Thursday’s short takes: Walmart’s delivery drones expand, AWS lands Geisinger for AI and cloud, UHG-Kaia Health partner for virtual MSK therapy

Look, up in the sky! If you live in Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Texas, Utah, and Virginia, you might be seeing a Walmart delivery drone sooner than you think. By end of 2022, the DroneUp delivery service will be expanding to 34 sites in six states, including Orlando and Tampa, covering 4 million households. What stores in those states will fill these orders between 8am and 8pm haven’t been disclosed, but Walmart estimates that delivery may reach 1 million packages. They will be limited in weight to 10 lbs, promise a 30-minute turnaround, and the delivery fee will be a modest $3.99. “Certified pilots” will be flying these drones. A side business for DroneUp is aerial photography for city and state governments’ construction projects. Color this Editor skeptical, as she wonders how many packages will be dropped and drones shot at. Also, they need to stay clear of restricted airspace. Walmart release, Epoch Times, The Verge

Amazon Web Services (AWS) continues its foray into healthcare with a prime partnership with Geisinger Health, a regional (PA) integrated health system.  They will be transitioning to AWS as their strategic cloud tech provider including their EHR, over 400 applications, plus workflows, after a multi-year review. Geisinger has estimated that post-implementation, they will save several million dollars. Their EHR migration will be one of the largest AWS migrations to date. AWS for Health is rivaled by Microsoft with Teams, Azure IoT, and chatbots for clients such as Humana, plus Google’s partnerships with healthcare giants such as Mayo. FierceHealthcare, Geisinger release

UnitedHealthcare and Kaia Health are partnering for a musculoskeletal (MSK) virtual therapy program. United Healthcare members recovering from surgery or injury will be assessed and referred to the Kaia program when appropriate. These members will then be able to download the Kaia app for physical therapy, tailored to them via “artificial intelligence”. Progress is monitored by that person’s smartphone camera to record motion in real-time and offer suggestions via coaches either 1 to 1 or through the app’s chat feature. At this point, UHG will offer it only to their self-funded employer clients. FierceHealthcare

News, deals, rumors roundup: Cerner’s DOD and VA go-lives, Akili’s ADHD therapy SPACs, Talkiatry’s $37M raise, Alto sings a $200M supper–and the Cigna-Centene rumors don’t stop

While Cerner’s acquisition by Oracle is winding its way through regulatory approvals, their EHR implementations are moving forward through both the Military Health System (Department of Defense) and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).

  • Within the MHS, Brooke Army Medical Center and Wilford Hall Ambulatory Surgical Center, both in the San Antonio (Texas) Market, went live with MHS GENESIS on 22 January. The change most visible to patients is the transition from TRICARE Online to the MHS GENESIS Patient Portal which enables 24/7 access for visit notes, secure messaging, test results, appointment scheduling, and online prescription renewal. MHS covers military retirees, active military, and family beneficiaries. According to the MHS’s website, the goal this year is to get to halfway–to implement MHS GENESIS in more than half of all military hospitals and clinics. It’s been taking place since 2017 and, in true military fashion, it’s planned in waves. Coming up are Naval Medical Center Camp Lejeune in South Carolina on 19 March and William Beaumont Army Medical Center in El Paso in summer.
  • VA is moving far more slowly, just getting to its second hospital. The Columbus VA go-live has been pushed back from 5 March to 30 April, citing training slowdowns due to a spike in staff COVID cases. Walla Walla, Washington is set for after Columbus, but the date is to be confirmed. The first, failed implementation at Spokane’s Mann-Grandstaff VA Medical Center in late 2020 was the subject of Federal hearings and a complete redo in VA’s plans and procedures in cutting over from VistA to Cerner Millenium. TTA 28 July and previous. Federal News Network

Akili Interactive, which has developed tech-driven, game-based cognitive therapies for ADHD and other psychiatric and neurological conditions, has gone public through a SPAC via a merger with Social Capital Suvretta Holdings Corp. I, The transaction is expected to close in mid-2022. Akili will be listed on the Nasdaq stock market under the new ticker symbol AKLI.

The SPAC is expected to provide up to $412 million in gross cash proceeds and value the company at over $1 billion. Investors in the $162 million PIPE are Suvretta Capital Management’s Averill strategy, Apeiron Investment Group, Temasek, co-founder PureTech Health, Polaris Partners, Evidity Health Capital, JAZZ Venture Partners, and Omidyar Technology Ventures. The funds raised will support the commercial debut of EndeavorRx, a FDA-cleared and CE-marked prescription digital therapeutic for pediatric ADHD. The technology is termed the Selective Stimulus Management Engine (SSME) and will be rolled out for ADHD, ASD, MS, and MDD treatment.

TTA noted Akili last year in a trial of AKL-T01 at several hospitals for treatment of long-COVID-related cognition problems. Unfortunately, the writing in their SPAC release made this Editor feel like she needed a few treatments.

