Update

Back from Two Weeks in Another Town (except for a few extra days), the August-September ‘quiet time’ certainly was not. CVS’ big win in Signify’s auction was on Labor Day. Change may or may not be joining UHG/Optum after October. FTC doesn’t much like Amazon’s acquisitions, including One Medical. And Elizabeth Holmes’ legal team was busily filing–and delaying the (maybe) inevitable, including a declaration straight out of Perry Mason.

The passing of a Queen and crowning of a King.

Elizabeth Holmes’ three swings and a miss in overturning her trial verdict reveal a crafty strategy (She’ll be in court long after Sunny Balwani toddles off to prison)
News briefs, catchup edition: UnitedHealth/Change decision October?, CVS wins $8B Signify Health auction, Walgreens majority buy of CareCentrix, FTC requests more info on Amazon-One Medical (Home care wars and a long-awaited decision)
Perspectives: Creating consistent standards isn’t a once and done job (the safety of digital treatment tools)
On the passing of HM Queen Elizabeth II

$130M to Alma’s mental health platform, Cadence Care RPM with ScionHealth, NIH funding telehealth in cancer care, and more.

News roundup: RPM at 79 ScionHealth hospitals, 74% of employers like virtual care despite concerns, Alma Health garners $130M, NIH’s $25M for cancer care telehealth research, Parks’ virtual Connected Health Summit 30-31 Aug

Amazon threw in its beach towel on Care, put its bets on One (Medical), and paddle up in Signify’s auction closing after Labor Day. Babylon Health is eliminating distractions with the NHS to concentrate on the US. Oracle’s hit with charges of massive privacy violations, on top of massive Cerner VA dysfunctionality. But back to the future–Fitbit’s reviving with three new fitness watches.

Oracle in Federal court class-action lawsuit on global privacy violations; Cerner VA EHR had 498 major outage incidents, 7% of time since rollout (Misery upon misery)
Week-end news roundup: Fitbit revives with 3 new watches, Sena Health hospital-at-home, SteadyMD surveys telehealth clinicians, 9.4% fewer adult dental visits in England, save the date for ATA 2023
Perspectives: why digital apps need an in-house clinical safety lead (A Perspective from Wysa, more to come in September)
Breaking: Amazon Care shutting down after three years–what’s next? (updated) (Care an expensive course at the University of Healthcare Delivery)
Babylon Health exits last NHS hospital contract as a ‘distraction’, looks to US market for growth (Tighten your seatbelts)
Signify Health bidding war ensues, waged by Amazon, UnitedHealth Group, CVS, Option Care Health (A scrum with unknown outcome)

An action-packed mid-August. No one seems to be sitting on the beach unless you’ve been laid off. Meanwhile, companies are scrambling. No, Babylon Health is not being bought. But elsewhere, there is some good news around acquisitions and funding. 

Rounding up the week with good news: AliveCor’s Series F round, Scotland’s Smplicare gains £750K for fall research (A needed and refreshing drink!)
Friday short takes: was there a bidding war for One Medical? A concussion risk wearable tested. Get Well’s monkeypox digital care plan (One Medical’s gamble and a return to one of our old follow topics)
Week-end news roundup: +Oscar data tech platform pauses, BD buys MedKeeper pharmatech for $93M, Novant’s Meta misconfiguration reveals PHI, Mt Sinai’s Sema4 genomics spinoff releases 250 + founder (Reality bites in a lot of different areas)
Babylon Health: fending off bubbly rumors of acquisition this week (No, they’re not. Being. Bought.)

Big companies eager to snap up companies to fill out portfolios. Small (and not so small) companies drastically cutting staff and spending, looking for the Magic Survival Formula. Amwell finally closing a Big Deal with CVS Health. Babylon Health’s mixed picture as they grow. Cerner and VA’s miseries continue, but data and IoMT breaches thrive. And ISfTeH not only returns to live conferences, but also comes to the US.

Weekend short takes: May telehealth claims up to 5.4%; three health plan breaches, one at its law firm–affecting over 400,000 patients; layoffs hit Calm, Truepill (updated)
ISfTeH Global Connections for Sustainable Telehealth: 6-7 November, San Jose (International telehealth finally reaches the US)
Week-end news roundup: Allscripts on the acquisition hunt, Amwell’s CVS telehealth deal, Cerner’s $1.8M racial discrimination settlement, predicting Parkinson’s progression via smartwatch data
Mid-week news roundup: CVS eyeing Signify Health for in-home/VBC (updated); Babylon Health mixed pic of revenue and losses up; Geisinger doubles telemed specialties; connected IoT devices expand cyber-insecurity footprint; Owlet layoffs
More Oracle-Cerner VA/DOD EHR misery with 4 hour+ outage; 51% of VA iPads unused for video appointments (Not only VA’s
EHR, but also inventory management gone sideways)

This week’s big news centered on Oracle’s layoffs at Cerner–and Oracle–DOJ versus UnitedHealth Group, and telehealth nearing needed legislative change in the US. In UK news, NHS Digital trials wireless to compensate for looming staff shortages–and Cera raises £264 million. Advances in dementia diagnosis and therapy plus news from all over: multiple raises, VA, Cionic, Withings, Orion Health, Coviu, and more!

