TTA’s summer #6: telehealth wars turn, mental health apps get $$, NHS England’s Sir Simon interviewed, Alcuris’ cyber-OK, Cerner promises to right the VA ship

 

 

Weekly Update

The Telehealth Wars teeter-totter with now Amwell and national expansion on the upside. NHS England’s changing of the guard–Roy Lilley’s insightful interview with Sir Simon. Telemental health prospers. Alcuris gets the cyber-OK from Scotland. And Cerner needs to get it right with the VA, right quick.

The Roy Lilley-Sir Simon Stevens ‘Health Chat’ interview (As the order changes at NHS England)
News and deal roundup: another big mental health app funding, Happify Health’s prescription therapy app debuts, Alcuris approved by Scottish Digital Telecare for cybersecurity (Mental health continues to be the It of Digital Health)
Telehealth Wars: Amwell’s raises game with buys of SilverCloud and Conversa Health; Teladoc’s slow member, hospital growth lead to $133M Q2 loss (The seesaw goes up for one, down for the other)
Cerner execs to VA Congressional committee: “We are committed to getting this right” (After $16 billion, One. Would. Hope. So.)
Over 400 telehealth groups urge Congress to retain CARES Acts gains on remote care (Obsolete law change long overdue)

The big news for UK GPs this week was that the GPDPR’s extraction scheduled for 1 Sept is stopped for a Big Rework. Big Blue’s Watson Health dying in pieces, reportedly up for sale. But SPACs and investments have slowed only a bit for the summer with Owlet’s $1bn SPAC and digital health’s torrid $15bn first half. In-person meetings are starting to come back as well (apparently HIMSS21 is still on too).

Softly, softly: GPDPR comes to screeching halt, indefinitely, to be reworked (Don’t hold yer breath!)
News and deals roundup: Owlet’s $1B SPAC, Carbon Health’s $350M Series D, Series Bs by Woebot Health and b.Well, digital health rakes in $15bn (Owlet ‘socks it’ to the market, behavioral health and digital health match the hot weather)
Oh, MAMA! The Medical Alert Monitoring Association meeting, 28-29 September, Chicago (They’ll need the alerts in Chi-Town)
Three healthcare startup events: MedStartr NYC Thursday 21 July, Dallas Startup Week starts 1 August–and apply now for UCSF Health Awards (Look to Texas and California)
IBM Watson Health’s stumble and possible fall (The World Was Not Theirs, leading to Death By A Million Cuts)

Teladoc’s new alliance with Microsoft Teams stakes out real estate with health systems–and more. There’s life in VistA yet as VA throws hands up, puts Cerner EHR on hold. UnitedHealthcare beefs up predictive analytics for SDOH as the Feds make moves, while the parent looks to transform. The King’s Fund’s annual conference is back in November. And just for fun–get your Dead Startup Toys!

Saturday summer morning fun: treat yourself (or your boss) to a Dead Startup Toy (Playtime! If not now, when?)
Volte-face: VA now puts their Cerner EHR implementation on hold (Is this a job for Samson or Superman?)
The King’s Fund annual conference returns in November, virtually (Given all, a good call)
The implications of Teladoc’s integration into Microsoft Teams (Now we know why InTouch Health in health systems was worth the mega-money)
UnitedHealthcare pilots predictive analytics model for SDOH, sets out plan to transform into ‘high-performing health plan’ (Plenty of room for tech in this vision)

PERS makes news with an insider view of what happened at Philips Lifeline as Connect America finalizes its buy, and VRI’s up for a new owner. AliveCor continues to play David to Apple’s Goliath, hospital-at-home gets a $250M boost, UK’s Physitrack IPO raises $20M. 

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%
An ‘insider’ point of view on the Connect America acquisition of Philips Lifeline (Good background from industry sources)
News/deals roundup: Connect America finalizes Philips aging/caregiving buy; Amedisys-Contessa $250M hospital-at-home; UK’s Physitrack $20M IPO, Dutch motion tracker Xsens

Summer is speeding up before our eyes as we in the US celebrate our Independence Day (sorry, George III!). Tunstall appeals Swedish procurement exclusion. Bright Health and Olive both had beaucoup funding. StartUp Health spotlights brain health. Cerner and VA, imperfect together. Telehealth usage settling down. And, in product tie-ins–buy a Black+Decker PERS, get a power drill?