Mentalhealthtech (psychtech?) continues to attract funding. Psychiatric care startup Talkiatry topped off its July $20 million raise with an additional $17 million from Left Lane Capital for a $37 million Series A financing round. CityMD founder Dr. Richard Park, Sikwoo Capital Partners, and Relevance Ventures also participated. Talkiatry uses an online assessment for a preliminary diagnosis and then matches you with a participating psychiatrist.  It is in-network with payers such as Cigna, Aetna, UnitedHealthcare (Oxford Health Plan), Oscar, and Humana. Funding will be used to expand beyond NYC. Mobihealthnews

Digital pharmacy is also hot. Alto, which promises same-day filling and courier delivery, raised a $200 million Series E led by Softbank Vision Fund. Their total to date is over $550 million. Alto serves selected areas mainly in California, Nevada, Texas, and NYC (Manhattan, Queens, Brooklyn). Competitors Capsule had another raise of $300 million in April for a total of $570 million and Medly raised a $100 million Series B in 2020. Mobihealthnews

In the wake turbulence of Centene’s dramatic management shakeup last month [TTA 18 Dec], rumors continue to surface that insurer Cigna is interested in acquiring all, or possibly part, of Centene. Bloomberg News in publishing its article earlier this week cited ‘people familiar with the matter’ said that talks took place last year, but that they are not ongoing. Seeking Alpha picked this up, adding market activity boosting Centene. Perhaps the disclosure and the ‘denials’ align with what this Editor has heard–that it’s very much ongoing but under wraps.

A Centene buy makes sense, but only with Cigna. While Cigna is almost double the market value of Centene, it does not have the sprawling business model the latter has, nor do their businesses overlap much. However, some divestiture would be needed to do a deal, given the constrained regulatory environment in the US on the Federal and state levels. Any insurer merger is seen as anti-competitive, unless it is an acquisition of a smaller, struggling plan. 

It certainly would vault Cigna into the top rank of insurers with non-Centene branded exchange, Medicare Advantage and Medicaid plans, a provider network, an established MSO, and other lines of business including Magellan behavioral health management. Cigna might also value Centene’s international holdings, such as private hospitals Circle Health in the UK and Ribera in Spain. A sale would also create a quick and profitable ROI for Politan Capital Management, the activist investor company that initiated the retirement of 25 year CEO Michael Neidorff last month, rather than managing and reorganizing the sprawl of Centene’s businesses to make it more profitable.

Further insights on and thoughts about the Oracle acquisition of Cerner

HISTalk, with its focus on health IT and generally short mentions without opinion on the news, in today’s issue includes some thoughts on the Oracle-Cerner deal, including a rare “Announcements and Requests” inviting reader thoughts on the acquisition’s effect on several issues. Also rare: a lengthy anonymous comment from a healthcare CIO.

A few highlights–your Editor recommends you go to the article for more:

  • Oracle’s free cash is far less than the purchase price at $23 billion. They will need additional financing to complete the Cerner acquisition.
  • Announcements and Requests: will customers on the fence between Epic and Cerner run towards the less uncertain choice? Will the Cerner VA and DOD business be affected? How does this affect Cerner’s implementations of cloud services, currently AWS versus Oracle’s Gen2, as well as healthcare’s usage of  InterSystems Cache versus Oracle’s relational databases? And will Oracle’s Voice Digital Assistant as the user interface to Cerner Millenium really fly?
  • From Change of Control: How key to the deal was CEO David Feinberg MD, who only joined in October? No matter what, he’s now a very wealthy man.
  • From On-Demand: Oracle is buying its way into healthcare. Cerner lost a lot of ground in executive changes and a less than effective CEO. (Editor’s note: This dates back to 2017–the illness and untimely death of Neal Patterson, the co-founder and CEO, at age 67 and president Zane Burke’s departure the following year after 20 years for the CEO spot at Livongo, which undoubtedly made him a wealthy man!)
  • From Anonymous Health System CIO’s Initial Thoughts: Their biggest problems are 1) people and process.”Cerner has struggled to maintain competent staff that understand healthcare and individual customer workflows. Throughout our implementations, we had major challenges with project management, availability of experienced staff, and the ability to help us make informed decisions.”  2) “If Oracle is going to help reduce the cost of healthcare, they also need to help find savings for their customers.” 

All these should be of concern to Cerner as they–and their people–try to maintain momentum until the acquisition closes. Customer uncertainty, staff competence, and Oracle’s lack of background in how healthcare operates (including a history of pulling some ‘fast ones’ around cloud licensing, as well as understanding clinician preferences such as Dragon as a voice assistant) are undoubtedly giving some investors–and hospital systems–pause. Hat tip to HISTalk. Our earlier coverage here.

One final comment from Editor Donna: Never underestimate the power of a CEO’s ego–especially one who is routinely compared to God, at least in TechWorld–in wanting One Last Coup to burnish his escutcheon, before that Long Sail Into The Sunset on his yacht Musashi.