Week-end wrapup: CVS plans to expand primary care, home health; Cera Care raises £264M; Linus Health’s AI enabled dementia screener, Cognito’s cognitive therapy slows brain atrophy
Short takes for Thursday: Diagnostic Robotics $45M raise; Sage’s $9M seed; VA names EHR ‘functional champion’; Aussie telehealth startup Coviu arrives in US
NHS Digital trialling Wireless Center of Excellence–in face of ‘crisis’ level staffing shortages (Can one compensate for the other?)
Mid-week roundup: UnitedHealth-Change trial kicks off; Amazon’s One Medical buy questioned; Cionic’s neural sleeve designed by Yves Behar; Medable-Withings partner; Orion Health’s new CEO; IBM Watson Health’s Simon Hawken passes (Line up your bets on DOJ vs UHG)
Telehealth waivers take critical step in extending to 2024 in House bill now passed (About time, Congress)
Oracle’s Big Vision will be missing a lot of people; layoffs hit Cerner, customer experience, marketing staff (Didn’t take long for the guillotine to fall)

The news for this week is a mix of some good and some not-so. Oracle’s new sheriff moves to fix Cerner’s VA EHR problems, quickly. Investment is reviving, led by Amazon’s buying One Medical, Cleerly, and 3M’s 2023 healthcare spinoff. But Teladoc continues its losing streak. Health plans are shedding real estate and holdings. Also shedding are unicorns–Babylon Health, Included Health, and Noom.

Week-end roundup of not-good news: Teladoc’s Q2 $3B net loss, shares down 24%; Humana, Centene, Molina reorg and downscale; layoffs at Included Health, Capsule, Noom, Kry/Livi, Babylon Health, more (Hit by both telehealth and tech downturns)
Weekend investment/divestment roundup: 3M to spin off Health Care, Cleerly’s $223M Heartbeat, Elation’s $50M Series D, Health Note’s $17M Series A, Galen bought by RLDatix (A revival?)
Oracle’s ‘new sheriff’ moving to fix Cerner EHR implementation in the VA: the Senate hearing (High Noon at VA?)
Amazon moves to acquire One Medical provider network for $3.9B (revised) (Another worry for providers)

Having survived heat waves on both sides of the pond, the news is emerging from its lull. The most significant is around Oracle Health sunsetting the Cerner brand, which frankly has become a bit tarnished. Some of it is about staff cuts and hack attacks piling up, for different reasons in the US and UK. Other news is encouraging in that investment and business are moving forward, despite the parlous state of the markets.

Special congratulations to Herts Careline on its 40th birthday! 

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?
VA’s final, troubling OIG ‘unknown queue’ report on Cerner Millenium rollout; Oracle’s Sicilia to testify before Senate today (Oracle’s inherited mess)
Herts Careline marks 40th Anniversary (Congratulations!)
Midweek heat wave roundup: GE Healthcare’s new name, hospital-to-home health trending big, over 2 million patient records hacked (Hint: GEHC doesn’t have to change the brochures right away)
Cerner’s business now consolidated under Oracle Health (Excuse Cerner as it disappears–but save the swag for eBay!)

 


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News briefs, catchup edition: UnitedHealth/Change decision October?, CVS wins $8B Signify Health auction, Walgreens majority buy of CareCentrix, FTC requests more info on Amazon-One Medical

Your Editor is semi-returned from Almost Two Weeks in Another Town, with a few more days to close out September (and summer into autumn) coming up. A lot of big news broke despite the usually slow Labor Day holiday week.

UnitedHealthcare Group/Change Healthcare Federal lawsuit to be decided in October–reports. The bench trial in the US District Court in Washington DC pitted the Department of Justice and state plaintiffs against UHG’s massive $13 billion acquisition of claims and EDI/data processing giant Change. It concluded 16 August with closing arguments presented 8 September. Dealreporter via Seeking Alpha reported that UHG and Change effectively countered DOJ’s antitrust objections to the acquisition. Change Healthcare had previously sold their claims editing business to TPG Capital to ease antitrust concerns.  Whether that will be enough in the current environment with greater sensitivities around healthcare consolidation remains to be seen. If approved, Change will be folded into OptumInsight. For a deeper dive into the issues, see TTA’s earlier reporting 3 August and 23 March.

CVS Health beat out other contenders with an $8 billion cash bid for Signify Health. It was a busy Labor Day for CVS as Signify’s board met and decided that day on CVS’ cash offer of $30.50 per share in their unusual auction. Amazon, UnitedHealth Group, and little-known Option Care Health were the other bidders. Signify is a strategic boost for CVS in becoming a major player in primary care, provider enablement, and home health as we’ve summarized here from CVS’ Q2 earnings call. Signify’s capabilities in in-home health delivery and provider services were cheaper to buy than to develop. Based on the weight given to it in the CVS release, Signify’s Caravan Health and their Medicare ACOs furnishing value-based care management services to 170 providers was a significant factor in the top price paid.

New Mountain Capital and their investors own 60% of Signify and will be exiting. Signify had in July announced their own exit from the costly and problematic Episodes of Care/BPCI business acquired with Remedy Partners back in 2019. This led to most of the over 480 staff layoffs announced last month. The sale is, as usual, pending regulatory approvals and isn’t expected to close until first half 2023. Kyle Armbrester, Signify’s CEO Kyle Armbrester will continue to lead the company as part of CVS Health. Healthcare Finance, FierceHealthcare

Rival Walgreens Boots Alliance completed their acquisition of a majority share of home care coordination platform CareCentrix. Walgreens’ final payment was $330 million for 55% of the company at an $800 million valuation. As noted previously, Walgreens ‘go big or go home’ strategy in primary care kicked off in 2020 with growing investments in VillageMD, culminating in last year’s $5.2 billion for 63% of the company. The plan is to co-locate Village Medical offices with 600 Walgreens locations by 2025 [TTA 14 Oct 2021]. CVS’ recent actions can be seen as a reaction to Walgreens’ aggressive moves. Healthcare Finance

Amazon now under FTC scrutiny for One Medical acquisition. If shutting down the much-publicized Amazon Care wasn’t quite enough last month, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) will be reviewing Amazon’s $3.9 billion buy of One Medical. This was announced in a 1Life Healthcare (parent of One Medical) 8-K filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). Both 1Life and Amazon received requests for additional information on 2 September, above and beyond the usual required Hart-Scott-Rodino Act (HSR) reports that will be reviewed by the FTC and DOJ. Effectively it extends the HSR waiting period by 30 days after One Medical and Amazon have substantially complied with the additional information ‘second request’.

