Short takes: Intuition Robotics gains $25M funding, Akili Interactive abandons digital Rx therapeutics, NextGen goes private for $1.8B, ATA’s DC advocacy ‘fly in’ + launches new tools on disparities

Catching up on the catchup…

Israel-based Intuition Robotics raised $25 million. The unlettered round closed at end of August with $20 million in venture capital plus $5 million in venture debt. According to the release, the funding was led by Woven Capital, the growth fund of Toyota, with participation from Toyota Ventures, OurCrowd, Western Technology Investment, and additional investors. Intuition Robotics is the developer of ElliQ, an interactive desktop companion robot targeted to older adults and those with assistive needs, last covered in their 2.0 update last December and their involvement with New York’s Office for the Aging [TTA 25 May 22 and WSHU]. The Area Agency on Aging of Broward County, the Olympic Area Agency on Aging, and California’s Agency on Aging in Area 4 have also worked with Intuition Robotics on distributing the companion to older adults in their programs. According to the company, older adults who successfully engage with it average over 30 daily interactions with ElliQ and reduce the devastation of loneliness for 95% of users. 

Akili Interactive exits prescription digital therapeutics (PDT), pivots to consumer, drops 40% of staff. Much like Better Therapeutics and the now sliced-up Pear Therapeutics, the company realized that PDT was not a winning strategy for its interactive video game-based therapy for adults with ADHD. The EndeavorOTC version, released in June, is available via a subscription (SaaS) through the Apple App Store and the Google Play Store for $24.99 for a monthly plan or $129.00 for an annual plan. According to their release, Akili will pursue regulatory approval for over-the-counter labeling of its treatment products. Akili is yet another cracked SPAC facing a reckoning, currently trading on Nasdaq at $0.66 from its debut in August 2022 at $14 with a quick fall to $4.   HIStalk 15 Sept, Rock Health Weekly Newsletter

NextGen acquired by private equity firm Thoma Bravo for $1.8 billion, ending 41 years of public market trading. The offer price is $23.95 per share in cash, an over 46% premium to the Nasdaq share price on 22 August. NextGen Healthcare is an EHR with population health and practice management features designed primarily for specialty medical practices. NextGen went public as Quality Systems an eon ago in 1982Release, FierceHealthcare

And…the American Telemedicine Association (ATA) celebrates the third annual Telehealth Awareness Week (17-23 September) with a telehealth advocacy ‘fly in’ to meet with Congressional offices and Members in Washington DC on 18-19 September, plus their three tools to eliminate disparities in telehealth services developed by ATA’s Advisory Group on Using Telehealth to Eliminate Disparities and Inequities. They are a Digital Infrastructure Disparities Score and Map, an Economic and Social Value-Added Calculator, and a toolkit with all ATA and advisory group-developed resources. Releases 19 July (fly-in) and 18 Sept (disparities tools)

Thursday roundup: Kaiser-Geisinger won’t close till ’24, Validic buys Trapollo, Veradigm’s ’22 financials delayed again, ORA telehealth’s $10M Series A, ATA adds 3 to board

Some more reveals on the Kaiser Permanente/Risant Health/Geisinger Health deal. Perhaps the most significant one in Kaiser’s quarterly financial statements was that the closing with Geisinger is projected to be sometime in 2024, subject to the usual regulatory approvals. As announced in April, Geisinger will be the founding system of a new non-profit group, Risant Health, that will bring together a targeted five to six non-profit community health systems. Financial disclosures were also made that were centered on the timing of substantial investments and commitments:

  • Kaiser’s financial commitments to Risant will be made in the five years following closing. The $5 billion previously announced is the upper end of the support. Confusingly, Kaiser is also committing to a minimum investment of $400 million over five years inclusive of funds generated by Risant Health. 
  • Risant’s support and investment into Geisinger will end earlier, in 2028, but in that time will make an investment of a minimum of $2 billion to support Geisinger’s hospital, technology, and strategic development. It will be inclusive of funds generated by both Risant and Geisinger.
  • Risant will also make available to Geisinger no less than $100 million” through 2028 to support expansions of Geisinger’s health plan and care delivery services into bordering Pennsylvania communities.
  • Risant will also make available to Geisinger funds for research and education for 10 years after the 2024 closing

Kaiser’s Q1 was far better than its money-losing ($4.5 billion) 2022, with $1.2 billion in net income. Geisinger has not yet reported Q1, but it had a $842 million net loss in 2022.  FierceHealthcare

Digital health/personalized care company Validic is buying Trapollo, a similar connected care company. Both have platforms facilitating chronic care patient management via remote care and EHR integration. The acquisition price and workforce transitions were not disclosed. Trapollo’s former owner, Cox Communications, will become a shareholder in Validic. Trapollo senior VP/general manager Steve Nester will have the same title at Validic. It will remain at the Validic HQ in Durham, NC, with Trapollo’s former distribution center remaining in Sterling, VA. This continues the trend of consolidation of businesses in similar or complementary services. Release