(Breaking) Sold! Cerner to Oracle for $28.3 billion. And is Epic next?

That bombshell came in fast! From the rumor mill to reality, from last Thursday to today (Monday), Oracle and Cerner announced their deal today at 9.37am ET. It is a bracing all-cash deal at $95/share plus debt assumption totaling $28.3 billion, expected to be immediately accretive to Oracle’s earnings. Closing is anticipated sometime in 2022. It is subject to considerable regulatory (SEC and likely DOJ) and shareholder approvals. It’s Oracle’s largest deal ever, but so far their share price is not appreciative of the big move.

According to the Oracle release, Cerner and its EHR plus related systems will be organized as a dedicated Industry Business Unit within Oracle. No transition information was included, although towards the end it’s stated that “Oracle intends to maintain and grow Cerner’s community presence, including in the Kansas City area, while utilizing Oracle’s global footprint to reach new geographies faster.”

Both the Oracle and Cerner releases (headlining their home page in gigantic type) are written totally from Oracle’s POV–no shilly-shallying about how Cerner will guide them into the healthcare arena or a meeting of like companies, et al. It’s all about how Oracle will transform healthcare.

Changes will be coming to Cerner. Between the lines, they are not painted in the best light. From the Mike Cecelia (EVP, Vertical Industries) quote, “Oracle’s Autonomous Database, low-code development tools, and Voice Digital Assistant user interface enables us to rapidly modernize Cerner’s systems and move them to our Gen2 Cloud. This can be done very quickly because Cerner’s largest business and most important clinical system already runs on the Oracle Database. No change required there. What will change is the user interface. (Ed. emphasis) We will make Cerner’s systems much easier to learn and use by making Oracle’s hands-free Voice Digital Assistant the primary interface to Cerner’s clinical systems. This will allow medical professionals to spend less time typing on computer keyboards and more time caring for patients.”

There is also no mention of Cerner’s challenges with the VA. What are the implications with the Cerner implementations there and with DOD?

Do anticipate much industry speculation on David Feinberg, MD, who only this fall joined Cerner as CEO, and his role in this. The most logical is that he’ll shepherd the sale till the close and exit stage left, well-rewarded, with his future (only 59) still ahead, unless Oracle sees a role for him. In its way, it broke Cerner out of a corner that they were painted into with EHRs. At the end of the day, will there be a Cerner?

And what about Epic? A more complex picture, as Epic Systems is wholly private, on a roll, and dominated by Judy Feinberg, the founder and CEO. However, she is 78, and both personal and corporate considerations on future planning must loom large. What would Epic be worth to an acquirer? And who would it be? Amazon? IBM? (a terrible fit after the Watson Health debacle), Salesforce? Microsoft? Hmmmmm…. CNBCTechCrunch, HealthcareITNews   Our earlier coverage here.

Oracle in negotiations to buy Cerner for $30B (sold!)

2021 may go out with a bang! The Wall Street Journal (paywalled) reported late Thursday that software colossus Oracle was in discussions with EHR giant Cerner to buy it, lock stock dropdown menus and workflows. And soon, according to the WSJ‘s sources. The reported amount is $30 billion.

It would be Oracle’s most expensive purchase ever, much more than PeopleSoft (HR) in 2005 and NetSuite in 2016. Given their valuations, Cerner is a snack at $23 billion for Oracle at $280 billion. But Cerner gives Oracle four-star entree to healthcare and practice systems. Oracle has long seen healthcare as a growth area for cloud computing services targeted to payers, hospitals, and health systems, and has clients like Cleveland Clinic and Kaiser. Back in June 2020, they launched a cloud service collecting clinical data from sensors, patient apps, EHRs, and labs supporting therapy development. 

As our Readers know, David Feinberg, MD left Google Health to join Cerner as president and CEO on 1 October [TTA 21 August] in a $34.5 million compensation package [TTA 24 August]. An acquisition by Oracle, in such a short time, can be interpreted as either a coup he engineered for the shareholders (and for his benefit, as change of control usually vests the package!), or he can be viewed as a placeholder for the top spot on a previously moving deal. Both are mature companies. While Cerner has been losing market share to Epic and has had many woes with its $18 billion VA Cerner Millenium implementation [TTA 3 Dec, 28 July], it also generates $1 billion per year in free cash flow and Oracle can institute operational efficiencies to increase profit margins. In the view of some, Oracle is returning to an aggressive market strategy that most felt it left behind.

Oracle shareholders didn’t like it much today, with shares declining over 6% on Friday to $96.67. But Cerner’s liked it a lot, increasing price nearly 13% to $89.77. Kansas City-based Cerner also had 150 layoffs in November in its 28,000 employee staff. Oracle recently relocated from California to Austin, Texas, shrinking its office footprint. Seeking Alpha 17 Dec, 17 Dec AM; Kansas City Star, Becker’s HealthIT

Updated–see our short article on the sale for $28.3 billion here.