The FTC isn’t winning popularity contests with Amazon’s legal department, as the agency is reviewing their acquisition of iRobot, maker of robot vacuum cleaners. Mobihealthnews

Babylon Health exits last NHS hospital contract as a ‘distraction’, looks to US market for growth

Babylon Health’s rollercoaster ride continues. Today’s news was that their last of three NHS Trust contracts, with Royal Wolverhampton NHS Trust (RWT), was ended by Babylon two years into a ten-year contract. This follows the end of two other contracts that drew a fair amount of controversy (see our index here)–the 2020 one-year Royal Berkshire NHS Foundation Trust with an accident and emergency triage app that was discontinued by Babylon, and with University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust (UHB) for a virtual A&E app that was ended in July.

In the UK, Babylon will continue its GP At Hand service that took over a GP office in Fulham, London in 2016. It now currently covers about 155,000 patients. It will also maintain the AI-based chatbot used for triaging patients. GP At Hand is not profitable. GP practices work on a flat fee per patient that averages £155 ($183) per patient per year.

Babylon and RWT contracted in 2021 for a digital-first primary care service that would cover 55,000 patients, with a patient portal that would enable them to view their health records and view appointments. The app would also monitor conditions and like the AI chatbot, help to diagnose illness and actions. Babylon is ending the ten-year contract after two, which would make it 2023.

From the bubbly Digital Enthusiasm of former Health Minister Matt Hancock (left) in 2018 to the storm around @DrMurphy11, a GP who raised performance issues with the Babylon chatbot that escalated to BBC Two’s Newsnight in February 2020, founder and CEO Ali Parsa is now in an unenviable position in two countries. He 1) has semi-exited the UK market, 2) ruthlessly cut costs to the bone because the stock is down 90%, and 3) shifted to the far larger but unforgiving market of the US. The bright spot here is that US patients covered have already topped 6 years of effort in the UK. Parsa has now moved to the US.

Parsa noted in a recent results call [Seeking Alpha-Ed.] with analysts. “Those two or three small NHS contracts that you refer to—and those are not our significant primary-care contracts— those are marginal contracts for us, more in that category of contracts where we could not see a significant contribution to our profit margin,” he said. “And they also had a rather small contribution to our revenue. And therefore we saw them as a distraction and terminated those contracts.”

This Editor has previously noted Babylon’s layoffs/redundancies of at least 100 staff to save $100 million by Q3, which we are now in. Expansion in the US has to take place with static staff to make goal. And as to the US being unforgiving: VCs are snapping their capacious purses shut, Mr. Market’s gone into rehab, and inflation is shrinking healthcare budgets from providers to payers to self-insured companies. The Big Kahunas with Big Bucks–CVS Health, Allscripts, UnitedHealth Group, Amazon, Walgreens, Walmart–and out-of-left-field players like Option Care Health bidding on Signify Health, are snapping up, as we’ve earlier put it, “healthy health tech companies at the right (discounted) price that fill in their tech gaps”. And making life difficult for single players like Babylon Health. Wired. And a snappy hat tip to HISTalk.

Signify Health bidding war ensues, waged by Amazon, UnitedHealth Group, CVS, Option Care Health

What a difference less than two weeks makes. We noted on 11 August that in-home health and value-based provider services company Signify Health was up for sale in an unusual auction, with CVS Health the first disclosed bidder. Yesterday, three more companies jumped into the mix, UnitedHealth Group (the 9,000 elephant of US health), Amazon (with One Medical still pending), and little-known Option Care Health, a public (Nasdaq: OPCH) home infusion care company.

Reports in the Wall Street Journal (paywalled) indicate Signify’s value in the auction may top $8 billion. Bids are due around Labor Day. The board will be meeting next Monday to discuss the bids to date. Signify’s current value is about $5 billion.

The share price closed today just above $27, a major rise from last week’s close of $21 (Yahoo Finance).

The UHG bid is above $30, with Amazon close by, according to Bloomberg News sources. The CVS bid is not known. A buy by Amazon would put the company in Instant Major Healthcare Player territory. This Editor believes that with UHG and CVS, antitrust may factor in, especially considering Signify’s recent ownership of the ACO MSO Caravan Health.  

Option Care may not be well known, but it has impressive backing from Goldman Sachs and has been profitable. Their interest is Signify’s home health network and access to providers through Caravan. Another backer, Walgreens Boots Alliance, just sold 11 million shares on the secondary market, reducing its holdings from 20.5 percent to approximately 14.4 percent.

There’s no bar, of course, to the board ending the auction at any time and awarding the company. Healthcare Finance, FierceHealthcare

Friday short takes: was there a bidding war for One Medical? A concussion risk wearable tested. Get Well’s monkeypox digital care plan

Amazon’s scoop-up of One Medical apparently was not all Skittles, Rainbows, and Unicorns. Large companies like Amazon, Walmart, Allscripts, and CVS are on the hunt to fill gaps in their portfolio and technologies, but only “healthy health tech companies at the right (discounted) price that fill in their tech gaps.” Of course, some of these companies have more chips on the table and in the safe than others.