Lightning news roundup: AI for health systems Olive scores $400M, VA’s sticking with Cerner EHR, Black+Decker gets into the PERS game (An unseen connection between power drills and PERS units?)
Tunstall under fire in Swedish court on appeal of Adda procurement exclusion (Their Nordic troubles continue)
Four ‘moonshot’ health tech startups aiding cognition and brain health (podcast) (A worthwhile half-hour)
‘Insurtech’ Bright Health’s IPO second largest to date, but falls slightly short of estimates (updated) (Bad market day for an interesting model)
Telehealth usage going flat, off by 1/3 and declining: Trilliant Health study (Not taking over the world)

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Telehealth & Telecare Aware: covering the news on latest developments in telecare, telehealth, telemedicine, and health tech, worldwide–thoughtfully and from the view of fellow professionals

Thanks for asking for update emails. Please tell your colleagues about this news service and, if you have relevant information to share with the rest of the world, please let me know.

Donna Cusano, Editor In Chief
donna.cusano@telecareaware.com

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Over 400 telehealth groups urge Congress to retain CARES Acts gains on remote care

430 telehealth and remote care companies, along with major health providers and associations, have organized to petition Congress to make permanent the changes instituted by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act for the duration of the COVID-19 public health emergency (PHE). These changes will expire this year unless the pandemic emergency extends into 2022.

Like the Senate Telemental Health Care Access Act of 2021 that would extend telemental health Medicare coverage to patients without a prior in-person visit [TTA 16 June], the extension of CARES Act coverage would require Congressional action to amend the Social Security Act: for telemental health, Title XVIII; for telehealth, Section 1834(m). While the Telemental bill is actually in the Senate, the permanent expansion of telehealth and remote care would require its own and far more complicated bill and corresponding regulations.

Based on the letter (PDF link), these changes would include:

  1. Remove Obsolete Restrictions on the Location of the Patient and Provider. This is the rural geographic restriction.
  2. Maintain and Enhance HHS Authority to Determine Appropriate Providers, Services, and
    Modalities for Telehealth. This would expand the list of practitioners, services, and also expand telehealth in some cases to audio-only consults.
  3. Ensure Federally Qualified Health Centers, Critical Access Hospitals, and Rural Health Clinics
    Can Furnish Telehealth Services After the PHE. These are the ‘safety net’ providers for underserved and rural areas.
  4. Remove Restrictions on Medicare Beneficiary Access to Mental and Behavioral Health Services
    Offered Through Telehealth. This covers much the same ground as the Telemental bill.

What is unclear, of course, it being Washington, is how quickly Congress will bestir itself to enact these changes to existing law before the end of 2021 and the expiration of the CARES Act window with, presumably, the end of the PHE. American Telemedicine Association (ATA) releaseHealthcareITNews, FierceHealthcare

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

Telehealth usage going flat, off by 1/3 and declining: Trilliant Health study

Trilliant Health, a healthcare data analytics and advisory shop based in Tennessee, has run some projections on the US healthcare market and telehealth, and they’re not as bright as many of us–and a lot of investors plus Mr. Market–have believed. It opens up on page 4 of the electronic document (also available in PDF) with this ‘downer’–that the largest sector of the largest global economy is overbuilt and unsustainable. Hospitals and health systems have operated for decades that basic economic factors–demand, supply, and yield–don’t apply, and there are more companies competing with them for the consumer healthcare dollar than they realize–with more proliferating every day. 

Sledding through their 160-page report, we turn to our sweet spot, telehealth, and Trilliant is not delivering cheerful news (pages 32-43). 

  • Unsurprisingly, demand for telehealth is tapering off. Based on claims data for face-to-face video visits, excluding Medicare fee-for-service (Original Medicare) and self-pay visits, they peaked above 12 million in April 2020 and, save for a bump up in December 2020-January 2021, steadily declined to about 9 million by March 2021.
  • Teladoc, the leading provider, is projecting that 2021 volume will only represent 4 percent of the US population–a lot more than before, but not growing as it did in 2020.
  • Telehealth’s growth was astronomical on both coasts–California, Massachusetts, Vermont, Oregon–and Hawaii–but relatively lower in middle and Southern America in places like Wyoming, North Dakota, Mississippi, and Iowa. Telehealth usage is declining sharply in that region as well but across the board in all states including California. In fact, Phoenix and Dallas had higher telehealth utilization pre-pandemic than during it.
  • Mental health drove telehealth growth during the pandemic, representing 35 percent of claims, almost four times the next group of categories at 8 percent. The largest group of diagnoses were for anxiety and depression among women 20-49. With the reopening of the US economy and children heading back to school, will this sustain or decline?
  • Women 30-39 are the largest users of telehealth–pre, during, and post-pandemic