Veradigm, the former Allscripts, 2022 financials continue to be in a tangle. As previously reported [TTA 3 Mar], Veradigm delayed its Q4 and FY 2022 reporting due to a software flaw that affected its revenue reporting going back to 2021. On 22 March, this expanded to their extending their year-end audit and 10-K filing because of “internal control deficiencies related to revenue recognition.” In a recent SEC filing, they stated that they may be able to file their 10-K by 14 June, but cannot guarantee it. The revenue impact may be as high as $40 million and affect their 2021 closing. HIStalk 5/17/23

Singapore’s ORA Telehealth just scored the region’s largest Series A raise–US$10 million. It was co-led by TNB Aura and Antler with participation from Gobi Partners, Kairous Capital, and GMA Ventures for a total funding to date above US$17 million. ORA is unique in that it’s a vertically integrated platform that markets to a young customer base (average age: 38) on three platforms: Modules (676 different formulations of prescription skincare), OVA (women’s health), and andSons (men’s health).

The American Telemedicine Association (ATA) welcomed three additions to its board this week:

  • Marc Adelson, JD, Teladoc Health’s deputy chief legal and global chief compliance officer. Prior to joining Teladoc in 2011, he was  co-founder and executive legal director of the Institute for Patient Safety & Quality in Virtual Care, the first federally qualified patient safety organization (PSO) focused on virtual care.
  • Kavita Patel, MD, MS, a practicing primary care physician at Mary’s Center, a Federally Qualified Health Center in Washington DC and Maryland. She is also a venture partner at New Enterprise Associates, an NBC/CNBC/MSNBC contributor, and was formerly director of policy for the Office of Intergovernmental Affairs and Public Engagement in the Obama administration
  • Sarah Pletcher, MD, MHCDS, system vice president and executive medical director for strategic innovation at Houston Methodist, and responsible for advancing a wide range of virtual and other innovative care models and solutions.

Industry org news: ISfTeH International Conference call for presentations, new leaders for ATA Policy Council

The International Society for Telehealth and e-Health (ISfTeH) is holding its International Conference in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada this year, 31 May to 2 June. It is being organized in collaboration with the University of Manitoba’s College of Rehabilitation Sciences and with support from Tourism Winnipeg. If you are interested in submitting a presentation proposal, go online to https://easychair.org/cfp/ISFTEH2023, or contact the Conference Chair, Dr. Amine Choukou (amine.choukou@umanitoba.ca). Abstracts are due on 3 February and full presentations by 17 February. Go to their main website (link above) for a link to the conference website (to come). ISfTeH is one of the oldest organizations in telehealth–a 25-year-old global federation of 45 national professional organizations in the field of telemedicine and eHealth, plus institutional, corporate, and individual members in over 35 countries worldwide.  Hat tip to Frederic Lievens of ISfTeH.

The American Telemedicine Association (ATA) announced new leadership joining their ATA Policy Council. Mary Griskewicz, MS, FHIMSS, director of federal policy, Cigna, joins the Policy Council as chair, along with Alyssa Keefe, system senior vice president, public policy and advocacy, CommonSpirit Health; Leslie Krigstein, vice president, government affairs, Transcarent; and Sarah-Lloyd Stevenson, MPH, senior manager, Amazon. Current chair Mark Hayes, senior vice president, Federal policy and advocacy, Ascension, remains on the Policy Council as immediate past chair. Readers should note the new mix of organizations. The ATA Policy Council makes final determinations on policy positions taken by the ATA and ATA Action, the ATA’s affiliated trade organization. Reminder–ATA 2023 is 4-6 March. Release

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

Fitbit’s three new wearables–will they revive the brand? Fitbit, now owned by Google, announced the debut of two new smartwatches and one fitness tracker, available now for preorder and shipping in September. Will buyers find them more attractive than their predecessors? From left to right:

Fitbit Inspire 3 upgrades from the predecessor with a color display and similar $99.95 price. Monitors for irregular heartbeat, reminders to move, wakey-wakey alarm, apps, and more.

Fitbit Versa 4 is a thin, light fitness smartwatch with sleep, SpO2 monitoring, GPS, irregular heartbeat, stress, pay hands free, Amazon Alexa, and connects to your smartphone. Four colors, will set you back $229.95.

Fitbit Sense 2 is chunkier with more information and tracking on health and stress than Versa 4 for a higher price at $299.95.

