News roundup: dogs sniffing out COVID, CVS rolling out OTC COVID tests, Hydrogen Health launches, Alcidion UK acquires ExtraMed

Woof! A trained dog can sniff out COVID-19 with 96 percent accuracy. Based on a study by the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Veterinary Medicine, their trained dogs could recognize the unique odor signature of infection from saliva and urine samples. From the study: “Dogs successfully discriminated between infected and uninfected urine samples, regardless of the inactivation protocol, as well as heat-treated saliva samples.” The specially trained dogs were all Labrador retrievers ranging in age from 1.5 to 2.5 years, along with a six-year-old Malinois. The training took three weeks. However, the length and expense of the training, plus the dogs consistently treating as positive two samples where donors were negative in PCR testing but with one person recently recovered and the other exhibiting symptoms, may limit canine detection. FierceHealthcare, PLOS One.

But without a trained dog, you might be relieved to know that CVS is carrying in-store COVID rapid tests, rolling out in various states:  the Ellume COVID-19 Home Test, the Abbott BinaxNOW COVID-19 Antigen Self Test, and the Pixel by LabCorp PCR Test Home Collection Kit. All three tests have received FDA Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) which means they are not FDA cleared, but they don’t require a prescription and can be used by those with or without symptoms. CVS is placing them in-store initially in different and limited numbers of states, with the Abbott test set to be most widely available, plus online ordering. Healthcare Finance

Hydrogen Health launches a joint venture between Anthem, K Health, and Blackstone Growth. Its purpose is kind of the usual–improve care and care access at a lower cost. K Health combines a symptom checker with telemedicine–a $19 flat visit charge to see a clinician, including pediatricians. The release is a model of forward-thinking opacity as to what “innovative, digital-first healthcare solutions” might emerge, but they will target consumers, employers, and health plans. K Health’s CEO Allon Bloch will also serve as the CEO of Hydrogen Health. There is a put-and-call agreement between Anthem and Blackstone as part of the financials regarding the selling and buying of shares in the company. FierceHealthcare, Healthcare Dive

In the UK, Alcidion Group, a hospital software provider in interoperability, workflows, and clinical decision support with the Miya product suite and Patientrack, is acquiring ExtraMed. ExtraMed’s software provides real-time visibility of patient flow for NHS trusts. According to the release, ExtraMed will be purchased from current owner Hospedia, a bedside communication and entertainment unit provider. ExtraMed currently has nine customers in the NHS, including involvement as a partner in a 10-year Digital Control Centre project at Salford Royal NHS Foundation Trust. Alcidion works with 40 hospitals across the UK and is headquartered in South Yarra, near Melbourne, Australia. Alcidion news page

News roundup: Ancestry sells 75% to Blackstone, Cornwall NHS partners with Tunstall, most dangerous health IT trends, Slovenski departs from Walmart Health

Ancestry sells 75 percent of the genealogy/genetics company to Blackstone for $4.7 bn. The acquisition by the private equity company buys out other equity holders: Silver Lake, GIC, Spectrum Equity, Permira, and others. Ancestry’s business combines their genealogy database with consumer genomics for both heritage and health. The Blackstone release notes that their goals in the acquisition are to expand data, functionality, and product development across the Ancestry platform as part of their investment in growth businesses. If an acquisition cost of $4.7 bn seems high, Ancestry’s revenue is cited as $1 bn annually.

Once blazingly hot, both Ancestry and 23andMe saw their consumer businesses crater late last year, with layoffs in January and February. It’s an example of a quickly saturated market (one test and you’re done) flogged by annoying TV commercials over the holidays [TTA 13 Feb]. Where the profit is, of course, is not in consumer tests but in selling the genomic data to other companies, something which the market leader, 23andMe, realized early on with half-ownership by GSK ($300 million, a real bargain). 23andMe is also intensively marketing as a premium subscription service updates on health information derived from member testing. Ancestry has followed, but reportedly has not been as proactive in linking genetic information to health outcomes. STAT

 This Editor noted back in August 2018 that it was long past time for a Genomic Data Bill of Rights for consumers to be fully transparent on where their data is going, how it is being used, and to easily keep their data private without jumping through a ridiculous number of hoops. It’s a conclusion now being reached by various privacy groups according to MedCityNews. Also noted is that Ancestry, in its complex and long privacy policy, can use your “personal information to market new products from the company or its business partners, but says it will not share users’ genetic information with insurers, employers or third-party marketers without their express consent.” But when your 75 percent owner has real estate and other healthcare holdings, can you trust them?

Cornwall Partnership NHS Foundation Trust partnered with Tunstall Healthcare UK on a 26-week support program during the pandemic for young people 11+ with a range of eating disorders. The patient group used the myMobile app and the ICP triagemanager software to send in weekly reports on their vital signs and answer symptom-related questions, which are tracked over time via a secure portal to monitor progress. The myMobile app has parameters set for individual patients, where readings outside them generate a system alert that is sent to clinicians. The program was able to ascertain that 32 patients were at high risk and have been referred. Cornwall/Tunstall white paper, ATToday.co.uk

As if COVID Fear weren’t bad enough, now we have to be frightened of Dangerous IT Trends. Becker’s Health IT interviewed eight healthcare executives and came up with a list of what keeps them up at night:

  • The sluggish rate at which healthcare systems embrace new technology
  • We won’t be going back to the pre-pandemic normal and how healthcare deals with that
  • Overlooking data security and medical device vulnerabilities
  • Cutting IT staff and budgets without acknowledging the consequences
  • The consequences of hastily moving workers remote and securing their devices

All of the above are not new, and it’s rather shocking that they haven’t been addressed.

And in Comings and Goings, we have a Notable Going. Sean Slovenski, who for the past two years has been heading up Walmart US’ Health and Wellness initiatives, departed the company last week with a replacement to be named in the coming weeks. Mr. Slovenski had been heading up a variety of healthcare initiatives, including in-store primary and dental care clinics which have opened up in four Arkansas and Georgia locations with an additional eight planned plus Florida. Walmart also opened up 100 COVID testing locations in store parking lots. His efforts were acknowledged in Walmart’s departure statement to staff. Mr. Slovenski “and his team have successfully stood up the strategy we hired him to create,” Walmart’s CEO John Furner said in a memo to staff. Walmart has also laid off over 1,000 corporate employees in a recent restructuring. Mr. Slovenski is most noted in digital health circles as CEO of Care Innovations for 2 1/2 years during the Intel-GE ownership. He was also with Healthways-ShareCare and Humana. Walmart is up against a long list of heavyweight challengers in retail health, including Amazon, CVS Aetna, and Walgreens–and may be deciding that an independent run is not worth it.