We know from earlier reporting [TTA 7 July] that One Medical and CVS had some talks, but that One Medical spurned the offer. It did establish that One Medical was in play. Some digging by Heather Landi at FierceHealthcare, taking a walk through SEC documents according to a regulatory disclosure with the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) filed 10 August, found that CVS (identified as Party A) and 1Life Healthcare, the parent of One Medical, started their acquisition talks in October 2021. 1Life was short on cash, getting shorter, needing to expand, and was having trouble raising the $300 million they estimated they needed. Starting this past February, 1Life management started to negotiate with Amazon. On 1 June, CVS offered $17 per share, boosting it by $1 the following day, but were informed by 1Life that there was another suitor. By 2 July, Amazon put $18 in an all-cash deal on the table. When news leaked via Bloomberg on 5 July that CVS was in discussions, CVS bowed out. By the end of July, 1Life and Amazon closed on the deal [TTA 27 July].

It came down to this–Amazon needed One Medical more than CVS. Watch for CVS and Walmart to make more provider/primary care moves by the time the snow flies this year. We’ve already noted that CVS inked a deal with Amwell a few days ago as their provider for Virtual Primary Care and that Walmart outright owns a telehealth provider, MeMD, though their overall strategy remains a bit murky.. CVS also has resources through Aetna that are integratable, such as provider networks.

And speaking of Amazon, they just inked a deal with Ginger to add telemental health as an option for Amazon Care. Healthcare Dive

In the US, we are very close to football–and concussion–season. Multiple concussions lead to CTE, which took a long time to recognize as a cause of premature dementia. A mHealth wearable has been tested to measure head kinematics–head movement–and detect sudden neck strain, such as whiplash. Current systems are embedded in helmets or the X-Patch, which uses accelerometers.  According to the report in AAAS’ EurekAlert!, Nelson Sepúlveda of Michigan State University and colleagues developed a novel patch sensor using a film layer of thermoplastic material, a ferroelectret nanogenerator or FENG. “This produces electrical energy when physically touched or pressure is applied. The electrical signal produced is proportional to the physical strain on the neck and can be used to estimate the acceleration and velocity of sudden neck movement, two important markers for predicting concussion.” For this test, a dummy was used. Nature Scientific Reports, mHealth Intelligence

Monkeypox, its transmissibility, and treatment have also percolated this summer.  Get Well Network, which we noted last month in a JAMA study used its GetWellLoop RPM and monitoring in a Covid-19 home treatment study, released a new monkeypox digital care management plan. It will permit monitoring of symptoms from home using RPM, help direct patients to higher levels of care if and when needed, and aids hospitals in managing mandatory regulatory requirements for reporting and tracking infectious diseases. LifeBridge Health in the Baltimore area began offering Get Well’s monkeypox symptom monitoring tool last month. Release

Week-end wrapup: CVS plans to expand primary care, home health; Cera Care raises £264M; Linus Health’s AI enabled dementia screener, Cognito’s cognitive therapy slows brain atrophy

The sandal (it’s summer) drops at CVS Health in primary care–and maybe more. On their Q2 earnings call, CVS discussed that they are determined to enhance their services in three categories: primary care, provider enablement, and home health. The footwear that dropped was from CEO Karen Lynch: “We can’t be in the primary care without M&A” (sic). It was inevitable, given that rival Walgreens has a $5 billion deal with VillageMD for freestanding Village Medical clinics, Amazon with the pending One Medical buy–which it passed on only weeks prior [TTA 7 July], and Walmart picking along the edges with in-store clinics and telehealth. CVS’ criteria: strong management team, strong tech stack, strong scale, strong ability to build a pathway to profitability. (Certainly not an easy set of hurdles) CVS’ urgent care and in-store MinuteClinics have been doing well, with business up 12% to 2.8 million patient visits year to date. HISTalk, FierceHealthcare, Motley Fool transcript of earnings call

London-based Cera Care Ltd. raised £263.6 million ($320 million) in an equally split debt/equity round. Equity funding came from existing investor Kairos HQ, then the Vanderbilt University Endowment, Schroders Capital, Jane Street Capital, Yabeo Capital, Squarepoint Capital, Guinness Asset Management, Oltre Impact, 8090 Partners, and technology investor Robin Klein. Debt was not disclosed. The fresh financing will go towards expanding patient capacity in the UK plus Germany from the current 15,000 to 100,000.  Cera delivers in-home care, nursing, telehealth, and prescription delivery services using a digital platform and AI algorithms that use the data gathered to predict changes in patient status. TechCrunch, UKTechNews

Two developments from separate companies in the vital areas of improving dementia and Alzheimer’s diagnosis–and outcomes:

  • Linus Health has debuted its cognitive assessment and patient questionnaire platform for clinical use by primary care providers. The assessment tests for subtle changes in cognitive function, which in the preclinical phase will often go undetected. The concept is to push forward diagnosis and therapies to slow disease progression. It is based on an iPad and includes their DCTclock, an AI-enhanced version of the traditional paper-based Clock Drawing Test using a digital stylus or pen that can also spot symptoms of early-stage Parkinson’s. The evaluation including the DCTclock takes about 10 minutes. Release, FierceBiotech
  • Cognito Therapeutics is still in the investigational stage with its GammaSense headset which delivers sound and light therapy to cognitively impaired patients. The sensory stimulation evokes gamma oscillations in the brain that reduces neurodegeneration and brain atrophy. Their paper delivered last week at the Alzheimers Association conference tracked subjects who used the headset one hour per day for six months. The therapy reduced white matter shrinkage to about 0.4%, compared to a historical tracking of about 2%. An earlier study also showed slowdowns in the decline of memory and cognitive function. FierceBiotech

