News roundup: AliveCor’s latest FDA clearance plus antitrust vs. Apple, VRI on the market, Walgreens’ ‘tech-enabled future’ indefinite plus VillageMD status, monthly telehealth usage drops 12.5%

AliveCor disclosed its latest FDA 510(k) clearance for the KardiaMobile 6L, for calculation of patients’ QTc interval by the patient remotely or in the office with a physician or other clinician. QTc interval is, for those of us who aren’t cardiologists, is the total time from ventricular depolarization to complete repolarization. If too long (prolongation) or too short (congenital short) for the heart rate, it can indicate a dangerous ventricular arrhythmia or atrial or ventricular fibrillation. The manual measurement takes 30 seconds. AliveCor also has clearance on software (InstantQT) that measures QT intervals quickly and accurately to detect potentially dangerous QT prolongations in patients. Prolongations can be triggered by medications including anti-arrythmia drugs, anti-fungals, antibiotics, and some psychiatric drugs. AliveCor release. In other recent news, in June they acquired CardioLabs, a monitoring and cardiac diagnostic service provider based in Tennessee, to expand their clinical servies. Release.  

And in David Sues Goliath–Again–News, AliveCor also filed, in that quiet week right before Memorial Day, a Federal antitrust suit in the Northern District of California. This lawsuit is over Apple’s exclusion of other heartrate analysis providers from the Apple Watch, harming AliveCor and consumers, and seeks damages plus an injunction to cease the exclusion. Release  This is in addition to their US International Trade Commission (ITC) complaint on infringement of AliveCor patents held for heart monitoring on the Apple Watch 4, 5, and 6. That seeks to bar importation of Apple Watches [TTA 29 Apr]. No update on that so far. 

‘Insider’ report: VRI on the market. PERS Insider, our newly discovered source for news about the emergency response device market, reported on 22 June that VRI, a PERS and remote patient monitoring provider, is up for sale. It has been majority-owned by Pamlico Capital, a private equity company, since 2014. VRI does not sell direct to consumer but concentrates on health insurance, government programs, and other B2B through its dealer network. No reasons for sale given, but with all things telehealth and most things remote healthtech fetching hefty sums post-pandemic, perhaps Pamlico senses a fortuitous time to test the waters for an exit. Article. (Subscribe here to their weekly free letter)

Walgreens Boots Alliance’s new CEO promises a ‘tech-enabled’ future for the chain, sans details. The incoming CEO, Rosalind Brewer, fresh from her COO position at Starbucks, on WBA’s Q3 earnings call mentioned a buildout of a “previously communicated tech-enabled healthcare initiative” but no further information, as still reviewing the company. Stefano Pessina has retired from the long-held CEO position, but retains the executive chair title in addition to being WBA’s largest individual shareholder. Forbes’ breathless report. More to the profit point, the latest on Walgreens and VillageMD’s full-service Village Medical practices at Walgreens locations: 29 new locations in Houston, Austin and El Paso, Texas this year, staying on track for 600 primary care practices in more than 30 markets over next four years. Business Wire

National telehealth usage dips to 4.9% of US claims in April, a 12.5% drop from March. Analyzing regional and national insurance claims data, non-profit health analytics company FAIR Health in its monthly report tracks telehealth receding as patients return to in-person care. Telehealth is now dominated by mental health procedure codes, accounting for 58.65% of diagnoses, with all other conditions at 3% or lower. Regionally, the Northeast is even higher at 64.2% and the Midwest above 69%. Monthly National report, Monthly Regional Tracker page

Weekend reading: the strange reasons why Amwell doesn’t consider Amazon a competitor; ground rules for the uneasy marriage of healthcare and technology