Readers can weigh in on whether these will be attractive, as the Fitbit brand has, over the past two years, almost vanished from the fitness smartwatch consciousness. GearPatrol, Mobihealthnews

New entrant in the developing hospital-to-home service provision area Sena Health is partnering with southern New Jersey’s Salem Medical Center to deliver Salem’s hospital-to-home program. Sena’s capabilities with Salem include up to 23 hospital-level services at home and 24/7 care coordinators. To qualify, patients must have been seen in the ER and evaluated on certain criteria. When cared for at home, they receive two in-person nursing visits daily and can connect with a dedicated clinical team if needed. Hospital-to-home is being trialed all over the country and is considered to be ‘hot’, but at this point is not all that widespread. HealthcareITNews

SteadyMD conducted a survey among a group of potential workers for their telehealth care team, among 1,700 clinicians: doctors (35%), nurse practitioners (52%), and therapists (12%). Some interesting findings such as:

  • Experienced (10 years +) doctors and therapists are most interested in telehealth practice, with nurse-practitioners (NPs) less so
  • Flexible schedules and working from home are the main attractions
  • Night shifts are attractive to 86% of therapists. Doctors and therapists average about 60%. But the latter two are far more interested in weekend work–not the therapists.
  • Telehealth as a full time delivery of care goes between 50 and 69% for each. Clinicians want more hours if the arrangement is part-time.

SteadyMD is a telehealth infrastructure provider that works with healthcare organizations, labs and diagnostics companies in 50 US states.

Something that can’t be delivered by telehealth except for diagnosis is your annual dental visit and treatments, and it’s down 9.5% in England, based on a report published by NHS Digital. The tracking of NHS adult dental visits covers the 24 months prior to June 2022 compared to the 24 months prior to June 2021. When compared to the 24 months up to June 2019, the reduction is 25.3%. Since dental practices closed except for emergency care due to Covid in March of 2020, there is an overlap in the numbers. They do indicate that dental treatments have not recovered in volume from before the pandemic. One good sign is that child dental treatment has strongly rebounded, up 42.1% in the 12 months prior to June 2022 versus up to June 2021, but still down over 20% compared to the 12 months prior to June 2019. Regional data is included in the NHS Digital report (link above).

The American Telemedicine Association announced its 2023 ATA annual conference will be in San Antonio, 5-7 March 2023. More information on “From Now What? to How To! The Vision and Realities of Telehealth Adoption” already is up on their website here.

ATA conference roundup: a new board chair, a digital app review pilot, and company announcements

The American Telemedicine Association (ATA) 2022 conference and expo is a wrap, after starting on Sunday through to Tuesday. While your Editor could not attend due to other commitments that precluded a trip to Boston, one industry insider who visited the expo–his first in-person event in two years–reported that after a slow start on Sunday, the floor busied up on Monday. Business was being done, finally and not virtually. What were the busy booths and what was ‘hot’? Companies in the areas of telemental health and remote patient monitoring (RPM). (Did you attend? What was your impression? Leave comments below.)

ATA had two major announcements of its own during the conference:

  • Kristi Henderson, DNP, NP-C, FAAN, FAEN, has been named as Chair of the ATA Board for a two-year term. Henderson is the CEO of Optum Everycare, where she leads a team building digital and virtual health solutions to improve quality outcomes and experiences for patients and providers. She has served on the board since December 2020. As Chair, she is succeeding Joseph Kvedar, MD and Professor at Harvard Medical School among other positions. Dr. Kvedar will become Immediate Past Chair and Senior Advisor to the ATA. Announcement
  • ATA, the American College of Physicians (ACP), and ORCHA, the Organization for the Review of Care and Health Applications,  announced a framework for the assessment of professional and consumer digital health technologies, including mobile apps and web-based tools. ACP and ORCHA, which has experience assessing compiling libraries of apps, will be piloting a test of the framework against a database of digital health tools. The goal of the pilot is to “determine how the library can be useful to physicians in recommending high-value digital health tools to their patients, and what other barriers to wider adoption of digital health tools may exist.” Announcement

Quite a few company announcements were made during ATA–a selection:

  • Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health highlighted the publication of a major scientific study (full text) documenting telehealth outcomes in JAMA Network Open. This Johns Hopkins-based research was partially supported by the ATA. The study followed a national cohort of 40.7 million commercially insured persons from July to December 2021 and included 21 chronic and non-chronic conditions. Fourteen-day follow-ups for persons with an initial telehealth visit were compared to persons receiving in-person care. On average, patients participating in an initial telehealth consult for a new health condition did not require more unplanned hospitalizations or follow-up ED visits within 14 days of their initial consult compared with patients making an initial in-person visit. The exception was respiratory conditions. Release
  • BioIntelliSense, which last year scored $45 million in funding for its on-body sensors, announced two major collaborations for remote patient monitoring (RPM) with UC Davis Health and Houston Methodist.
  • CDW Healthcare and Caregility announced a strategic partnership to expand their virtual care capabilities, including Caregility’s new Inpatient Virtual Engagement solution (IVE), also launched during ATA. 
  • Connect America, which snapped up Lifeline last year, launched Connect America Home, a single health and safety platform connecting (PERS) and remote patient monitoring (RPM) with supporting services, including AI-enabled virtual health assistance and Social Determinants of Health (SDoH) support, along with analytics. Release.
  • AliveCor announced the launch of KardiaComplete, a comprehensive heart health enterprise solution designed to drive improved health outcomes and reduce the cost of cardiac care. The service will be available through self-insured employers, health insurance plans, and health systems to those diagnosed with hypertension and arrhythmias, like atrial fibrillation.
  • Withings launched Withings RPM, the company’s most advanced remote patient monitoring solution designed to enhance the patient experience. It is a single platform that enables clinicians to order and send Withings RPM devices, manage data from multiple patients with automated alerts and reminders, communicate via SMS, phone, and in-app video calls, billing, sleep tracking, and more. 