Mid-week roundup: UnitedHealth-Change trial kicks off; Amazon’s One Medical buy questioned; Cionic’s neural sleeve designed by Yves Behar; Medable-Withings partner; Orion Health’s new CEO; IBM Watson Health’s Simon Hawken passes

The Department of Justice lawsuit to block the $13 billion acquisition of Change Healthcare by UnitedHealth Group started on Monday. It is a bench trial in US District Court in the District of Columbia that will last 12 days, concluding on 16 August with a verdict date to be determined. The DOJ and the plaintiffs, including Minnesota and New York State, are presenting their case over seven days. UHG and Change will have five days. It’s expected that UHG CEO Andrew Witty and former chief David Wichmann will be testifying. The American Hospital Association (AHA) was a key player in pushing for a DOJ action (their article here). TTA recapped the main competitive issues in play on 23 March, along with this Editor’s opinion that the merger will be blocked given this current administration’s anti-trust stand. ‘It will be one for the books–the ones marked ‘Nice Try, But No Dice’. FierceHealthcare, HealthcareFinanceNews

Will Amazon’s acquisition of One Medical be reviewed by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC)? That is what Senator Josh Hawley (R-Missouri) is requesting. He cites that Amazon will have “access to enormous tranches of patient data. While HIPAA and other privacy laws exist to thwart the worst potential abuses, loopholes exist in every legal framework.” He also cites, somewhat broadly, that information of this type could be used to suggest over-the-counter blood pressure medications to a One Medical patient shopping at a Whole Foods Market. (What is meant here is that there are many supplements that claim to benefit blood pressure available OTC, such as Garlique; however, there are many OTC meds that can increase blood pressure such as decongestants.) This Editor agrees with Senator Hawley that the acquisition should be carefully reviewed by FTC and, to go further, HHS as it involves patient data.) Hawley Senate.gov page 

The Cionic Neural Sleeve, designed to aid people with mobility issues, is getting a design upgrade via Yves Behar and his fuseproject. The Neural Sleeve [TTA 30 June] aids the legs through sensors in the sleeve that monitor movement for muscle firing and limb position, then analyzes them through an app to optimize functional electronic stimulation (FES) delivered through the sleeve. The Behar team, according to the release, has delivered a neural sleeve “designed for everyday wear, and importantly, is easy to put on and take off – a critical design element for those with inhibited mobility. The lightweight, breathable fabric feels like an athletic legging, and is available in multiple colors and sizes. Paired with the intuitive CIONIC app, the sleeve enables the user to be in control of their own mobility journey.” Cionic is taking pre-orders for delivery in early 2023. Also The Robot Report.

Medable partners with Withings for clinical trials. Medable, a clinical trials platform, is partnering with Withings Health Solutions to connect Withings devices for monitoring at home. Withings devices will provide medical-grade measurements, including temperature, heart rate, blood pressure, sleep patterns, and weight to connect the data into Medable’s decentralized clinical trial platform. Direct monitoring also assists in attracting and retaining subjects in clinical trials, plus improving accuracy, by eliminating subject manual reporting and checkins. Financial terms and duration were not disclosed. Release, FDA News, FierceBiotech

Short international take: Orion Health, an Auckland, New Zealand-based health IT company headed by Ian McCrae for the past 30 years, announced he is stepping down for health reasons. Replacing him in late August as CEO will be Brad Porter, coming from Fisher & Paykel, a NZ-based medical device company. Mr. Porter is Mr. McCrae’s son in law.  Orion recently won what could be the largest health information exchange system in the world for Saudi Arabia, covering 32 million people. Healthcare IT News 

And a sad passing: Our UK and European Readers likely know Simon Hawken from his long career with IBM, including Watson Health (now Merative) and Merge Healthcare, and earlier with BEA Systems. HISTalk reported that he passed away on 25 July. This Editor has not been able to find other notices, so is asking for Reader help and comments.

Weekend roundup: telehealth claims ticked up again in January, Walmart opens Florida health ‘superstores’, Blue Shield California partners with Walgreens’ Health Corners

Telehealth now above 5% of January claims. Perhaps Omicron, winter weather, or the post-holiday blues, but telehealth visits after a long drop have risen to 5.4% of January medical claim lines. It’s also the third month in a row of increase: November was 4.4%, up from October’s 4.1%; December was 4.9%.

As a percent of the total, claims increased in November and December for acute respiratory and Covid-19, but leveled off in January. The numbers remained in single digits compared to the leading diagnosis code group, mental health conditions, which rose in January:

Month Mental health Acute respiratory Covid-19
January 2022 58.9 3.4 3.4
December 2021 55.0 6.0 4.8
November 2021 62.2 4.5 1.4

February and March claims will be the proof, but telehealth is leveling off to a steady 4-5% range of claims with seasonal rises, barring any mass infectious diseases. The FAIR Health monthly map also enables drill-down by region. Healthcare Dive

Walmart Health ‘superstores’ open in Florida, finally. The concept, which had gradually spread to 20 locations in Arkansas, Georgia, and Illinois starting in 2019, now has two locations in the Jacksonville area. Three additional locations will be opening by June in the Orlando and Tampa area. Openings were delayed from 2021 so that Walmart could debut their Epic EHR and patient portal in those locations. Plans for expansion in Florida, filled with areas with aging populations, have been hinted at but coyly not confirmed by Dr. David Carmouche, senior vice president of Omnichannel Care Offerings.