Yahoo Finance interviewed co-CEO/founder of Amwell Ido Schoenburg, MD on the company’s 2020 results and forecast for 2021. It makes for interesting but convoluted reading on their growth last year in what is a consolidating field where Amwell was once one of the undisputed two leaders. They now compete against payers acquiring telehealth companies (MDLive going to Optum) and mergers like Doctor on Demand-Grand Rounds that are taking increasing market shares. Then there are specialty providers like SOC Telemed and white-labels like Bluestream Health. However, there are a couple of whoppers in the happy talk of growth for all. Dr. S pegs the current run rate of telehealth visits at 15-20 percent. The best research from Commonwealth Fund (October) and FAIR Health (August) tracked telehealth at 6 percent of in-office visits. Epic Health Research Network measured 21 percent at end of August. [TTA summary here

Then there’s the tap dance around Amazon Care. His view is that telehealth companies all need a connective platform but that each competitor brings ‘modular components’ of what they do best. What Amazon excels at is the consumer experience; in his view, that is their contribution to this ‘coalition’ because healthcare doesn’t do that well. There’s a statement at the end which this Editor will leave Readers to puzzle through:  

“And Amazon and others could bring a lot of value to those coalitions, they should not be seen as necessarily competing unless you’re trying to do exactly what they do. And there are some companies, including some telehealth companies, that that’s what they do. They focus on services. They try to sell you a very affordable visit with a short wait time and a good experience. They should be incredibly concerned when someone so sophisticated as Amazon is trying to compete in that turf.”

The last time this Editor looked, none of these companies were non-profit, though nearly all are not profitable.

Gimlet EyeLooking through her Gimlet Eye, Amazon Care is a win-win, even if the whole enterprise loses money. In this view, Amazon accumulates and owns national healthcare data far more valuable than the consumer service, then can do what they want with it, such as cross-analysis against PillPack and OTC medical shopping habits, even books, toys, home supplies, and clothing. Ka-ching!

A ‘bucket of cold water’ article, published in Becker’s Health IT last month, takes a Gimlety view of the shotgun marriage of healthcare and technology. Those of us laboring in those vineyards for the better part of two decades might disagree with the author in part, but we all remember how every new company was going to ‘revolutionize healthcare’. (The over-the-top blatherings of ZocDoc‘s former leadership provide a perfect example.) The post-Theranos/Outcome Health/uBiome world has demonstrated that the Silicon Valley modus operandi of ‘fake it till you make it’ and ‘failing fast and breaking things’, barely ethical in consumer businesses, are totally unethical in healthcare which deals in people’s lives. Then again, healthcare focused on ‘people as patients’ cannot stand either. Stephen K. Klasko, MD, President and CEO, Thomas Jefferson University and Jefferson Health in Pennsylvania, advocates for a change–far more concisely than Dr. Schoenburg. You may want to pass this along.

Lasting effects of the pandemic lockdown on health and wealth

A PR hook for healthcare-related companies is a survey that tells us More Bad News about the effects of the pandemic and the US lockdown. Some of it is marketing content scrum, but the quantification of lasting effects has value.

  • Early surveys came from non-profits working with (largely) non-vendors, such as the Epic Health Research Network and Commonwealth Fund/Harvard/Phreesia studies.
  • Then later tracking studies such as those published in PLOS One, by FAIR Health and the Harvard study published in Health Affairs.
  • Focused studies such as those by GoodRx, the prescription discounter, with a surprisingly deep survey concentrating on the CoronaDepressed–mental health and the worsening of anxiety and depression, inferring from prescription usage. SECOM CareTech in the UK concentrated on the effects of ‘lockdown loneliness’ on older adults.

The latest survey comes from another free prescription coupon platform, RxSaver, concentrating on financial and medication adherence:

  • 51 percent of adults reported a negative financial impact resulting from the pandemic. 65 percent of them were Hispanic.
  • Over 60 percent of millennials reported continuing financial impact one year after the pandemic’s start.
  • Where are they economizing? Unsurprisingly, medication.
    • 15 percent of adults surveyed stopped taking medication in the past year. Of this group, the under 30 cohort comprised the largest demographic segment at 23 percent.
    • Trying to manage, 21 percent have used a prescription savings coupon, but 31 percent either didn’t fill prescriptions, skipped doses, or split their pills/capsules–all of which are risky.