TTA was a media partner of ATA 2022.

American Telemedicine Association sets up ATA Action for policy advocacy

The American Telemedicine Association (ATA), which has been known for its advocacy of telemedicine and telehealth since 1993 (!), is doubling down with setting up a separate “affiliated trade organization”, ATA Action, for policy advocacy. This is centered on making permanent pandemic-expanded telehealth access for Americans, state and federal telehealth coverage, and appropriate payment policies. ATA Action will be led by Kyle Zebley, ATA vice president, public policy, as executive director. There is a long list of ‘founding members’ and ‘Advocacy Council Members’ listed in the ATA release.

Key policy advocacy is centering on nine major points, including: 

  • Removing the in-person telemental health requirement
  • Increased broadband access
  • Coverage through federal programs such as Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs) and Rural Health Clinics (RHCs), the Indian Health Service, TRICARE, and the Veterans Health Administration
  • Telehealth across state lines while maintaining state authority to regulate the clinical practice
  • Remove regulatory roadblocks to decentralized clinical trials
  • Align Medicare coverage of remote patient monitoring with how it is practiced

ATA is also confirming that their 2022 annual meeting will be in-person at the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center 1-3 May. Information and registration are here.

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

Telemental Health Care Access Act introduced in US Senate to repeal in-person requirements for mental telehealth care

Eliminating the Medicare requirement for an in-person visit prior to telehealth used for mental health services. Yesterday, the Telemental Health Care Access Act of 2021 (PDF link) was introduced in the US Senate. It is a bipartisan bill sponsored by four senators, Bill Cassidy, MD (R-LA), Tina Smith (D-MN), Ben Cardin (D-MD), and John Thune (R-SD). It specifically amends Title XVIII of the Social Security Act to ensure coverage of mental health services furnished through telehealth without a prior in-person visit.

The 2021 Consolidated Appropriations Act on one hand removed the geographic restrictions for Medicare, but on the other imposed a restriction that requires physicians to see their mental health patients in-person at least six months prior to a Medicare-reimbursed telehealth visit. It’s significant as Medicare and the Physician Fee Schedule (PFS) [TTA 3 Dec 20] set the standards for commercial payers on coverage and reimbursement. The bill, so new it does not have a number yet, is designed to eliminate that requirement.

In the US, there is an acute shortage (at least 6,000) of mental health providers, particularly psychiatrists. Back in 2013, 70 percent of psychiatrists were over the age of 50 and due to retire. As to the top of the funnel, few medical graduates choose psychiatry due to compensation issues (paying for expensive medical education). Those who do are trained in residencies and tend to stay near large cities, further exacerbating the existing geographic imbalance. It’s a situation that hits this Editor close to home as her own brother is one of those semi-retired psychiatrists. He apparently has not been replaced in the clinic practice in which he worked for over 20 years and his private practice is self-limited. Most of the psychiatrists in his suburban area are retiring as well. Psychiatric mental health advanced practice registered nurses (PMH-APRN) fill only part of this gap. (For a further discussion of APRNs and their role in mental health practice, see this issue of Psychiatric Times)

Telemental health can fill some of the gap in rural areas, for continued support in mental health counseling and medical management, and for those who would benefit from cognitive therapies, a burgeoning area for telehealth companies.

The bill is supported by the American Telemedicine Association (ATA), the American Psychiatric Association, the American Psychological Association, and at least 30 companies (including the leading telehealth providers such as Teladoc and Doctor on Demand) and non-profit organizations such as the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. ATA release and overview of present in-person requirementsSenator Bill Cassidy release.

News roundup: Milken Institute’s telehealth brief with ATA push on Congress, GoodRx confirms 62% are CoronaDepressed, Johns Hopkins’ COVID mortality risk study and calculators

The hot US health tech issue is retaining, consolidating, and adding to the gains that telehealth and remote patient monitoring (RPM) made during the pandemic. The influential Milken Institute (formally the Milken Institute Center for the Future of Aging, Center for Public Health, and FasterCures) has published a short white paper on how best to increase access to telehealth services and support innovation as part of that aim. Their five core recommendations are: 

  1. Permanently lift Medicare location restrictions on telehealth to ensure that older adults can receive a variety of services in their homes and communities, regardless of where they live. (This was also recommended by the Taskforce on Telehealth Policy (TTP) [TTA 18 Sep] which was jointly formed by the ATA, NCQA, and the Alliance for Connected Care.)
  2. Meet the growing need for behavioral health care by addressing barriers to remote care and expanding the availability of telebehavioral  health services.
  3. Increase equitable access to telehealth services through digital technology, literacy programs, and broadband coverage.
  4. Support development and implementation of innovative telehealth and mobile health technology for prevention, well-being, clinical care, and research.
  5. Develop and document clear data sharing standards to support transitions of care across acute, post-acute, and long-term care settings, including care provided in the home and in residential care facilities. 