Breaking: Google Health shutting down, most employees scattered to other divisions (updated)

Breaking  Google Health is disbanding, according to an ‘insider’ report in the (paywalled) Business Insider, reported secondarily in Becker’s Health IT and in specialized websites such as Apple Insider. This comes on the heels of the departure of Google Health head and Google VP David Feinberg MD after two years on 1 Sept. He will become CEO and president of Cerner starting 1 October. Healthcare IT News, Healthcare Dive

Reports about the internal memo sent to Google employees from what Apple Insider calls “Google research whiff” (?) Jeff Dean indicates that the teams working on various health projects will be split up to other areas. For instance, Google Health’s clinical group including the EHR tool team will now report to Dean. Based on 2020 numbers, 500 employees will be affected. 

Google Health’s track record since its founding in 2018 hasn’t been superlative, despite the prestigious name and bankroll. They bought a failing Fitbit for $2.1 billion closing only in January, after a bouncy romance starting in 2019  with more than the usual share of controversy, with scrutiny from DOJ to EU regulators. Becker’s reports that Google’s CMO, Karen DeSalvo, MD, leader of clinical initiatives, will now report to the chief legal officer. The AI team on medical imaging will report to Google’s search and AI team. The memo also noted relocation of staff to Search, Maps, and YouTube. 

(updated) In June, Google Health reorganized to shed its consumer focus and focus more on clinical applications such as its controversial Care Studio and health AI, including projects moved from sister company Verily. Even losing 130 or so employees to other areas of the company from a unit high of 700, this apparently was not enough to justify its separate existence. TTA 18 June, FierceHealthcare 

Healthcare ain’t beanbag, as they say in New York, and even Apple with its Watch and innumerable apps has found it rough going. Reports this week stated that Apple is scaling back a specific health team that was focused on an internal health app.

For Dr. Feinberg, former CEO of integrated health regional Geisinger and CEO at UCLA Health, the Cerner position is ‘top of the world’. He is being hired as Cerner’s third CEO in 42 years and will be combining both the CEO and president positions which previously were separately held. He reportedly has been hired to be a strategic CEO, which is a change for the company reflecting its directional change to be a software-as-a-service (SaaS) business rivaling Amazon Web Services, marking a transition away from legacy EHRs. Cerner has had some significant challenges, with the VA implementation sidelined until sometime in 2022, and quite a few executive changes, with the current CEO and chairman departing immediately after three years without an expected transitional period, and a new chairman coming from the board of directors.

As for Google, Dr. Feinberg might agree with “amar99”, one of the commenters on Apple Insider, who said in part: “Great, now can Google please leave Google?”

“All That We Let In”: health apps’ APIs are vulnerable and easy to hack, exposing and altering PHI and PII

Mobile security company Approov has issued a scary report on the hackability of popular health apps. They tested 30 apps (not named in the report) of the 300,000-odd health apps in the market, and found that the application programming interfaces (APIs) used in 100 percent of these apps had hardcoded vulnerabilities that could allow hackers to access protected health information (PHI), personally identifiable information (PII), identity, and billing information. According to the report (registration required), these apps used by patient care organizations for remote account management and telemedicine appointments may expose 23 million individuals. Of the 30 apps tested:

  • 77 percent contained hardcoded API keys, some of which do not expire
  • Seven percent had hardcoded usernames and passwords in plain text
  • 50 percent of the doors that these API vulnerabilities opened led to PHI and billing information
  • 100 percent of the API endpoints tested were vulnerable to Broken Object Level Authorization (BOLA) attacks. These involve a relatively simple process of falsifying user IDs and swapping out numbers. For some apps, the hack could gain clinician-level access and alter medical histories and records (including issuing prescriptions for medication).
  • 100 percent of the apps were vulnerable to man-in-the-middle attacks due to failure to implement certificate pinning, which forces the app to validate the server’s certificate against a known good copy

Alyssa Knight, the ‘recovering hacker’ who authored the report, also hacked into one hospital’s EHR and changed its values by one digit. She was then able to access health records and registration information. She used a hacking tool that looks like it is generating data from a mobile health app.

The use of mobile apps for telehealth and portals has become far more widespread as a result of the pandemic, yet security has lagged–even though the level of sophistication in the apps, and the amount of information they integrate, has accelerated to become the norm. It’s a wakeup call to developers, health systems, and digital health companies that off the shelf and old APIs don’t meet security demands. Unfortunately, Gartner projects that APIs will become the vector for most data breaches by 2022. CPO Magazine, FierceHealthcare

As practices reopen, telemedicine visits continue to plunge from 69% to 21%: Epic (US)

The extreme high tide has receded–but still way up than before the pandemic.  The Epic Health Research Network (yes, that Epic EHR), updated its earlier study through 8 May [TTA 22 July] to compare in-office to telehealth visits through 12 July. The trend that EHRN spotted (as well as Commonwealth Fund/Phreesia/Harvard) continued with telemedicine visits declining as practices reopened. As of mid-July, telehealth visits, as a  percentage of national ambulatory visits, declined to 21.2 percent compared to 78.8 percent in-office. 