Phoenix Research performed a Public Insights Survey for RxSaver, N=1,000 nationally representative adults ages 18 and older, and performed 20-22 January. There was no disclosure on survey methodology. This Editor hopes that other entities use this directional information in conducting larger and less product promotional research to be used by health organizations and policy groups. RxSaver web page, release.

Telehealth claims rose 3,060 percent to October, settling in to over 5 percent of all claims–led by mental health (US)

Utilization statistics confirm telehealth’s staggering rise and stabilization. US private insurance telehealth claims data, collected by non-profit FAIR Health in the year October 2019 to October 2020, rose from 0.18 percent of medical claim lines in October 2019 to 5.61 percent in October 2020, a 3,060 percent increase. While the percentages may be low, this tracks with the rise and fall of telehealth visits from February tracked by the last Commonwealth Fund/Phreesia/Harvard University study in October to about 6 percent of medical visits [TTA 29 Oct 20] as well as Epic’s tracking into September [TTA 2 Sept].

According to FAIR’s claim data, telehealth utilization peaked in April at 13 percent, falling in May to 8.69 percent, 6.85 percent in June, and 6 percent in August. This followed the trends reported by both Commonwealth Fund and Epic.

Telehealth visits ticked up September to October, tracking with the rise of positive COVID diagnoses. Telehealth share of medical claim lines rose 10.6 percent nationally, from 5.07 percent in September 2020 to 5.61 percent in October 2020

In every month, mental health led the top five diagnoses in the 30-50 percent range, cresting above 51 percent in October. This points to a greater acceptance of telehealth treatment in this specialty, which is positive, but also the distressing rise in CoronaDepression which TTA has been tracking in both the US and UK [TTA 18 Dec 20]

‘Exposure to communicable diseases’ were, up to September, not consistently among the top five reasons for telehealth visits. They re-emerged on the list in October. In other months as well as October, ‘respiratory diseases and infections’ may have been where active COVID was categorized. Other telehealth conditions were ‘joint/soft tissue diseases’ and ‘developmental disorders’. CPT/HCPCS codes are also listed for reference.

To view FAIR Health’s monthly national and regional analyses, go to their Monthly Telehealth Regional Tracker. Release.

News roundup from all over: prescribing apps is back! Plus telemental health Down Under, GreatCall’s health tech strategy, Wessex’s diabetic sim, telehealth growth outpaces urgent care

Back to the future with prescribing apps! Early stage Xealth just gained a $11 million Series A from heavyweights such as Novartis, McKesson Ventures, UPMC, Philips, and ResMed. Clinicians can prescribe and monitor digital health care content, apps, devices, and services from within their EHR. Yet another thing to add to their 5+ hours a day in the system! Let’s hope that in staying away from certification, they are more successful than predecessors like the long-expired Happtique and the little-noticed but still in business Xcertia [TTA 6 Dec 15Release 

Telemental health startup Lysn working to spread mental health access in Australia. In two years, it has grown to over 265 psychologists and partners with 53 GP clinics, mainly regional and rural. The creator of the service is a Canadian-born surgeon, Dr. Jonathan King, who is 35–and bootstrapped it with his own earnings and house. In The Black

A good coffee break read is an interview with GreatCall’s CEO David Inns outlining their health tech strategy for older adults, including a reboot of Lively Home (without the exclamation point) with Senior Whole Health in Massachusetts for ADL monitoring (set up by Best Buy’s Geek Squad), the predictive analytics part of HealthSense in using connectivity and monitoring to predict falls, depression, and diseases, and back to wearables with smartphones. What is interesting is the stunning claim that they can back up the “soak up 20 percent of the healthcare costs of the population that we’re working with” through these predictive analytics and monitoring by reducing long-term care expenses. (Reminds me of some of the claims we made at Living Independently!) However, if any company has the muscle to make it happen, they do. BTW, not a peep about the retail Assured Living in Best Buy stores we tried to find last year, in vain. Mobihealthnews.