After a few false starts and retrenching, Walmart is leveraging its strong physical point in delivering health–retail supercenters–against competitors such as CVS, Walgreens, and Amazon. The centers provide primary and urgent care, labs, X-rays and diagnostics, dental, optical, hearing and behavioral health and counseling for a checkup priced around $90, with most under contract with payers. Walmart has not announced expansion beyond Florida or in current states, but prior statements have indicated their desire to open Walmart Healths across the country. Walmart release, Healthcare Dive, Miami Herald

And Walgreens is not far behind the curve with 12 Health Corners in California. Walgreens’ joint model with Blue Shield of California in the San Francisco Bay and Los Angeles areas is designed to boost community health, especially in areas with low health coverage or ‘health deserts’. Health advisers can provide simple in-store care along with guidance on preventive screenings, chronic care management and medications. Select health screenings, such as blood pressure checks and HbA1c tests will be available. 

Both in-person and virtual services through the Health Corner app are available at no additional cost to members enrolled in Blue Shield’s commercial PPO (Preferred Provider Organization) and HMO (Health Maintenance Organization) plans, who live within 20 miles of a Walgreens Health Corner location. It is part of both Walgreens’ enlarging of patient care offerings, including telehealth at a local level, and Blue Shield’s health transformation goals.

Their release promises an additional eight locations by mid-year. Healthcare Finance, FierceHealthcare

Weekend wrapup & reading: Amazon Health on talent hunt, Practice Fusion fined $200K for violating $145M prosecution agreement, and must-read studies and articles on older adults tech

Resumes and networking up! A writer at Becker’s Hospital Review tired of their usual diet of healthcare departures, ‘alarming’ rises of COVID rates by state, and cyber-attacks on hospitals to publish six top-level jobs opening up in Amazon’s healthcare areas. The lead is Head of worldwide health technology solutions to lead strategy in that area at the C-level. Two are in UX and software development at Alexa Health, a senior solutions architect, health artificial intelligence , a principal of behavioral health for digital health benefit programs, and a health information exchange specialist. So if your spring brings a yen for change….

Physician EHR Practice Fusion, now Veradigm owned by Allscripts, got another $200,000 spanking from the Feds. Back in January 2020, right before Pandemic Hell really broke loose on the world, the Department of Justice successfully resolved both criminal and civil charges against the EHR company. Practice Fusion was charged with “soliciting and receiving kickbacks in return for embedding electronic prompts in its electronic medical record (“EMR”) to influence the prescribing of opioid medications” as part of the platform’s clinical decision support (CDS) alerts. The kickback was $1 million from an unnamed ‘opioid company client’, The deferred prosecution agreement (DPA) was accompanied by 1) a $145 million fine and 2) maintenance of an Oversight Organization based on three specific requirements. DOJ in the District of Vermont found that Practice Fusion did not comply with the terms of the latter, charges that Practice Fusion denied. They settled with the DPA extended by 11 weeks with a fine of $200,000. Release, US Attorneys Office, District of Vermont 29 March, US DOJ release 27 January 2020

Weekend Reading. Laurie Orlov of Aging and Health Technology Watch has been hard at work, recently updating her Market Overview Technology for Aging and releasing The Future of Smart Homes and Older Adults. No time with spring cleaning to tackle long-form? Try three tart short takes on PERS smartwatches (not getting the ‘why’), did ‘voice first’ technologies meet their 2018 promises (not quite), and what she sees as the Seven Top Trends for tech to reach older adults–with the first being hospital to home (Optum and Humana have voted ‘yes’). 

News roundup: UnitedHealth Group pushes off Change closing again, Amazon’s new healthcare head, Centene’s shakeup of CEO, board, holdings

Change won’t come easy, as this Editor predicted. Now the closing of the Change Healthcare acquisition by UnitedHealth Group has been pushed off to April 2022. Announced in January, it was delayed in August and October/November with the Department of Justice review of the merger under the Hart-Scott-Rodino Antitrust Act (HSR). This SEC filing by UnitedHealth is the first time a definite date target has been set. Change’s diversified health IT/data analytics/imaging/payments systems would be combined with OptumInsight. HealthcareFinanceNews

Amazon finally named a head of healthcare to oversee Amazon Care, Amazon Pharmacy, Halo and Alexa’s healthcare uses. Neil Lindsay, former head of Amazon Prime, was named senior vice president of health and brand within Amazon’s global consumer business, reporting to CEO Andy Jassy. Mr. Lindsay sits on the so-called ‘S-team’, Amazon’s most influential executive group. Take this as an indicator of the importance of healthcare to their business. The terseness of the information has been typical of Amazon. Becker’s Hospital Review, CNBC

Centene, one of the top 10 health plan companies in the US, had a major shakeup this week. Long-time CEO Michael Neidorff will retire and exit sometime in 2022. The board, now set at 14 members, retired three directors via a new age limit of 75. Five new directors will come on board, including Ken Burdick, former CEO of WellCare Health Plans, acquired by Centene in 2020, and Wayne DeVeydt, former Anthem CFO.

The shake-n-bake has been shaking since November, when activist investor Politan Capital Management started to press for changes. Other changes include a projected sale of non-core assets, including private hospitals Circle Health in the UK and Ribera in Spain, with combined revenue of $2 billion. The rather ‘shaggy’ list of Medicaid managed care, Medicare Advantage, and exchange plans–none of which carry the Centene brand–and a potpourri of other units and management services are being examined bottom up by a three-person “value creation office”, as are Centene’s extensive real estate holdings and leases, to extract savings wherever possible. One area mentioned was hybrid and at-home work, a major change to the Centene “cubie” culture.

