Short takes: Livongo buys myStrength, Apple Watch cozies with insurers, Lively hears telehealth and $16 million

Livongo gets behaviorally stronger with myStrength. Extending from their base in diabetes and chronic disease management into behavioral health, Livongo made a logical extension with early-stage behavioral health company myStrength. A large percentage of those with chronic conditions are also struggling with a behavioral health issue–Livongo cites 20 percent but in this Editor’s opinion, the estimate is low. Both Livongo and myStrength have been very successful in the payment game, with both companies achieving payment and reimbursement by employers, insurers, health systems, and state/Federal payers. The other factor is that employers and payers want single, integrated platforms for wellness and disease management. Livongo last year bought Retrofit for its weight management program. Competitor Omada Health recently acquired the behavioral health technology of defunct Lantern. MedCityNews, Fortune, Livongo release

Apple Watch wastes no time in partnering with insurers. Or vice versa! Confirming that Apple Watch’s growth strategy hinges heavily on health via its new features are fresh agreements with Aetna/CVS Health and a rumored reach into three Medicare Advantage plans. The Aetna partnership is with an app called Attain, which blends Apple Watch activity tracking data with users’ health history to create personalized programs. The program is limited to about 250,000 slots plus additional slots for employer plans, and will debut this spring. Late last year, United HealthCare announced Apple Watches would be added to existing wellness program called Motion and their Rally platform. Both Aetna and United have tiered payment programs for the watches, with United adding a HSA reward. For Medicare Advantage plans, Apple is rumored that they will subsidize the watch for use as a health tracker and coach. FierceMobileHealthcare 30 Jan (Aetna), 14 Nov 18 (UHC), and 29 Jan (Medicare Advantage).

Lively adds telehealth to hearing assistance. Lively’s mobile-connected, direct to consumer hearing aids are adding more telehealth features such as remote tuning, virtual video consults with an audiologist, and an online hearing assessment/uploading audiogram for assessment. The NYC-based company also announced closing on a $16 million seed/Series A fundraising round led by Declaration Capital with participation from Tiger Management. There are an estimated 35 million Americans with hearing loss in a $10bn annual market. Hearing aids are rapidly adding digital and DTC features–others in the field are Eargo and ReSound. Lively releaseAlleyWatch, Mobihealthnews. (Lively is not to be confused with Lively!, acquired by GreatCall two years ago)

Spuble’s near instant speech bubbles on your iPhone

[grow_thumb image=”” thumb_width=”300″ /]Your TEC ‘charmer’ to end the week–technology enabled communication. Spuble (rhymes with ‘bubble’) is a new UK-developed app that translates speech almost instantly into large, easy to read cartoon-like subtitles on an iPad or iPhone. It uses the audio mic feature to create a large type ‘speech bubble’ to show to the listener. Gary Rolf’s impetus for it was to bring his 90 year old nan, Bett, ‘back in the conversation’ after nearly 10 years of being isolated with total hearing loss. The video on their website shows Mr Rolf with Bob, his granddad, using the app which was inspired by the subtitles on television’s ‘Coronation Street’. The simplicity of use is demonstrated in that Bob, aged a lively 96 and hardly a techie, uses it quite readily to communicate with Bett. If you have a family member (as I do and have had) with hearing loss, this can be a tool to bridge the hearing gap, especially in noisy settings or when the hearing aids chew up yet another battery and become expensive earplugs. This Editor was all set to install but (for her disappointingly) it’s not available for Android yet. Both that and multiple languages on the way according to the website. You’ll also be charmed by the video with the WWII anthem ‘We’ll Meet Again’ in the background and the very lively Bett and Bob, who enjoy their Guinness, with their inventive grandson. A small quibble–can it handle more than one speaker, and how well? Also KentOnline Hat tip to Editor Emeritus and Founder Steve.

Ear implant crossed with gene therapy for auditory repair (AU)

A hopeful Pointer to the Future for those with hearing loss–or, in fact, with nerve damage of other types–is the research out of the University of New South Wales (UNSW) on their developing a DNA-based genetic treatment, delivered by a cochlear implant, to restore hearing in deafened guinea pigs. The recombinant DNA enters the cochlear cells to produce neurotrophins, proteins that cause auditory nerve endings to regenerate, improving pitch perception and tonal range. Unfortunately the effect lasted only a few months, so that further work is required before the treatment even nears human trials. Study co-author Gary Housley also cited other implant-extending usages, such as deep brain stimulation used in Parkinson’s disease treatment and retinal implants. Published this month in Science Translational Medicine (abstract only, subscription required for full access.) The Verge, Engadget (short UNSW video included)