Short takes: Virtual Therapeutics, Akili in $34M merger; why health clinics are struggling; Dollar General, DocGo call it quits; Clover Assistant AI debuts; fundings for Wanda Health (UK), Updoc (AU); Telstra buys out Fred IT (AU)

Two mental health companies with complementary digital therapeutics plan to merge. Virtual Therapeutics, which approaches mental health through VR-enabled games, and Akili Interactive, with online prescription games designed for ADHD and other cognitive impairments, yesterday announced plans to merge. The new company will retain the Virtual Therapeutics name and go private, with Akili operating as a subsidiary. The cash buyout to Akili shareholders will be based on $0.4340 per share of common stock (Nasdaq) or $34 million, a premium around 4%. Akili had announced on 29 April that it was seeking “strategic alternatives”. Shares were trading then at $0.235 so the offering is over an 80% premium to that time. In May, Akili announced a reduced Q1 2024 net loss compared to Q4 2023. The transaction is expected to close in Q3, subject to Akili retaining a specified cash position and a tender conversion. Management transitions have not been disclosed. Release, MedTechDive

Why are all the health tech clinics struggling–at once? CNBC polls a group of experts and deduces that what it calls the “2.0 version of primary care” in Walmart Health, CVS Minute Clinics (closing dozens of Minute Clinics in Southern California and New England), and  Walgreens’ VillageMD, is foundering under:

  • Thin to non-existent margins–reimbursements are low, but the expenses of running them are high
  • Lack of ‘volume selling’
  • Lack of workforce–doctors don’t want to go to rural areas, which was Walmart’s bet. Nurse-practitioners can’t care for patients (and bill) if they also are detailed to do cleanup 
  • Cross-selling a flop–if you’re in for a pint of milk, Advil, or shampoo, you’re not going into the clinic, and vice versa

A 3.0 model may have a lot of variants, such as One Medical’s subscription model ($9/month for Amazon Prime members). Walgreens is opening a few in-store health clinics in the Hartford, Connecticut area to be run by Hartford HealthCare. In Arizona, a local Be Well Health Clinic near Arizona State University operates in a Walgreens and treats only sexual health issues. Kroger’s Atlanta-area Little Clinics will focus only on senior care.

One 3.0 experiment, DocGo’s vans in Dollar General parking lots, is over. Last year’s headscratching move to place DocGo’s urgent, preventative, and chronic care vans at specified hours in rural Dollar General parking lots [TTA 24 Jan 2023] was canceled some weeks ago. It never expanded beyond the three Tennessee locations, two in Clarksville and one in Cumberland Furnace that started last year. Endpoints

Health plan Clover to separately market their Assistant AI tool for clinical decision-making. Counterpart Assistant will be offered to other payers outside Clover Medicare Advantage along with providers in ACOs and value-based care enablers (sic) as an AI-assisted service, in a hybrid SaaS and per member per month (PMPM) shared-savings model. The pitch is to lower per-life customer acquisition cost and allow physicians to use one tool for all MA patients. FierceHealthcare

Fundings in UK and Australia:

UK’s Wanda Health adding a 30% investment from VC investment group NetScientific plc. Wanda Connected Health Systems Ltd. has operations in Bristol and Seattle.  It’s a second-time-around for NetScientfic, as it was an early Wanda investor but sold its 90% interest in Wanda US to Deeptech Disruptive Growth Investments Ltd in 2019. Wanda Health provides remote patient monitoring feeding into a virtual care platform. Insider Media

Australia’s Updoc telehealth raised A$20 million ($13.2 million) in investment from ASX-listed capital investor Bailador. It offers virtual consultations, online prescriptions, specialist referrals, pathology referrals, and medical letters for a single payment or on subscription. The funding will be used for international expansion and technology development. To date, it has served 200,000 Australians.  Mobihealthnews

In more news from Down Under, Telstra Health buys out the remainder of Fred IT Group. Telstra already owned 50% of the pharmacy IT solutions provider and is buying out the Victoria branch of the Pharmacy Guild of Australia and Paul Naismith, Fred IT co-founder and CEO. The CEO, management, and employees will remain in place. Fred IT, through eRx, is the only national electronic prescription delivery service in Australia since last year. Right Said Fred? Mobihealthnews

Telstra has spent $100M on telehealth

Telstra Health has splashed out $100 million buying up other telehealth companies, it was revealed at a recent conference. Bronwyn Pike, former Minister of Health in Victoria and now Community Care Lead at Telstra Health, addressing the 13th National Rural Health Conference[grow_thumb image=”” thumb_width=”150″ /] held in Darwin from May 24th to 27th, described how Telstra Health wants to transform rural health in Australia.