The new EHRN study used a broader sampling than previously. They surveyed healthcare providers of data: 37 healthcare organizations representing 203 hospitals and 3,513 clinics in 50 states. The decline in telehealth visits noted in early May continued, with May finishing with a national 50/50 split.

But in context, telehealth visits immediately before the COVID-19 pandemic were a whopping .01 percent

Regionally, the Northeast leads in July telehealth visits with 25 percent. The South has the least adoption of telehealth with only 13 percent. In terms of total office visits, neither the South nor West have rebounded to pre-pandemic levels, whereas the Northeast and Midwest have.

The key to the future of the telehealth bubble bath is if telehealth usage versus in-person stabilizes for several months. But there’s another factor which has come about through higher telehealth usage. Noted in our July article was speculation on the reasons why the sudden decline, other than practices reopening, most of which pointed to practice training, reimbursement, and older/sicker patients falling into the smartphone/digital divide. The STAT article has statements from telehealth providers which are quite bubbly and quotable, with the CEO of MDLive stating that new bookings are up 300 percent and mental health hasn’t declined. But a problem now surfacing is providing patients with the right care at the right time–and fitting it into the office schedule. What visits can best be handled as telehealth and which require an in-person visit? This Editor recalls that Zipnosis, a white-labeled telehealth system we haven’t heard from in a while, incorporated for health system applications a triage intake which would direct the patient to the right level of care. Can this be rolled out in a similar way to the practice level?

News roundup: CVS cashing out notes, catching up with ISfTeH, India’s Stasis Labs RPM enters US, Propeller inhaler with Novartis Japan, Cerner gets going with VA

CVS Health is pricing out a tender offer for some notes. If you are holding one of a potpourri of notes with due dates of 2023 and 2025 from CVS, the company is making a cash tender offer, meaning they are cashing these notes out. This is usually done as part of rearranging financing, especially appropriate in the wake of the Aetna acquisition. The details are here in their release of 12 August. The collective value for both note years is approximately $3 bn each. An update is here on Seeking Alpha.

We have been remiss in not maintaining our following the Swiss-based International Society for Telemedicine and eHealth (ISfTeH) so we will direct your attention to their August update which features the effect of COVID on teledermatology, women’s health, teleurology, and news on members and developers. Their Journal, still edited by Professor Maurice Mars of South Africa, has published once this year in January.

India’s Stasis Labs, developer of a remote patient monitoring (RPM) platform utilizing a smartphone, vital signs devices, a bedside monitor connected into a platform, is entering the US market. It monitors six vital signs in a single monitor: heart rate, blood oxygen, electrocardiogram, respiratory rate, blood pressure, and temperature. Awarded a 510(k) clearance in April, Stasis, out of the Cedars-Sinai Accelerator program, has had a limited deployment at Texas-based emergency-care provider Hospitality Health ER and California-based Glendale Surgical Center and Orthopedic Surgery Specialists. It has also deployed to 50 cities in India. Mobihealthnews

Smartphone-connected inhaler sensor company Propeller Health has inked a deal with Novartis in Japan. Patients prescribed Novartis’ drugs for uncontrolled asthma, the Enerzair or Atectura Breezhaler, can now enroll in Propeller’s digital-management program. Data about their inhaler use will be transmitted from the sensor on the inhaler to Propeller’s smartphone app. The app also pings users with reminders and usage data. Propeller was acquired last year for a stunning $225 million by ResMed. Propeller this past May gained 510(k) FDA clearance for a sensor/app for use with AstraZeneca’s Symbicort inhaler.

Cerner’s EHR implementation with the US Department of Veterans Affairs finally took a step forward after many delays with the launch last Friday of a new scheduling system at the VA Central Ohio Healthcare System in Columbus, Ohio. Cerner migrated the information of some 60,000 veterans in preparation. The full EHR at the Mann-Grandstaff VA Medical Center in Spokane, Washington, originally scheduled for March, will go live this fall. Healthcare Dive

While telehealth virtual office visits flatten, overall up 300-fold; FCC finalizes COVID-19 telehealth funding program (US)

As expected, the trend of telehealth visits versus in-person is flattening as primary care offices and urgent care clinics reopen. Yet the overall trend is up through May–a dizzying 300-fold, as tracked by the new Epic Health Research Network (EHRN–yes, that Epic). Their analysis compares 15 March-8 May 2020 to the same dates in 2019 using data from 22 health systems in 17 states which cover seven million patients. It also constructs a visit diagnosis profile comparison, which leads with hypertension, hyperlipidemia, pain, and diabetes–with the 2020 addition of — unsurprisingly — anxiety.