The consensus is that CMS’ 2021 Physician Fee Schedule post-pandemic (public health emergency=PHE) does not do nearly enough in that it returns–of legal necessity–to the status quo ante geographic restrictions, though it devised a temporary Category 3 to store over 50 telehealth billing codes [TTA 3 Dec]. The American Telemedicine Association (ATA) was joined by multiple organizations on Monday in pressing Congressional leaders to extend national telehealth ‘flexibilities’ as part of the $1.4 trillion omnibus spending deal that is needed to avoid a government shutdown on Friday (yes, this Friday) at midnight. The organizations joining the ATA on the letter to Congress are the Alliance for Connected Care, College of Healthcare Information Management Executives, Connected Health Initiative, eHealth Initiative, Health Innovation Alliance, HIMSS, and PCHAlliance. ATA release.

We are shocked, shocked that CoronaDepression worsens in those already suffering. Prescription discounter GoodRx analyzed prescription fill trends for anxiety and depression meds and found that they reached an all-time high in 2020–9.5 percent higher than the previous high in 2016. It peaked in April as the pandemic was underway, and possibly reflected some stockpiling.

Of their sample of 1,042 individuals diagnosed with anxiety and depression prior to the pandemic:

  • 22 percent responded that their symptoms were “much worse”
  • 40 percent said they were “worse”
  • 28 percent stated that symptoms were the “same”
  • a surprising 10 percent said symptoms were “better” or “much better” 

One of the main factors in that 62 percent reporting worse/much worse was the length of quarantine. “Those who reported quarantining due to COVID-19 were far more likely to report “worse” or “much worse” symptoms compared to those who did not quarantine. Over 70% of those who reported quarantining for more than one week said their depression and/or anxiety symptoms were “worse” or “much worse.” Loss of job and income, plus COVID-related events affecting friends and family, were also key in worsening symptoms. Many also had difficulty reaching their doctors/therapists and renewing medication. The study was conducted 1-10 November. GoodRx study

More depressing news (sic) of mental health challenges to older adults in the Isolation Age: The Future of Remote Care Technology, Lockdown Loneliness feared more than COVID, and the PLOS One study.

But cheer up and carry on, your COVID mortality risk may not be as bad as you think. A team of researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health created a COVID mortality risk calculator, based on algorithms calculating factors such as age, gender, sociodemographic factors, location, and a variety of different health conditions. Risk scores are grouped into five categories from lower than average/close to average to high.  While primarily for public health authorities to prioritize populations for vaccination, uninfected individuals can use it to determine their personal risk of future infection and complications after infection. It’s easy to use and your results may surprise you. There is also an interactive US map of the risk level of major cities, counties, and states. The study is published in a paper that appears in the journal Nature Medicine.  Johns Hopkins release, risk calculator

COVID effect on US practices: in-person visits down 37%, telehealth peaks at 14%; ATA asks Congress to make expansion permanent

A Commonwealth Fund/Harvard University/Phreesia tracking study of outpatient visits in 50,000 US healthcare practices, specialty as well as primary care, has tracked the effect of the COVID pandemic on practice visits during the period 8 March through 20 June. Using as their baseline the week of 1-7 March, which was the last ‘normal’ week in line with February, the results are not unexpected:

  • From 15 March to 20 June (three months), practice visits, including telehealth, plummeted 37 percent
  • Disproportionately affected were pediatricians, pulmonologists, and surgical specialties such as orthopedics
  • Against the baseline, week of 14 June visits are still down 11 percent
  • The nadir was 29 March, off 59 percent
  • The rebound tracks the same by US region, with the least dip in South Central and Mountain regions. (The most affected, of course, are New England-Mid-Atlantic and Pacific, with the highest COVID rates and the least rebound.)
  • Looking at the ‘rebound week’ of 14 June, the effects linger on in pediatrics, pulmonology, and (interestingly) behavioral health. (Anecdotally, behavioral health patients are continuing with telehealth for convenience versus the physical visit.)
  • Telehealth visits took off starting 8 March and at their peak were 13.9 percent of visits (19 April)
  • Since 26 April, telehealth visits have declined as in-person visits resume, and are at 7.4 percent as of 14 June (46.7 percent less). However, compared to the baseline of nearly zero (0.1 percent), it’s nearly a 140 percent increase.

Phreesia is a scheduling and patient check-in platform. The practices surveyed are Phreesia clients, covering 1,600 provider organizations, with 50,000 providers in 50 states.