Neidorff joined a tiny Centene as CEO in 1996 and is now 78. There is no update on the delayed Magellan behavioral health management acquisition. Healthcare Dive 14 Dec, 13 Dec. Centene releases on Neidorff’s retirement as “leadership succession plan” and governance/board changes.

Amazon’s Chime telehealth solution rang Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center’s bells–case study

A short case study that shows what Big Tech–and attuned clinical IT people–can do under pressure. Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC), a Harvard Medical School affiliate, had at the start of the Covid pandemic limited and multiple telehealth systems for 1,400 physicians. They quickly adopted systems such as SnapMD, Google Meet, Zoom, Doximity, and Doxy.me. They were not interoperable nor did they interface well with their EHR. While this was going on and in parallel, BIDMC’s tech team developed and deployed a new integrated telehealth system using Amazon Chime on the existing AWS platform. This integrated video conferencing into workflows with telehealth tools such as multiple participants, security, EHR integration, live translation, and chat equipped with Google Translate. Despite this, BIDMC physicians at the virtual peak of 66% in March-April 2020 were still conducting 73% of visits telephonically. By June 2021, video visits as a percentage of total telehealth were 50% in June, with 65% of the video visits done on the new platform. HealthcareITNews.

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.

Haven finds no haven in healthcare, will close in February

Man Plans, God Laughs. Haven, the joint venture cobbled together by JP Morgan, Berkshire Hathaway, and Amazon to transform corporate healthcare three years ago, will be shuttering next month. The website has but a single page of signoff. All it is missing is a bit of sad synth music like the air crash simulations and analyses so popular on YouTube.

Haven’s founding in January 2018 made for expansive, far-seeing (sic) 50,000-foot quotes by JPM’s Jamie Dimon and B-H’s Warren Buffett about the ‘hungry tapeworm’ of healthcare costs and the need to simplify it for their million-odd employees. Surely it made for great speeches at annual meetings and glossy Annual Report pages. But in its three years of existence, Haven never found a home. It had the ambitious mission of “partnering on ways to address healthcare for their U.S. employees, with the aim of improving employee satisfaction and reducing costs” and setting up an independent company “free from profit-making incentives and constraints” [TTA 31 Jan 2018]. Yet it spent its first six months without a CEO, over a year without a name, and never created a clear direction. 

Atul Gawande, MD, one of the big thinkers on the broken US healthcare system, joined as CEO six months in, but oddly did not give up his teaching, clinical, and writing commitments. It left the sense that for the doctor, Haven was a part-time gig [TTA 21 June 2018]. One can imagine how Dr. Gawande, without a strong business management background, dealt with the egos of the Bezos-Dimon-Buffett trio without a strong backup team to deal with them, get a plan together, and execute.

The signs of failure were increasingly apparent by the Year of the Pandemic. Health systems and insurers–the ones with the data and the leverage–were never bought (though WellCare, a leading Medicare Advantage payer, was up for sale in 2019 and snapped up by Centene) or even engaged in partnerships. Management fled starting in 2019, accelerating in 2020: COO Jack Stoddard for personal reasons in May 2019, then in 2020 financial head Liam Brenner and people head Bryan Jones in April, Dr. Gawande in May, Head of Measurement Dana Safran in July, and CTO Serkan Kutan in September. Becker’s Hospital Review The one partner with retail consumer healthcare experience–Amazon–increasingly and publicly pulled off in its own beneficial directions, acquiring PillPack in mid-2019 as the first move towards a PBM, then in the past few months pushing Amazon Care for large employers and creating Amazon Pharmacy. The other two companies also, according to reports, executed their own projects with their own teams.

The small employee group (under 60) may find spots at one of the three companies. The official announcement states they will ‘collaborate informally’. Not with a bang, but with a whimper. Fierce Healthcare, CNBC, HISTalk.

Amazon’s feint into large employer telehealth; HealthLake dives into structured health data analytics

Much ado about…..? Amazon is reportedly making an effort to lure large employers into its Amazon Care telehealth and in-person care platform. Amazon Care is a health benefit presently offered to Amazon employees, with telehealth nationally and in-person for Seattle area residents.  

About 300 Amazon employees use it, which is low given their employee size and after 15 months. Since internal takeup has to date been limited, this Editor observes that Amazon may be testing the scaleup waters by inviting other companies in. These reports indicate that online real estate marketplace Zillow was approached but has moved no further with it. Companies would be charged a per member per month fee plus a ‘technology fee’. 

For those interested in telehealth’s positioning among US employers, the Credit Suisse report by Jailendra Singh’s team makes important points on where both Teladoc and Amwell stand with employers and health plans–and it’s not promising for Amazon:

  • Telehealth has been adopted by 90 percent of employers, but it’s a fraction of benefit spending for them
  • What’s important to employers is not the cost of the program, but employee engagement, the potential volume of medical cost savings, and management of chronic conditions
  • Telehealth vendors are increasingly ‘carved into’ contracted health plans
  • Between direct employer contracts and health plans, Teladoc is settled into this segment, and diversified into medical systems with new acquisitions InTouch Health and chronic care management with Livongo. Amwell is situated in the white-label provider market with health systems and health plans, with few employer contracts. 

 AMZN Making a Push in Telehealth For Large Employers: Appears to Be More Noise than Substance

A better-positioned initiative for healthcare providers that Amazon just announced is HealthLake, which is a HIPAA-eligible AWS cloud service for storing and analyzing structured and unstructured data at petabyte scale. The ‘lake’ is the data lake in the cloud. It copies health data in the Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (FHIR) format, and analyzes unstructured data uses specialized machine learning models, like natural language processing, to automatically extract meaningful medical information. Current users, according to their website, are Cerner, Konica Minolta, and Orion Health. Hat tip to HISTalk.