Telehealth is not only proliferating, it is going up against now-open urgent care, retail clinics from Walgreens, Walmart, and CVS, plus tech-enabled providers that blend virtual care with home care, such as Amazon with a full rollout of Amazon Care and other employers. The cost of care is also a negative driver. FierceHealthcare analyzes other parts of the report impacting practices, health systems, and hospitals.

 

Telemental Health Care Access Act introduced in US Senate to repeal in-person requirements for mental telehealth care

Eliminating the Medicare requirement for an in-person visit prior to telehealth used for mental health services. Yesterday, the Telemental Health Care Access Act of 2021 (PDF link) was introduced in the US Senate. It is a bipartisan bill sponsored by four senators, Bill Cassidy, MD (R-LA), Tina Smith (D-MN), Ben Cardin (D-MD), and John Thune (R-SD). It specifically amends Title XVIII of the Social Security Act to ensure coverage of mental health services furnished through telehealth without a prior in-person visit.

The 2021 Consolidated Appropriations Act on one hand removed the geographic restrictions for Medicare, but on the other imposed a restriction that requires physicians to see their mental health patients in-person at least six months prior to a Medicare-reimbursed telehealth visit. It’s significant as Medicare and the Physician Fee Schedule (PFS) [TTA 3 Dec 20] set the standards for commercial payers on coverage and reimbursement. The bill, so new it does not have a number yet, is designed to eliminate that requirement.

In the US, there is an acute shortage (at least 6,000) of mental health providers, particularly psychiatrists. Back in 2013, 70 percent of psychiatrists were over the age of 50 and due to retire. As to the top of the funnel, few medical graduates choose psychiatry due to compensation issues (paying for expensive medical education). Those who do are trained in residencies and tend to stay near large cities, further exacerbating the existing geographic imbalance. It’s a situation that hits this Editor close to home as her own brother is one of those semi-retired psychiatrists. He apparently has not been replaced in the clinic practice in which he worked for over 20 years and his private practice is self-limited. Most of the psychiatrists in his suburban area are retiring as well. Psychiatric mental health advanced practice registered nurses (PMH-APRN) fill only part of this gap. (For a further discussion of APRNs and their role in mental health practice, see this issue of Psychiatric Times)

Telemental health can fill some of the gap in rural areas, for continued support in mental health counseling and medical management, and for those who would benefit from cognitive therapies, a burgeoning area for telehealth companies.

The bill is supported by the American Telemedicine Association (ATA), the American Psychiatric Association, the American Psychological Association, and at least 30 companies (including the leading telehealth providers such as Teladoc and Doctor on Demand) and non-profit organizations such as the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. ATA release and overview of present in-person requirementsSenator Bill Cassidy release.

Survey: 80% of Americans believe telehealth can provide quality medical care–up 23 points from 2020

Directional data that confirms the acceptance of telehealth gained five years of progress in one–and that could justify continued massive investment in telehealth. One year after COVID-19 introduced Americans to telehealth as the sole alternative to the in-person medical visit, perceptions have changed positively among users and non-users. Customer engagement/business process services company Sykes Enterprises surveyed 2,000 US adults (18+) in March and found the majority of their respondents not only now believed that they could receive quality care via telehealth, but also that it provided needed care and is preferred for parts of their annual exam, in addition to other specific acceptance points.

Highlights of the survey: (more…)

Teladoc integrates the myStrength cognitive mental health app with their telehealth network

Teladoc gets into the mental health app business, end to end. The myStrength cognitive health app, which was picked up as part of the Livongo acquisition, reappears as a Teladoc product called myStrength Complete. The front door is the myStrength app, which offers coaching, positive psychology, and cognitive behavioral therapy, which then connects with Teladoc’s therapists and psychiatrists to offer a comprehensive experience.  