Physicians were also interviewed as part of the study. The office operation has had to change, and the patient experience in returning to practices is very different. Making up deferred care is complicated, and precautions to mitigate risk of viral transmission inevitably slow care down. 

Much of the press around this study is that telehealth is receding quickly. As a trend in an extraordinary time when there was no alternative, as practices reopen a shift back to the office is to be expected, and often there is no substitute for in-person exams and procedures. Still, there are elements of long-term uncertainty on the future of practice telehealth. Both CMS and payers announced that payments for telehealth (audio/visual and telephone only) would remain in place only for the duration of the pandemic. What are their long term plans? Providers are having difficulty getting paid or paid enough even in parity states. State Medicaid presents even more of an unwanted ‘discount’.  Telehealth also demands a commitment to (ultimately) a HIPAA-compliant platform, workflow/staff support, and input in the practice’s EMR/population health platform. STAT, HealthcareITNews

The American Telehealth Association (ATA), coming off their virtual annual meeting last week, sent a letter to Congress with 340 signatories supporting a permanent expansion of telehealth after the public health emergency (PHE) ends in four priority areas:

  • Remove location restrictions 
  • Maintain HHS authority to determine eligible practitioners who may furnish clinically appropriate telehealth services
  • Authorize Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHC) and Rural Health Clinics (RHC) to furnish telehealth services 
  • Make permanent the HHS Temporary Waiver Authority to respond to emergencies

Release and letter

CMS clarifies telehealth policy expansion for Medicare in COVID-19 health emergency, including non-HIPAA compliant platforms (US)

Today (17 March), the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) issued a Fact Sheet and FAQs explaining how the expanded telehealth provisions under the Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act and the temporary 1135 waiver will work. The main change is to (again) temporarily expand real-time audio/video telehealth consults in all areas of the country and in all settings. The intent is to maintain routine care of beneficiaries (patients), curb community spread of the virus through travel and in offices, limit spread to healthcare providers, and to keep vulnerable beneficiaries, or those with mild symptoms, at home. Usage is not limited to those who suspect or already are ill with COVID-19.

Previously, only practices in designated rural health areas were eligible for telehealth services, in addition to designated medical facilities (physician office, skilled nursing facility, hospital) where a patient would be furnished with a virtual visit. 

The key features of the 1135 telehealth waiver are (starting 6 March):

  • Interactive, real-time audio/video consults between the provider’s location (termed a ‘distant site’) anywhere in the US and the beneficiary (patient) at home will now be reimbursed. The patient will not be required to go to a designated medical facility.
  • Providers include physicians and certain non-physician practitioners such as nurse practitioners, physician assistants and certified nurse-midwives. Other providers such as licensed clinical social workers (LCSW) and nutritionists may furnish services within their scope of practice and consistent with Medicare benefit rules.
  • Surprisingly, there is ‘enforcement discretion’ on the requirement existing in the waiver that there be a prior relationship with the provider. CMS will not audit for claims during the emergency. (FAQ #7)
  • Even more surprisingly, the requirement that the audio/visual platform be HIPAA-compliant, as enforced by the HHS Office of Civil Rights (OCR), is also being waived for the duration (enforcement discretion again), which enables providers to use Apple FaceTime, Facebook Messenger video chat, Google Hangouts video, or Skype–but not public-facing platforms such as Facebook Live, Twitch, or TikTok. Telephones may be used as explicitly stated in the waiver in Section 1135(b) of the Social Security Act. (FAQ #8) More information on HHS’ emergency preparedness page and OCR’s Notification of Enforcement Discretion.
  • On reimbursement, “Medicare coinsurance and deductible would generally apply to these services. However, the HHS Office of Inspector General (OIG) is providing flexibility for healthcare providers to reduce or waive cost-sharing for telehealth visits paid by federal healthcare programs.”

Concerns for primary care practices of course are readiness for real-time audio/video consults, largely addressed by permitting telephones to be used, as well as Skype and FaceTime, and what services (routine care and COVID-19 diagnosis) will be offered to patients.

This significant expansion will remain in place until the end of the emergency (PHE) as determined by the Secretary of HHS.

In 2019, CMS also expanded telehealth in certain areas, such as Virtual Check-Ins, which are short (5-10 minute) patient-initiated communications with a healthcare practitioner which can be by phone or video/image exchange by the patient. This could be ideal for wound care where this Editor has observed, in one of her former companies, how old phones are utilized to send wound images to practices for an accurate ongoing evaluation via special software. E-Visits use online patient portals for asynchronous, non-face-to-face communications, initiated by the patient. These both require an established physician-patient relationship. Further details on both of these are in the Fact Sheet, the FAQs, and the HHS Emergency Preparedness page with links.

The American Medical Association issued a statement today approving of the policy changes, and encouraged private payers to also cover telehealth. The American Telemedicine Association didn’t expand upon its 5 March statement praising the passage of the Act but advocated for increased cross-state permission for telehealth consults.

Additional information at HISTalk today and Becker’s Hospital Review.