POLITICO Future Pulse analyzed EHRN data into July (which was not located in a cross-check by this Editor) and came up with its usual ‘the cup has a hole in it’ observation: “TELEHEALTH BOOM BUST”. But that is absolutely in line with the Commonwealth Fund/Phreesia/Harvard study which as we noted tailed off as a percentage of total visits by 46 percent [TTA 1 July]. But even POLITICO’s gloomy headline can’t conceal that telehealth in the 37 healthcare systems surveyed was a flatline up to March and leveled off to slightly below the 2 million visit peak around 15 April. 

Where POLITICO’s gloom ‘n’ doom is useful is in the caution of why telehealth has fallen off, other than the obvious of offices reopening. There’s the post-mortem experience of smaller practices which paints an unflattering picture of unreadiness, rocky starts, and unaffordability:

  • Skype and FaceTime are not permanent solutions, as not HIPAA-compliant
  • New telehealth software can cost money. However, this Editor also knows from her business experience that population health software often has a HIPAA-compliant telehealth module which is relatively simple to use and is usually free.
  • It’s the training that costs, more in time than money. If the practice is in a value-based care model, that is done by market staff either from the management services organization (MSO) or the software provider.
  • Reimbursement. Even with CMS loosening requirements and coding, it moved so quickly that providers haven’t been reimbursed properly.
  • Equipment and broadband access. Patients, especially older patients, don’t all have smartphones or tablets. Not everyone has Wi-Fi or enough data–or that patient lives in a 2-bar area. Some practices aren’t on EHRs either.
  • Without RPM, accurate device integration, and an integrated tracking platform, F2F telehealth can only be a virtual visit without monitoring data.

Perhaps not wanting to paint a totally doomy picture (advertising sponsorship, perhaps?), the interview with Ed Lee, the head of Kaiser Permanente’s telehealth program, confirmed that the past few months were extraordinary for them, even with a decent telehealth base. “We were seeing somewhere around 18 percent of telehealth [visits] pre-covid. Around the height of it, we’re seeing 80 percent.” They also have pilots in place to put technology in the homes of those who need it, and realize its limitations.

Speaking of limitations, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) COVID-19 Telehealth Program, authorized by the CARES Act, is over and out. The final tranche consisted of 25 applications for the remaining $10.73 million, with a final total of 539 funding applications up to the authorized $200 million. Applicants came from 47 states, Washington, DC, and Guam. FCC release. To no one’s surprise, 40 Congresscritters want to extend it as a ‘bold step’ but are first demanding that Chair Ajit Pai do handsprings and provide all sorts of information on the reimbursement program which does not provide upfront money but reimburses eligible expenditures. That will take a few months. You’d think they’d read a few things on the FCC website first. mHealth Intelligence

News Roundup (updated): Proteus files Ch. 11, VA’s EHR tests now fall–maybe, making US telehealth expansion permanent, Rennova’s rural telehealth bet, Oysta’s Lite, Fitbit’s Ready to Work jumps on the screening bandwagon

Proteus Health, the company which pioneered what was initially derided as a ‘tattletale pill’, filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy today (16 June). As early as December, their layoffs of nearly 300 and closure of several sites was a strong clue that, as we put it, Proteus would be no-teous without a big win. Exactly the opposite happened with the unexpected early end of their Otsuka partnership with Abilify [TTA 17 Jan]. Proteus had raised about $500 million in venture capital from Novartis plus technology investors and family offices. Their combination of a pill with an ingestible sensor, a patch that detects ingestion and that sends information to a smartphone app was ingenious, but in a business model was meant for high-cost medications. Proteus’ current partnerships include TennCare (TN Medicaid), plus Xealth and Froedtert to integrate medication information into electronic health records. At one point, Proteus was valued at $1.5 bn by Forbes, making it one of the early healthcare unicorns.  CNBC, FierceHealthcare

VA further delayed in implementing Cerner-Leidos EHR. POLITICO’s Morning eHealth earlier this month reported from congressional sources that further testing would be delayed to the fall at the earliest and possibly 2021. The project to replace VistA stands at $16 bn. Contributing to delay was an April COVID outbreak in Spokane at a veterans’ home, which pushed patients into the VA medical center. 

In further DC news, several senators are advocating that the relaxing of restrictions on telehealth during COVID should largely be made permanent. According to the lead senator, Brian Schatz (D-HI), Medicare beneficiaries using telehealth services increased 11,718% in 45 days. Many telehealth requirements were waived, including geographic, coding of audio-video and telephonic telehealth billing, and HIPAA platform requirements. Other senators are introducing bills to support remote patient monitoring programs in community health centers’ rural health clinics. FierceHealthcare

The climate for telehealth has improved to the point where smaller players with side bets are now betting with bigger chips. Rennova Health, a mid-South healthcare provider with a side in software, is merging its software and genetic testing interpretation divisions, Health Technology Solutions, Inc. (HTS) and Advanced Molecular Services Group, Inc., (AMSG) with TPT Global Tech. The combined company will be called InnovaQor after an existing subsidiary of TPT and plans to create a next-generation telehealth platform targeted to rural health systems. Release, Becker’s Hospital Review

Oysta Technology has launched the Oysta Lite with an SOS button, GPS, safety zone mapping for travel, and two-way voice. The SOS connects to their IntelliCare platform which provides status monitoring, reporting, and device management plus connecting to the telecare service provider. They are specifically targeting post-lockdown monitoring of frail elderly.  Press flyer/release.