Teladoc will offer this to consumers through their health plans or employers starting in July. The first enterprise customers, according to Teladoc, are a major Blues plan and a Fortune 100 employer. 

The company also provided the results of their proprietary third-party research, which indicated unsurprisingly that a majority who sought support (69 percent) indicated it would be difficult and/or overwhelming to use multiple websites, mobile apps, or virtual care platforms to address mental health needs. Nearly all of those surveyed who said they sought virtual mental health support – 92 percent – reported at least some improvement during the pandemic, with over one-third reporting significant improvement or a “breakthrough” during treatment.

An unintended consequence of Teladoc’s move? A cooling off of the mental health boomlet, now that the elephant has chosen where to sit. The stand-alone cognitive health apps such as AbleTo, Lyra Health, and Ginger, now need to seek partners, such as health plans (Vida Health) or telehealth providers. Unfortunately, the telehealth providers remaining have either some behavioral health capabilities–and that may be enough for their business–or find the price too high. Teladoc release, Mobihealthnews

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.

Deals and news roundup: Ginger’s $100M, myNEXUS to Anthem, Everlywell snaps up PWN, Amwell’s banner year for revenue–and loss, VA reviews Cerner rollout, voice visits for MA, GE’s vScan goes wireless, uBiome founders indicted

Deals–and news–are piling up like Easter eggs before the hunt. Mental health and cognitive digital therapy scored another raise with Ginger‘s $100 million Series E to fund expansion into health plan and government partnerships. Blackstone Growth led the round. Total funding to date is $220 million. It’s entered unicorn status with a valuation just north of $1 bn. Ginger to date has concentrated on corporate mental healthcare. From being an ugly duckling only a few years ago, digital mental therapies are this year’s ‘it’. But competition is fierce: the traditional telehealth companies such as Teladoc, Doctor on Demand, and Amwell are closing in on the early entrants such as AbleTo. Direct-to-consumer models like Talkspace; UK/Ireland’s SilverCloud Health; and Lyra, Spring Health, and Happify, which just closed a $73 million Series D, all step out with slightly different ‘differentiators’ but target the same companies, health plans, and health systems. FierceHealthcare, Ginger release

Home health is also another former ugly duckling transformed into a swan. Anthem is acquiring home health/nursing management company myNEXUS, which manages home-based nursing services for 1.7 million Medicare Advantage members across 20 states. Their digital authorization and visit management couples with a nationwide network of providers and nursing agencies for local care. Exiting myNEXUS are private equity investors led by New York’s WindRose Health Investors, after four rounds and a conservative $31 million in funding (Crunchbase). Neither terms nor management transitions were disclosed. myNEXUS will join Anthem’s Diversified Business Group. FierceHealthcare, release.

Home testing+telehealth company Everlywell (not connected with the Everly Brothers) has a different take on home health. They are now integrating their self-test kits with fully owned lab testing. New acquisitions PWNHealth and its subsidiary Home Access Health Corporation will join Everlywell in Everly Group. PWN was Everlywell’s main telehealth partner and diagnostic testing partner since 2016. It will become Everly Health Solutions with their testing data kept separate from Everlywell’s. Home Access was PWN’s self-collected lab test company. Everly Health now will support more than 20 million people annually in all 50 U.S. states, Canada, and Puerto Rico. Acquisition terms were not disclosed. PWN’s CEO will take a seat on the Everly Group board to assist integration. Valuation is now estimated at $2.9 bn.  Mobihealthnews, Everly release, Bloomberg News

And in other news…

Amwell reported a Very Good Year in their telehealth services, with visits growing to 5.9 million from 2019’s 1.1 million. Total revenue was up over 65 percent to $245.3 million. However, profitability continues to be elusive, with net loss almost equaling revenue. Release

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) finally announced a review of the Cerner-Leidos EHR integration. Back in February, VA was hanging tough on the rollout after the GAO report questioning its wisdom and recommending postponement until high severity issues were corrected. Secretary Denis McDonough, new VA head, has directed the undertaking of a 12 week strategic review without pausing the project. Taking bets on that 12 weeks! Healthcare Dive