Oxford Medical Simulation is partnering with NHS England to trial its virtual reality training for diabetic emergencies. The pilot is being directed by Health Education England Wessex at the Portsmouth and Southampton Hospitals. Fifty doctors will use Oculus Rift headsets to walk through Oxford’s 100 or so scenarios. Mobihealthnews.

The growth of telehealth is outpacing urgent care and retail clinics, according to FAIR Health. This healthcare nonprofit calculated a 53 percent growth rate for telehealth (defined as virtual visits) between 2016 and 2017. In contrast, urgent care use increased only 15 percent in urban areas but went flat in rural areas. Retail clinic use fell 28 percent in urban areas and with a small 3 percent increase in rural areas. The advantages of telehealth in rural areas (up 29 percent), of course, is not having to drive when you’re sick. For urban residents, the advantage is not having to leave the house. According to their analysis, the top three reasons for telehealth visits were acute respiratory infections, digestive issues and injuries, each representing 13 percent of telehealth diagnoses. Mental health, which led in 2016, dropped to fifth. Healthcare Dive

2016: will telehealth catch on or stagnate, due to factors out of control?

[grow_thumb image=”https://telecareaware.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/Robert-Graham-Center-logo.jpg” thumb_width=”150″ /]Updated. Reviewing the Robert Graham Center study summarized by Editor Chrys last week, René Quashie of Epstein Becker Green, perhaps the leading law firm in the health tech area, opines that despite the great progress made by telehealth (telemedicine/virtual consults, but also remote patient monitoring), “state legal and regulatory issues, reimbursement, and provider training and education continue to be serious barriers to wider adoption of telehealth. And until the landscape evolves to address these barriers, telehealth adoption is likely to stagnate despite the great promise of telehealth holds as a tool to improve quality and access.” Yes, that old FBQ* (actually the top two) continues to be as true now as five years ago. While in closing Mr Quashie puts his trust in the ‘pull’ factor of consumers and patients “who will continue to demand better access and more innovative delivery models outside the conventional office visit,” this Editor is far less sanguine, despite having used a virtual consult app recently. It was turned to more out of sheer frustration–time pressure (work, travel), being unable to secure a timely visit with a specialist (no one seems to be taking new patients!) despite good (non-Obamacare) medical coverage, and a condition which was eminently photographable (plus $40 at hand). National Law Review  * The Five Big Questions (FBQs)–who pays, how much, who’s looking at the data, who’s actioning it, how data is integrated into patient records.

Then again, if you read Health Populi and believe Gallup’s polling (based on a slightly skewed question), a majority of Americans aren’t thinking about delivery models or telehealth at all. They’re unhappy, and would like to hand the whole hot mess over to the government when asked if “government is responsible for ensuring that people have health insurance.” Yet the Affordable Care Act, now two years in, was supposed to do exactly that by forcing everyone to pay for a healthcare policy or else pay a punitive tax. Too many did the math; the tax penalty was cheaper, especially for those Young ‘n’ Healthy Invincibles with slim purses and other things to spend on. They were the ones who were expected to pony up premiums, use few services and generally prop up the system.

[grow_thumb image=”https://telecareaware.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/shockedshocked.jpg” thumb_width=”150″ /]Now the American populace are shocked, shocked to find that out-of-pocket costs are way up and access is down. The same Health Populi article cites Fair Health’s spring 2015 consumer survey, finding that 33 percent of American patients felt that their out-of-pocket costs were ‘much more than expected’, with an additional 17 percent in the ‘somewhat’ category–a total of 50 percent. The contradiction of government control versus spending (and actuarial) reality is, in this Editor’s opinion, not going to be solved easily or well.

As to the wisdom of government involvement, there’s another developing and embarrassing ACA Big Fail(more…)