Accrediting telehealth and remote patient monitoring providers (US)

Another organization has a go at it. ClearHealth Quality Institute (CHQI) of Annapolis, Maryland, an independent health care accrediting body, is developing two new telemedicine accreditation modules that cover Telemedicine Outcomes and Remote Patient Monitoring. The CHQI has formed a committee to develop standards in these areas to add them to current accreditation modules in telemedicine delivery: Consumer-to-Provider (C2P), Provider-to Consumer (P2C), and Provider-to-Provider (P2P). 

The need for clinical training and accreditation was recognized in August’s National Quality Forum report, Creating a Framework to Support Measure Development for Telehealth. Four domains of measurement were identified in the NQF report for telemedicine and telehealth organizations: 1) access to care, 2) cost effectiveness, 3) experience, and 4) effectiveness.

CHQI started in the insurance accreditation and compliance areas, expanding to telehealth recently. It is the only telemedicine accreditation program recognized by the American Telemedicine Association (ATA) and with major telemedicine providers such as American Well, Doctor On Demand, and MDLive.

Our Readers will remember that back in 2014, then Intel-GE Care Innovations in conjunction with the Jefferson College of Population Health had started the Validation Institute to accredit both individuals and companies. By last July, Care Innovations had sold it off to the Health Value Institute and had some time back concentrated on companies only. ClearHealth release, PatientEngagementHIT

Two more events for the calendar: ATA’s EDGE18 (Austin TX), SEHTA/Brunel MedTech Connects (London)

EDGE18, American Telemedicine Association, 26-28 September, Fairmont Austin, Austin TX

The revamped fall meeting of the ATA is being held in Austin, Texas this year as EDGE18.  The conference will highlight emerging best practices in telemedicine and virtual care, which are accelerating delivery model innovation, program design, and technology implementation. Speakers will include industry thought-leaders from WalMart, Aetna, Blue Cross Blue Shield, Ascension Healthcare, Babylon Health, AHIP, and NY Presbyterian Hospital. There will also be interactive workshops and immersion tours (space limited) offering “hands-on” previews of new technologies and programs at the Austin offices of Fjord Austin, Dell Medical School, and others. For more information and registration, see their website 

MedTech Connects: SMEs to Universities – Brunel University Showcase, 10 October, Darwin Room, Hamilton Centre, Brunel University, London UB8 3PH, 09:30 – 15:00

Brunel University, SEHTA and the GLA are hosting a free conference to highlight research, teaching and commercial collaborations through the Co-Innovate programme, a Brunel initiative supported by the EU through the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF). This major event is designed to start partnerships leading to collaborations with Brunel’s Design, Computer Science and Business schools, and collaborative research bids including current opportunities from InnovateUK, UKRI, SBRI and the Industry Challenge Fund. More information and registration is here.

Updated–Rounding up this week’s news: VA budget, Shulkin’s troubles, ATA’s new CEO, Allscripts’ wheeling-dealing, Roche buys Flatiron, Nokia out of health?, NHS Carillioning?

[grow_thumb image=”https://telecareaware.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/Lasso.jpg” thumb_width=”100″ /]Here’s our roundup for the week of 12 February:

VA wins on the budget, but the Secretary’s in a spot of bother. Updated. Last week started off as a good week for Secretary Shulkin with a White House budget proposal that increased their $83.1 billion budget by 11.7 percent, including $1.2 billion for Year 1 of the Cerner EHR implementation in addition to the agency’s $4.2 billion IT budget which includes $204 million to modernize VistA and other VA legacy IT systems in the interim. While the Cerner contract went on hold in December while record-sharing is clarified, the freeze is expected to be lifted within a month. POLITICO  Where the trouble started for Dr. Shulkin was in the findings of a spending audit by the VA’s Inspector General’s Office of an official European trip to Copenhagen and London which included unreimbursed travel by Mrs. Shulkin and free tickets to Wimbledon, at least partly justified by a doctored email. This has led to the early retirement of the VA Chief of Staff Vivieca Wright Simpson and also an investigation of hacking into Wright Simpson’s email. It also appears that some political appointees in the VA are being investigated for misconduct. CNBC, FierceHealthcare.

Updated: POLITICO doesn’t feel the love for Dr. Shulkin in today’s Morning eHealth, linking to articles about the supposed ‘internal war’ at the VA, with veterans’ groups, with the Trump Administration, and within the VA. It’s the usual governmental infighting which within the 16 Feb article is being whipped by POLITICO and co-author ProPublica to a fevered pitch. Dr. Shulkin comes across as doctor/tech geek who underestimated the politicization of and challenges within an agency with the mission to care for our veterans. It’s also an agency having a hard time facing the current demands of a dispersed, younger and demanding veteran group plus aging, bureaucratic infrastructure. As usual the ‘privatization’ issue is being flogged as an either/or choice whereas a blend may serve veterans so much better.

