International news roundup: ATA dispatches, compete for funding in Helsinki, Spry FDA-cleared for COPD, Merck acquires ConnectMed Kenya

There’s not much news so far from the just-wrapped ATA 2019 conference in New Orleans, but POLITICO Morning eHealth highlighted a drop-by by Sen. Bill Cassidy from Louisiana, urging attendees to demonstrate to their local politicos that telemedicine is safe and effective–and be ready to answer questions about fraud or misuse. Louisiana’s Ochsner Health System is branching into retail with the O Bar, cleverly designed to look like an Apple Store to merchandise wearables and other health tech devices. For Ochsner patients, they can enroll into RPM programs and have their data directly input into their Epic EHR. American Well released a survey of 800 doctors, with the unsurprising finding that 22 percent have used telehealth to treat patients, but this is up 340 percent since 2015; also that the doctors finding telehealth most attractive to practice are also reporting high levels of burnout. Looking for more substantiative news from NOLA.

It’s Helsinki for pitching your digital health idea in June. The 11th edition of the interestingly named EC2VC Investors Forum and Pitch Competition is now part of HIMSS/ Health 2.0 Europe 2019. Healthcare startups and SMEs looking for funding can apply, with 12 companies to be selected to present before a jury panel of digital health investors. The format is a four-minute pitch, followed by six minutes of Q&A. More information and to apply by 6 May, with finalists selected by 13 May. The event is 11 June from 13:00 to 16:00 at Messukeskus Helsinki Expo & Convention Centre. 

Spry Health’s Loop wearable device gained FDA clearance. Spry is a RPM device company with a wrist-wearable device that measures pulse oximetry, respiration, heart rate, and blood pressure (research only) through optical sensors. While users can receive reports on the display and alerts, it is primarily meant for clinical monitoring by physicians in healthcare systems. The RPM is meant to detect signs of patient deterioration and exacerbations early so that actions can be taken. For the present time, the company is focusing on the device’s use in COPD patients. Certainly there is a large market in the US–there are 12 million diagnosed patients, with COPD the third leading cause of death with over 120,000 deaths per year. Mobihealthnews, BusinessWire, MDDIOnline

Merck acquires Kenyan digital health startup ConnectMed. The pharma company is purchasing ConnectMed’s telehealth applications in Kenya serving about 8,000 consumers, as well as related management systems. Merck will use the platform in conjunction with its Curafa point of care clinical and pharmaceutical services. Started in September of last year, these are run by local independent pharmaceutical technologists, clinical officers and nurses for underserved populations in Kenya. ConnectMed will cease operations. During its lifetime, it developed three DTC digital health services in Kenya and South Africa. WT/Startup Africa

Two telemedicine clinics open in Kenya

Two telemedicine clinics have been opened in Nairobi and [grow_thumb image=”” thumb_width=”150″ /]Machakos, 63 km from Nairobi, in Kenya, according to a report in HIT Consultant. The clinics, based at the Kenyatta National Hospital in Nairobi and the Machakos Level 5 Hospital in Machakos, will provide patients in remote areas the ability to consult cancer specialists at the Kenyatta Hospital using video conferencing.

Both hospitals are state run hospitals and the telemedicine service is being funded by Merck, the international pharmaceutical company.

Merck recently acquired remote cardiac monitoring company eCardio shortly before eCardio merged with remote monitoring device maker Preventice. Previously we reported that Merck invested heavily in WellDoc when WellDoc raised $20m of funding.

Read more about the Merck project in Kenya here.

WellDoc raises $20 million from Merck, others

[grow_thumb image=”” thumb_width=”150″ /]WellDoc, developer of a prescribable Type 2 diabetes management smartphone app (BlueStar), announced today a $20 million Series A round from Merck Global Health Innovation Fund and Windham Venture Partners. The interest by Merck is understandable in several ways. Pharma companies are moving beyond the meds into other management models as blockbuster drugs become scarce (those cuts in R&D do hurt down the line), operating costs higher and profitable drugs go off patent. Because it is prescribable, BlueStar is reimbursable by US insurers (not disclosed by WellDoc); it is currently offered as a pharmacy benefit by Ford Motor and major drugstore chain RiteAid. In addition to these, WellDoc has developed strong partnerships (AT&T, Alere) since their founding in 2005 (see below). BlueStar also can be considered a strong fit for a Merck subsidiary, Vree Health.  (more…)

Toward a better understanding of US care models

HIMSS’ publishing arm, which has grown to several publications including ones we cite frequently, such as HealthcareITNews and GovernmentITNews, is launching an online site, Future Care, that will focus solely on “new and innovative models of care that improve individual and community well-being, while also reducing healthcare costs.” It has original material plus pickups from HIMSS Media’s other publications, and is supported by IBM’s Smarter Care initiative. (Related to its Smarter Cities initiative and telecare in Bolzano?) The current selection focuses on whether  ACOs are set up to fail (Center for Connected Health’s Dr. Joseph Kvedar rebuts Clayton Christensen and colleagues in the WSJ), outpatient care, readmissions and the utilization of big data. Of note is Merck Vree Health’s mHealth post-discharge care management program, TransitionAdvantage, which represents a change from its initial focus on diabetes management. There’s also the expected helping of IBM-related content including Watson and some IBM white papers. For designers and implementers seeking a better understanding of care and payer models for health tech workflow, this site pulls together a wide scope of information.