Payers and their lobbyists are supporting a newly reintroduced House bill that would permit telephonic-only telehealth visits to be reimbursed for their Medicare Advantage plans after HHS closes the pandemic period. There is considerable information that video/audio virtual visits still have limitations with the 65+ group, clustered around high-speed internet or good data connections, smartphones, and computers with cameras, making video visits difficult or impossible. Which begs the question about continuing coverage for those on Original Medicare. Healthcare Dive

Those readers with long memories will recall GE Healthcare’s heralded introduction of the VScan handheld clinical-grade ultrasound device–back in 2010, complete with Eric Topol rave and demo. Not much has been heard from GEHC since till this month, and other competitors, such as the Butterfly IQ from 4Catalyzer, have made handheld ultrasound common and affordable. GEHC announced Vscan Air, a fully wireless version that connects to iOS or Android. It was FDA cleared in November 2020 and will be shipping its dual-headed probe and accessories starting 1 April for a US-listed target price of $4,495. GEHC page (with the cute domain vscan.rocks), Mobihealthnews

And in our Scandal Sheet section, a Federal grand jury in the Northern District of California has indicted the founders of now-bankrupt uBiome on 40-odd counts encompassing conspiracy to commit securities fraud, conspiracy to commit health care fraud, money laundering, and identity theft. Separately, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) also filed charges. Between 2016 and 2018, uBiome had raised $100 million through a Series C, and was likened to Theranos, after its fall, in the Big Claim (‘inventing the microbiome industry’). Its business was analyzing the DNA of fecal and other biological matter to sequence the bacteria of the body’s microbiome. Starting with low-cost, limited data comparison for at-home tests, the founders progressed to claiming to doctors that their diagnostic tests were clinical-quality and would be reimbursed by payers. Payers did–for awhile–and the investors piled in. By 2019, the wheels fell off their scheme and the FBI came knocking at their Silicon Valley offices after the founders cashed in. Chapter 7 followed in late 2019. The Register reports that the two married founders are on the run, whereabouts unknown. US Attorney’s Office release, SEC filing (PDF)

 

News and deal roundup, 5 March: Oscar Health’s $1.4 billion IPO, telehealth expansion in Congress, what people *really* do during a telehealth visit

What a difference a month makes in a blazing healthcare market. ‘Neoinsurer’ Oscar Health went public on Tuesday, selling over 37 million shares at $39 each, reaping an eyeblinking $1.44 bn. While shares took a tumble on Wednesday and Thursday, closing at just above $32, the valuation of the company could be anywhere between $7.92 and $9.5 bn (calculating in options and the like). Quite a difference from the estimate in early February, which was a modest–and as now we know, totally sandbagged–$100 million [TTA 9 Feb]. A lovely payday for their backers and all at Oscar who had stock grants, indeed.

As we’ve seen from recent IPOs, they have all been underestimated (e.g. Signify Health’s $100 million filing transubstantiated into $561 million). The downward glide slope in share price is typical. Whether it will rise will depend very much on strong results for this quarter, half year, and full year as Oscar presses harder into the competitive Medicare Advantage, exchange, and small group markets. How they, and all the other payers do, will be dependent on health policy permutations and emanations from the DC Swamp. CNBC, TechCrunch, FierceHealthcare

Speaking of the DC Swamp, telehealth expansion is enjoying real traction in Congress and with Health and Human Services (HHS). The chair of the House Health Subcommittee, Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) has called for many of the flexibilities on payments and locations granted temporarily during the pandemic’s liberalization of coverage to be made permanent. These affect Medicare and other types of Federal payments. [Review of the 2021 Medicare Physician Fee Schedule re telehealth here]  They expire after the public health emergency (PHE), extended in January to end of April, so a clock is ticking, quickly.

The basics are that Congress must pass legislation that removes restrictions on geography (currently rural only) and permits the patient home to be used as a ‘distant site’. Advocates also want to add to Medicare telehealth coverage hospice and home dialysis care, more types of eligible care providers such as physical therapists and other allied health professionals, and audio-only (telephonic) consults. Others are pushing for reinstating HIPAA compliance for telehealth platforms.

The Telehealth Modernization Bill that covers most of the above was introduced on 23 February in both the Senate and House, in a rare show of both bipartisanship and bicamerality. (Excluded: telephonic consults, HIPAA compliance) Rep. Eshoo’s remarks were made during last Tuesday’s Committee on Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee hearing.