Digital health entrepreneur named CEO of the American Telemedicine Association. A first for ATA is a chief from the health tech area who is also one of the all-too-rare executive women in the field. Ann Mond Johnson, who will be starting on 5 March, was previously head of Zest Health, board chair and advisor to Chicago start-up ConnectedHealth (now part of Connecture), and had sold her first start-up company Subimo to WebMD in 2006. She began her career in healthcare data and information with The Sachs Group (now part of Truven/IBM Watson). Ms. Johnson replaces founding CEO Jonathan Linkous, who remained for 24 years before resigning last August and is now a consultant. ATA release, mHealth Intelligence. ATA relocated in January from Washington DC to nearby Arlington Virginia. And a reminder that ATA2018 is 29 April – 1 May in Chicago and open for registration.

Allscripts’ ‘Such a Deal’! Following up on Allscripts’ acquisitions of Practice Fusion for $100 million (a loss to investors) and earlier McKesson’s HIT business for $185 million [TTA 9 Jan], it hasn’t quite paid for itself, but came very close with the sale of McKesson’s OneContent, a healthcare document-management system, for a tidy $260 million. Net price: $25 million. Their CEO is some horse trader! Some of the savings will undoubtedly go to remedying the cyberattack in January that affected two data centers in North Carolina, shutting down EHR and billing applications for approximately 1,500 physician practices, which have launched a class action lawsuit. FierceHealthcare 

Flatiron Health acquired by Roche. (more…)

Some reflections on ATA and a future CEO–your ‘nominations’ wanted!

This Editor and publication have had relationships at different levels with the American Telemedicine Association (ATA) since at least 2006. Our Readers know of TTA’s long-standing support of ATA’s annual meeting as a media partner. As a marketer, I’ve negotiated booths, sponsorships, and sent staff (including myself) to meetings, which makes this experience like many of our Readers.

It is worth reflecting that in 1993, when Jon Linkous took the ATA helm, few of us other than academics had email or used the Internet except in limited ways like IBMMail or Minitel. Once telemedicine, video consults, and vital signs data capture were the future and mostly theory. We went through the whiz-bang gadget phase, where every new one was going to change healthcare as we know it. Now we are past the buzzy cocktail party hangover into trying to make it work. We are in 2.0 and 3.0 where it’s all about integration of telemedicine and telehealth into patient engagement, behavior change, data analytics, predictive care, genomics, improving life for the aging and chronically ill population, managing the tsunami of patient data for better outcomes, smart pills, hacking and data security, EHRs, ACOs, meeting standards such as MACRA…and heavy engagement with national (Federal) and local entities. And always–getting paid enough to stay afloat!

As an organization, ATA faces an ever-expanding HIMSS, which has expanded far beyond its health information/IT/data analytics raison d’être to media properties, multiple health tech conferences, and now presence with early-stage companies through acquiring Health 2.0.

Dizzying changes, and more to come.

Who do you want to see at the helm of ATA? What will be the new CEO’s problems to solve? List your choices and thoughts in Comments below! (If you wish to be anonymous, email Editor Donna in confidence.)

Change at the top at ATA: CEO Jon Linkous departs after 24 years

The American Telemedicine Association’s CEO, Jonathan Linkous, has left ATA after 24 years as CEO. An ATA spokesperson cited personal reasons, according to MedCityNews. Sources told POLITICO Morning eHealth that Mr. Linkous “simply told the organization he was leaving the job effective immediately before its board meeting this week.” It was certainly an unusual departure, without the standard transitional period of months or even a year. The ATA release was short and concentrated on the ‘transitional period’.

Acting as interim CEO will be Dr. Sabrina Smith, who joined last January as COO after senior VP/COO-level positions with the Regulatory Affairs Professionals Society (RAPS) and the American Academy of Physician Assistants (AAPA) after 12 years with MedStar Health, the largest health system in the Washington DC metro. MedCityNews quoted ATA board president Peter Yellowlees, MD that the search is expected to take about six months. This will take the search through ATA’s Fall Forum in October and well into the ramp-up for ATA 2018 in April. ATA is seeking “a vision for the future of healthcare” and “extensive knowledge of telemedicine”, so if you have it, step up! 

Jon Linkous, from the formation of ATA to yesterday, gained much recognition for telemedicine and telehealth, to where ATA presently has 10,000 members and 450 health system and industry partners, a leading annual conference, multiple events and educational programs. They have concentrated much (and successful) effort in gaining parity of payment for telemedicine, a state by state battle, though the POLITICO report (using a quote from a former HIMSS executive director now consulting for ATA!) did not think much of ATA’s influence in the Washington DC swamps. Another major change apparent over the past five years: as an association, healthcare technology has developed way outside ‘telemedicine’. Organizations like HIMSS have exploded in size through redrawing their definitional lines plus aggressive acquisitions in media and of competitors such as Health 2.0. The next chapters won’t be simple or easy for the new CEO. Also FierceHealthcare(Disclosure: TTA has been for many years a media partner of the ATA annual conference.)