“Increasing demand, rising costs and more people with chronic illness are among the challenges Australia’s health care industry is facing. Working harder can only go so far — we need to reimagine what the future could look like”, Pike wrote in her abstract.

“Helping users to do more for themselves has been a key feature of almost every other industry change of the last decade. Banking is a perfect example — where once every single interaction required your physical presence in front of a teller, now you can manage almost every aspect of your banking needs securely online.

“Health is caught in a model that is inconvenient for patients and labour intensive for health care providers. We need to tailor the model to suit the health industry and capitalise on the benefits connection can provide. Those living in rural and remote communities without regular access to all levels of care stand to benefit enormously if we can unlock the potential of ehealth”

Telstra expands telemedicine offering with acquisition

Following our report earlier in the month on Telstra’s success in winning the Western Australia telehealth [grow_thumb image=”” thumb_width=”150″ /]contract, Telstra announced the acquisition of UK based Dr Foster last week. Telstra has now announced that they are acquiring Medibank’s Anywhere Healthcare platform, further expanding its Telstra Health arm.

Since 2013 Telstra has had exclusive access to Dr Foster in Australia and supplies Dr Foster products to several health services in Australia.

Anywhere Healthcare is a middleman platform with specialists signed up to provide remote consultations and GPs signed up to use the services of those specialists. When a face-to-face consultation is considered not appropriate the GP can arrange for a remote consultation via Anywhere Healthcare. Typically, this has been used to date for patients in nursing homes.

The current Anywhere Healthcare directory lists 30 specialists covering 17 specialties and it is reported that there are 1600 GPs signed up to the service. Telstra have stated that they expect to expand the service, particularly into rural patient consultations.


Health apps presently of little use, says Australian telehealth expert

[grow_thumb image=”” thumb_width=”120″ /]”Immature” and “focused on low-lying fruit such as fitness tracking and not focused on the big issues of management of disease” are also two of the compliments that Dr George Margelis of the University of Western Sydney’s TeleHealth Research & Innovation Laboratory (THRIL) has bestowed on the current state of health apps. Until the collected data ‘plugs into other digital platforms’–he mentions the Australian government’s PHR, eHealth–apps will not help those who need it the most. “Unfortunately, managing these diseases, in particular the chronic diseases that are a major part of the current burden, requires more than just tracking a few physical parameters which is what the app world is up to.” Dr Margelis called for collaboration between app developers and healthcare professionals; while he scores Apple’s HealthKit, that may be the means to make his vision come true. It should be noted that Dr Margelis (more…)’s odd swerve into healthcare cloud storage and PHRs

[grow_thumb image=”” thumb_width=”150″ /] Both The Gimlet Eye (filing from a remote island) and Editor Donna have been pleased users of the file storage site for storing all sorts of files in the ‘cloud’ (a/k/a Somewhere Out There On A Whole Bunch Of Internet Servers), sharing and collaboration. It’s simple to use, it works and, for our needs, actually free. However founders Aaron Levie and Dylan Smith, who look barely old enough to shave (but smartly have A Touch of Grey in their management team), have their eyes set on far bigger prizes than our mediocre needs. Now they have added ‘special advisers’ Aneesh Chopra, first US CTO, and Glen Tullman, former CEO of Allscripts. Mr. Tullman certainly does add major luster (and connections) and Mr. Chopra, despite the Eye’s consideration of him as hyperbolic and politically, not technically, qualified for his previous positions in the Government and the state of Virginia, adds the inevitable political ones. Having them on the roster also adds heft to their imminently rumored IPO (TechCrunch; update, filed 24 March) and ultimately acing out other file sharers Dropbox in the enterprise area. Expectations are high; Box has $414 million in funding from a roster of investors (including Telefónica and Australia’s Telstra) through a Series F (CrunchBase) with a valuation of $2 billion (TechCrunch) and undoubtedly they’d like some of it back. Soon. (The completely overheated Castlight Health IPO only whets the appetite.)

Healthcare one key to a rich IPO. Box’s healthcare moves point in the enterprise direction. (more…)