HHS is also backing this, based on HHS’ Office of the Inspector General’s recent statement praising the expansion of telehealth. Recognizing that concerns have been raised about ‘telefraud’, IG Christi Grimm noted that they have been vigorously prosecuting fraudulent claims [TTA 2 Oct 20] with telehealth being used in a broad sense for billing other goods and services such as medications and durable medical equipment. FierceHealthcare, Healthcare Dive, ATA News 26 Feb

Speaking of telehealth visits, what do the patients do during them? This Editor had filed away, waiting for an opportune moment to share it, a surprising study by DrFirst, a mobile telehealth and communications platform. It was conducted online during the Pits of the Pandemic (June 2020). It may not surprise you that most patients weren’t fully engaged in the process. Bored, isolated, mostly male patients–73 percent men, 39 percent women–multitasked and distracted themselves during the virtual visit by: 

Surfing web, checking email, texting – 24.5%
Watching the news, TV, or movie – 24%
Scrolling through social media – 21%
Eating a snack or a meal – 21%
Playing a video game – 19%
Exercising – 18%
Smoking a cigarette – 11%
Driving a car – 10% (!!!!)

And the best….Having a “quarantini” cocktail or other alcoholic beverage – 9.4%

Reasons for consults were unsurprising: annual checkup – 38%, mental health therapy – 25%, and specialist visits (e.g., dermatologist, hematologist, or oncologist) – 21%.  N=1,002 US consumers. 44% of Americans Have Used Telehealth Services During Coronavirus Pandemic but Some Admit Not Paying Attention. Also Advisory Board blog.

The shape of telemedicine during the first half-year of the pandemic: significant but wildly uneven usage

There has been a plethora of tracking studies starting last year on how telemedicine stepped in for in-person visits during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic. Telehealth visits peaked, then tapered off as medical offices reopened. Reviewing our articles:

  • Commonwealth/Phreesia: tracking the latter’s practices, they dropped from a high of 13.9 percent on 18 April to 6.3 percent by early October. Where telemedicine use stayed high was behavioral health–psychiatry–which remained at 41 percent.
  • Epic Health Research Network’s data, which concentrated on hospitals and clinics, showed a similar drop from the mid-April high of 69 percent but ended August at 21 percent. Regionally, the South had the least takeup of telehealth even in the critical period. 
  • FAIR Health, using insurer claims data, tracked with Commonwealth/Phreesia from 13 percent in April to 6 percent by August.

The latest study has been just published in Health Affairs (abstract free, paid access full study). Using data from 16.7 million commercially insured and Medicare Advantage enrollees from January to June 2020, the steep rise from a negligible base was the same but the percentages were between the Commonwealth and Epic studies. 30.1 percent of all visits were provided via telemedicine (including telephonic) and the weekly number of visits increased twenty-three-fold compared with the prepandemic period. The database also permitted a deeper analysis of usage.

  • Telemedicine use was lower in communities with higher rates of poverty (31.9 percent versus 27.9 percent for the lowest and highest quartiles of poverty rate, respectively). Unfortunately for comparison, not included in the information was the actual rate in wealthy counties.
  • Overall visits (in-person and virtual) plummeted by 35 percent, a backlog in deferred care still being made up
  • Rural telemedicine use was lower than urban–24 percent versus 31 percent by county
  • How specialties incorporated telehealth varied widely. As previously reported, psychiatry had a high uptake of telemedicine and reported the least drop in overall visits. Surprisingly, endocrinology (68 percent) and neurology also had high utilization. Only 9 percent of ophthalmologists reported telehealth use, because the physical exam requires highly specialized equipment. 
  • Management of chronic conditions was in between those two extremes. Conditions like hypertension and diabetes had a big drop in care volume that was mitigated by a large increase in telemedicine use.

Healthcare Dive 

Bluestream Health telehealth partners with Impresiv Health management consultants

Bluestream Health, which we noted back in November as partnering with LanguageLine to add language interpretation to their telehealth platform, has a new partnership with the interestingly named Impresiv Health. Impresiv is a national healthcare management consulting firm concentrating in clinical, operations management, and software consulting for payers and accountable care organizations (ACOs). They also provide permanent and interim staffing in multiple healthcare areas. Adding virtual care now allows Impresiv to deliver telehealth services as part of their management services menu. Bluestream Health is a secure telehealth platform which provides whitelabeled telehealth services to approximately 50,000 providers. Release   Hat tip to Erin Farrell-Talbot

COVID-19 and telehealth–promise or peril? And the perils of digital health in conflict countries and India.