Fitbit jumps on the crowded COVID workplace screening bandwagon with Ready to Work, a employer-sponsored program that uses individual data collected via the Fitbit device such as resting heart rate, heart rate variability and breathing rate. Combined with self-reported symptoms, temperature, and potential exposure, the Daily Check-In app then provides guidance on whether the employee should go to work or remain at home. According to the Fitbit release, a higher heart rate–as little as two beats a minute–can be indicative of an immune system response before the onset of symptoms. TTA has earlier reported [19 May] on other COVID workplace screeners such as UHC/Microsoft’s ProtectWell app, Appian, and (in-house) PWC. FierceHealthcare also lists several others on the cart: Castlight Health, Collective Health, Carbon Health, VitalTech, and Zebra Technologies. However, at this stage, few employees are leaving remote work for in office, and fewer still may even return to the office.

Allscripts’ $145 million settlement with DOJ on Practice Fusion’s ‘kickbacks’ on opioid prescribing, other charges

The US Department of Justice announced on 27 February that it reached a $145 million settlement with Practice Fusion on what DOJ termed “kickbacks from a major opioid company in exchange for utilizing its EHR software to influence physician prescribing of opioid pain medications”. Allscripts, which now owns Practice Fusion, will be paying out penalties of $25.4 million in criminal fines, $113.4 million to the Federal Government, and up to $5.2 million to individual states, as well as forfeiting criminal proceeds of nearly $1 million from the ‘kickback’. The specific charges relate to two felony charges related to the Anti-Kickback Statute (AKS) and for conspiring with its opioid company client to violate the AKS.

The opioid company is widely believed to be Purdue Pharmaceutical, manufacturers of Oxycontin, according to HISTalk. The high dudgeon generated in the DOJ press release is related to opioid prescriptions and physician usage which are and remain highly controversial. Apparently, Purdue wasn’t the only pharma company that benefited from this type of influence.

In this Editor’s analysis, ‘kickbacks’ is a legalism to prosecute under the AKC what marketers would term a sponsorship deal. Practice Fusion was from inception advertiser supported. What is different here from pop-up screen adverts is that Practice Fusion created sponsorship packages in which not only advertising was featured, but also clinical support decision (CDS) alerts were created, aimed at increasing prescription sales of companies’ products. In addition, Practice Fusion allowed companies to participate in the design of the CDS software. These sponsorships took place between 2014 and 2019. None of this is unusual in AdLand in general, but in pharma and healthcare which play by far stricter rules about marketing programs, this goes against the expectation (and regulation) that an EHR is unbiased.

Allscripts had ‘leaked’ this back in August on their Q2 investor call. Buried in the DOJ release after the opioid ire is the settlement of Practice Fusion’s violations of Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) regulations concerning the voluntary health IT certification program, and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) regulations around EHR incentive programs, presumably Meaningful Use certifications and payments. This was the origin of the earlier announcement of a $145 million settlement on Allscripts’ Q2 2019 investor call, which in retrospect strikes this Editor as a nice try at minimizing far more serious charges. [TTA 14 August] CDS favoring opioid prescription is far more disturbing.  

It does seem that Allscripts bought itself a bargain basement of trouble with Practice Fusion. Mobihealthnews, TechCrunch

News roundup: Proteus dissolves with Otsuka, EHRs add 16 min. per patient, DrChrono mobile EHR raises $20M, CareBridge LTSS launches, ‘flyover healthtech’ soars

The much-touted partnership of Proteus Digital Health with Otsuka Pharmaceutical of Japan for a digital version of Abilify has ended prematurely. Abilify MyCite was the first drug cleared by FDA with a digital tracking system in November 2017 [TTA 14 Nov 17]. Otsuka was also going to fund Proteus for further development of drug tracking.

In the payout for the Proteus license, Otsuka has the right to use Proteus’ technology for its own mental illness drug research. Proteus will abandon its research in mental illness and cardiovascular conditions and concentrate on digital meds in cancer and infectious disease. Before the holidays, we saw reports that ‘Proteus may be no-teous‘ and that layoffs and office closures were in the works. STAT reports that the Proteus-Otsuka breakup is one of several recently: Sandoz and Pear Therapeutics, Sanofi and Alphabet’s Onduo.