Walgreens Boots goes big with billion-dollar medical office deal with VillageMD

Go big or go home. That seems to be Walgreens Boots Alliance’s’ theme in its 8 July announced deal with and investment in primary care provider VillageMD. They will set up 500 to 700 co-located full-service Village Medical offices in more than 30 markets over the next three to five years. The “Village Medical at Walgreens” offices will be staffed by a projected 3,600 primary care providers and fully integrated with Walgreens pharmacists for one-stop shopping. According to the release:

  • Most of the Village Medical medical offices will be approximately 3,330 square feet each, up to 9,000 square feet, and utilize existing store space. “80% will be used by VillageMD to fund the opening of the clinics and build the partnership.”
  • 24/7 care will be available via telehealth and at-home visits
  • Fees will be covered by insurance or for those without, on a sliding scale
  • Over 50 percent will be located in Health Professional Shortage Areas and Medically Underserved Areas/Populations, as designated by HHS. These would reach underserved “older, sicker, and poorer patients” without regular access to care, said VillageMD CEO Tim Barry in an interview with CNBC
  • Capacity would be 100 to 120 patients per day 

This follows on a pilot of five Village Medical clinics at Walgreens locations in Houston, and Village Medical’s eight-state expansion in the Find Care telehealth program announced in April.

Walgreens Boots Alliance will invest $1 billion in equity and convertible debt in VillageMD over the next three years, including a $250 million equity investment to be completed today which will culminate in about 30 percent ownership.

To this Editor, Walgreens is sitting at a giant poker table, stacking the $1,000 chips, and saying to its rivals, ‘see ya and raise ya’. These are full-service offices, not urgent care clinics, and they are investing in their provider. It could be transformative–or flop on executional niceties such as location, medical competition, or even COVID keeping down physical visits. The competition is also daunting on the retail side. Recently Walgreens has pared back hundreds of locations and faces the deep pockets of CVS-Aetna, which plans to open 1,500 HealthHUBs which integrate stores, MinuteClinics with nurse-practitioners, pharmacies, and health data, Amazon with PillPack aimed at its pharmacy business, and Walmart with its toe in the water with clinics. 

Village Medical, formerly Village Family Health, is a multi-state primary care provider which is part of Chicago-based VillageMD. Both include more than 2,800 physicians across nine markets, so the Walgreens deal will more than double their size. Also Forbes (Photo: Walgreens)

News roundup: Teladoc closes InTouch, Samsung bets on tele-genomics, SURE Recovery app, Optimize.health’s seed round, Walgreens’ Microsoft boost

Teladoc completed the acquisition of InTouch Health on 1 July. The purchase, announced at the JP Morgan soireé in January (and an eternity ago) took place just before the ’10 years in 2 months’ leap forward in telehealth services. InTouch’s telehealth offerings are primarily for hospitals and health systems, heavily based on multi-feature carts and camera setups. The purchase price of $150 million in cash and 4.6 million shares of Teladoc Health common stock, valued then at $600 million, may be a great bargain for Teladoc considering the rich prices that other telehealth-related companies commanded during the peak of the pandemic, and that Teladoc’s revenue boosted to almost $181 million in revenue in Q1 2020, up 41 percent versus Q1 2019. Release

Samsung makes a telemedicine bet with Genome Medical. Through its Catalyst Fund, Samsung is the lead among 15 investors in a $14 million Series B extension financing that includes LRVHealth, Revelation Partners, and Kaiser Permanente Fund. Genome Medical’s connection to telemedicine is on-demand, standard-of-care genetics and genomics through virtual health services, including counseling, patient drug response, and provider-to-provider consults through its platform. Release. CNet. Crunchbase.

Mindwave Ventures, which this Editor noted last December was opening up an office in the Leeds health tech hub, has continued its development and research with multiple platforms and apps in partnership with NHS and academic/research clients. One that came on our ever-whirling radar screen is the release of the SURE Recovery app, for those in recovery from alcohol and drug problems. It enables users to work with the SURE (Substance Use Recovery Evaluator) and SUSS (Substance Use Sleep Scale) measures, plus a personal diary, to track their recovery over time. Mindwave developed the app in conjunction with The King’s College London and theInstitute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience (IoPPN) at King’s College London. The app is now available to download; search ‘SURE Recovery’ on the App Store or Google Play. The page on the Mindwave site is on their Clinical Research page–click the tab for SURE. Hat tip to Ellis Noble of KC Communications.

Connected to telehealth and RPM is provider reimbursement. Optimize.health is an early-stage company which provides a turnkey setup for practices for its remote patient monitoring platform, with the usual features such as patient engagement, integrated devices with the platform, and call center support. The apparent difference is the emphasis on sharing data and simplifying reimbursement, the hard part of any RPM or telehealth platform. Announced this week: a $3.5 million seed round led by Bonfire Ventures. A small boost to this part of the telehealth field which has not had the great success of virtual consults. Release.

Back in January 2019, Walgreens Boots announced a partnership with Microsoft to migrate their IT over to the Azure platform. It took a while for results to manifest to the public. When COVID happened, they rolled out a COVID-19 risk assessment tool on its website and mobile app based on Azure. Their Find Care platform doubled the number of virtual care providers and services available. Walgreens also provided a link to COVID-19 clinical trials through the Find My Clinical Trial program on its mobile app. This article in FierceHealthcare touts how they are maneuvering to stay even with CVS Aetna and Amazon, which is hardly waiting for its partners in the gone-pearshaped Haven.