The Journal of the International Society for Telemedicine and eHealth (JISfTeH) has published its latest issue today (13 Jan). JISfTeH is one of the few journals which shine a bright spot on digital health in developing countries. This month concentrates on conflict countries and COVID in India: 

  • Scaling Up Digital Health In Conflict Countries discusses the lack of any form of digital health and coordination in Afghanistan, Somalia, Sudan, and, with some exception, Nigeria. It compounds the extreme lack of healthcare services–for instance, 23 percent of Afghanis have poor access to healthcare, resulting in a high mortality rate. It can change. Rwanda, once synonymous with war, has one of the best healthcare systems in Africa due to the use of digital health services. India is using digital health in combating the TB explosion of 300,000 cases in one year. The exception in Nigeria is the liftoff of 54Gene, a genomic studies company in the world’s most genetically-diverse continent, which has secured $4.5 million in seed funding.
  • Speaking of India, telehealth has been kickstarted there due to COVID-19. The Indian Government is prioritizing the use of telehealth in the population and both public and private institutions have rolled out initiatives. India’s challenges are how patients pay for it (70% of healthcare expenses out of pocket) and how it reaches the two-thirds of population in rural areas where there is inadequate telecom and broadband for services. The irony, of course, is that India is a huge exporter of software and telecom services to the world. COVID-19 As A Catalyst for Telehealth Growth In India: Some Insights.

The editorial by Richard E. Scott of Canada and Prof. Maurice Mars of South Africa, COVID-19 and eHealth: A Promise or Peril Paradox?, cautions on the floodgates opening for telehealth in COVID’s wake. Spontaneous telehealth, where “healthcare providers themselves saw the value of an eHealth solution and implemented it independently and without traditional steps or approval” is quite separate from evidence- and needs-based telehealth. There is a lot of pressure at the national level, by the WHO, and by vendors to ‘make hay while the sun shines’. “Enthusiasm must be tempered with thoughtful guidance” on multiple and quite variable factors.

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: Milken Institute’s telehealth brief with ATA push on Congress, GoodRx confirms 62% are CoronaDepressed, Johns Hopkins’ COVID mortality risk study and calculators

The hot US health tech issue is retaining, consolidating, and adding to the gains that telehealth and remote patient monitoring (RPM) made during the pandemic. The influential Milken Institute (formally the Milken Institute Center for the Future of Aging, Center for Public Health, and FasterCures) has published a short white paper on how best to increase access to telehealth services and support innovation as part of that aim. Their five core recommendations are: 

  1. Permanently lift Medicare location restrictions on telehealth to ensure that older adults can receive a variety of services in their homes and communities, regardless of where they live. (This was also recommended by the Taskforce on Telehealth Policy (TTP) [TTA 18 Sep] which was jointly formed by the ATA, NCQA, and the Alliance for Connected Care.)
  2. Meet the growing need for behavioral health care by addressing barriers to remote care and expanding the availability of telebehavioral  health services.
  3. Increase equitable access to telehealth services through digital technology, literacy programs, and broadband coverage.
  4. Support development and implementation of innovative telehealth and mobile health technology for prevention, well-being, clinical care, and research.
  5. Develop and document clear data sharing standards to support transitions of care across acute, post-acute, and long-term care settings, including care provided in the home and in residential care facilities. 

The consensus is that CMS’ 2021 Physician Fee Schedule post-pandemic (public health emergency=PHE) does not do nearly enough in that it returns–of legal necessity–to the status quo ante geographic restrictions, though it devised a temporary Category 3 to store over 50 telehealth billing codes [TTA 3 Dec]. The American Telemedicine Association (ATA) was joined by multiple organizations on Monday in pressing Congressional leaders to extend national telehealth ‘flexibilities’ as part of the $1.4 trillion omnibus spending deal that is needed to avoid a government shutdown on Friday (yes, this Friday) at midnight. The organizations joining the ATA on the letter to Congress are the Alliance for Connected Care, College of Healthcare Information Management Executives, Connected Health Initiative, eHealth Initiative, Health Innovation Alliance, HIMSS, and PCHAlliance. ATA release.