Where does a doctor’s time go? EHR use, for one. A study of 155,000 ambulatory medical subspecialists and primary care physicians in 2018 clocked EHR use per encounter at over 16 minutes on average, with chart review, documentation, and ordering functions accounting for most of the time (33, 24, and 17 percent, respectively). Percentages changed by subspecialty. PhysiciansWeekly,  ACP Annals of Internal Medicine (abstract only

Speaking of EHRs, DrChrono, one of the first mobile-friendly EHRs/practice management/revenue cycle platforms, raised $20 million in a Series B led by ORIX Growth Capital. Its total funding in nine years tops $48 million. Crunchbase, Mobihealthnews

Long term care (LTC) has been ‘about to be hot’ for at least 10 years. Where the real money may be made is in the ‘back end’. This week, a new long-term support services (LTSS) firm, CareBridge launched out of Nashville, backed with $40 million in fresh funding with a BOD helmed by a former US senator and physician, Bill Frist. Created in part through the acquisition of two other companies, HealthStar and Sinq Technologies, it will concentrate on electronic visit verification by caregivers for in-home service delivery, provide real-time sharing of clinical information, support members with enhanced tablet-based telehealth services, and is building a predictive model for service support. BusinessWire

Flyover tech soars, indeed. We note that CareBridge is in Nashville, which snobs on both coasts demeaningly call ‘flyover country’. Well, there’s gold in Middle America’s hills when it comes to health tech, with some of the choicest high flyers at this week’s JP Morgan Healthcare Conference from places like Nashville, Minneapolis, Ann Arbor, Denver, and Iowa. Utah alone has enough tech to earn it the nickname ‘Silicon Slopes’. Utah’s highlighted company is one this Editor found back in 2013Owlet–still (baby) socking it to them, cutely. Others, unfortunately, are wince-worthy–the prize goes to the Ōmcare med dispenser, which makes darn sure via two Wi-Fi-enabled interactive cameras that those pills are not only being taken, but also being swallowed. Really. Observer

Does healthcare need a new EHR system? A major health system thinks so. (Updated)

An interesting pairing to work on a ‘next generation EHR’. EHR and HIT giant Allscripts and Northwell Health, the largest health system in New York State, are partnering to develop an EHR that is AI and cloud-based and–what’s different–voice-enabled. Allscripts will, according to the release, provide development and systems integration expertise; Northwell will provide the clinician input, testbed, and also support the project with IT and administrative staff. The goal is an optimized patient and clinician experience, which is about as specific as the release gets. According to POLITICO’s Morning eHealth, the foundation for the system will be Avenel, the company’s stripped-down, cloud-based EHR platform, There’s no further information on timing, cost, what the AI might do, or whether the focus will be on acute care or outpatient/specialty practices.

Allscripts and Northwell will continue with their Allscripts EHRs in use since 2009, Allscripts Sunrise at the 19 Northwell hospitals and Allscripts Touchworks EHR used at Northwell’s 750 owned and operated outpatient practices in the metro New York area. Additional articles at Northwell’s newsroom.

Update 16 Oct: Northwell announced that it was extending its contract with Allscripts through December 2027. Read on in HISTalk for a tart take on the odds that the next-gen EHR will actually be a viable, competitive new product.

Allscripts reaches deal with DOJ on Practice Fusion in compliance settlement for $145 million

EHR giant Allscripts settled with the US Department of Justice on compliance charges made against Practice Fusion. Allscripts acquired Practice Fusion, a free/low-cost EHR targeted to primary care practices, in January 2018. A year earlier, Practice Fusion had received an inquiry from the US Attorney’s Office for the District of Vermont examining the company’s compliance with the EHR certification program. According to Fierce Healthcare, after Allscripts acquired Practice Fusion, the inquiry expanded…and expanded…to include additional certification and Anti-Kickback statute charges. Since then, Allscripts has rebranded the EHR as Veradigm.

The announcement was made during their 2019 Q2 results investor call. Their president claimed the $145 million settlement, at this point an agreement in principle with DOJ, is in line with other EHR-DOJ settlements. 

Consider it a final payment on the knockdown price ($100 million) Allscripts paid for Practice Fusion.

Their Q2 bookings were $276 million, up 31% from the prior-year period, but revenue at $445 million was lower than expectations. 

Malaysia to spend over $360M for EHRs over the next five years

Obviously no burnout fear here! The Malaysian Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad announced in Parliament in Kuala Lumpur that the government will spend RM1.5 billion ($362.3M or £287.7M) on implementing EHR systems in all government hospitals and clinics over the next five years. The open tender will be announced this year and may be awarded to more than one system in different phases.

Malaysia currently has some information systems at work in its health systems. According to the article in The Edge Markets, out of 145 government hospitals, 35, or 25 percent, have Hospital Information Systems (HIS) such as Cerner, iSoft, Fisicien, Profdoc, and Patient Management System. 7 percent, or 118 out of 1,703 government clinics, have  Clinical Information Systems (CIS) such as Teleprimary Care (TPC), Oral Health Care Information System (OHCIS), and TPC-OHCIS. The Health Ministry is also evaluating proposals from 60 companies prior to opening the tender. The wide-open-spaces where global EHRs could conquer are growing fewer and fewer.