We are shocked, shocked that CoronaDepression worsens in those already suffering. Prescription discounter GoodRx analyzed prescription fill trends for anxiety and depression meds and found that they reached an all-time high in 2020–9.5 percent higher than the previous high in 2016. It peaked in April as the pandemic was underway, and possibly reflected some stockpiling.

Of their sample of 1,042 individuals diagnosed with anxiety and depression prior to the pandemic:

  • 22 percent responded that their symptoms were “much worse”
  • 40 percent said they were “worse”
  • 28 percent stated that symptoms were the “same”
  • a surprising 10 percent said symptoms were “better” or “much better” 

One of the main factors in that 62 percent reporting worse/much worse was the length of quarantine. “Those who reported quarantining due to COVID-19 were far more likely to report “worse” or “much worse” symptoms compared to those who did not quarantine. Over 70% of those who reported quarantining for more than one week said their depression and/or anxiety symptoms were “worse” or “much worse.” Loss of job and income, plus COVID-related events affecting friends and family, were also key in worsening symptoms. Many also had difficulty reaching their doctors/therapists and renewing medication. The study was conducted 1-10 November. GoodRx study

More depressing news (sic) of mental health challenges to older adults in the Isolation Age: The Future of Remote Care Technology, Lockdown Loneliness feared more than COVID, and the PLOS One study.

But cheer up and carry on, your COVID mortality risk may not be as bad as you think. A team of researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health created a COVID mortality risk calculator, based on algorithms calculating factors such as age, gender, sociodemographic factors, location, and a variety of different health conditions. Risk scores are grouped into five categories from lower than average/close to average to high.  While primarily for public health authorities to prioritize populations for vaccination, uninfected individuals can use it to determine their personal risk of future infection and complications after infection. It’s easy to use and your results may surprise you. There is also an interactive US map of the risk level of major cities, counties, and states. The study is published in a paper that appears in the journal Nature Medicine.  Johns Hopkins release, risk calculator

Weekend Must Read: The Future of Remote Care Technology and Older Adults 2020

Laurie Orlov, founder of Aging and Health Technology Watch and well-known industry analyst/advocate in health and aging-related technologies, has released her latest report, The Future of Remote Care Technology and Older Adults 2020 (PDF, free download). Recently, Laurie and I had an opportunity to catch up and review her findings.

This Editor immediately went to the ‘bleed lead’ which was:

COVID-19 HARMED THE WELLBEING OF OLDER ADULTS
Gap in technology access widened into connection chasm

The University of Michigan study from June (cited above and elsewhere in the report) illustrates the change in social isolation for those aged 50 to 80, with numbers that were slightly high to begin with in 2018. Isolation rocketed to 56 percent, putting a Klieg light on mental health that we’ve seen continued in the recent ‘lockdown loneliness’ PLOS One and SECOM studies. The reasons why will be no surprise, as they’re true for nearly all: a screeching halt to in-person experiences, severing in-person connections with family and friends, closing the doors of senior living and nursing homes to visitors (still closed in many states!), breaking healthcare contacts with providers, and losing timely diagnosis of health conditions, new and ongoing.

Most of the report documents the consequences: how telehealth rose, then fell (Epic and Commonwealth Fund last reports), how the experience wasn’t entirely satisfactory and held multiple structural limitations (e.g. tech, vision, hearing, dexterity) for the 50-80 age group (nor providers in obtaining a physical sense of the patient)–a POV you won’t see in mainstream healthcare/tech media nor the funding markets–and how technologies scrambled to fill the gaps (with plenty of examples).

But moving on to the future, which is the aim of this report, there are many gaps which need to be closed that are bigger than Teladongo:

  • synchronous and asynchronous telehealth–the latter primarily remote patient monitoring (RPM)
  • adoption of voice tech
  • broadband and device access, including training and management
  • governmental policy at all levels from Federal to local, including payer reimbursement

The last section of the report (page 18 to end) takes a look at where innovations could take remote care, where expectations are now, and where the opportunities are in connecting older adults. On page 22, there is a checklist for care providers and what they must consider in managing remote care. The summary of the future on page 23 wraps it all nicely.

The Future of Remote Care Technology and Older Adults 2020 (PDF, free download)