Some thoughts on Teladoc and the Week That Was in telehealth

Yes, your Editor has, for the past few weeks, felt like Pepper the Robot, moving at two speeds–crazed and off. (‘Off ‘ to the left. Now cart me off.) Home renovations, with strangers tramping through your abode, noise, dust, and the corresponding moving of furniture, packing and unpacking, pre- and post-cleaning, then trying to put things right and get your life back will do that. Add to that an unexpected gushy kitchen sink that took three ‘fixes’ to get actually fixed. Then there were technical problems with our email sender that Editor and Administrator Emeritus Steve had to work through. One becomes more appreciative of order, routine, and Peace and Quiet.

Speaking of Peace and Quiet, there is little to be found in telehealth. Instead, there is a lot of Feeling Off. The Big News of late last week, of course, was Teladoc’s troubles. In the words of Seeking Alpha, they had one horrific quarter. The horror show started with writing off the Livongo acquisition– a noncash goodwill impairment charge of $6.6 billion, for a massive loss of $41.11 per share for a total of $41.58 per share. To compare, last year’s Q1 loss was $1.31 per share. While revenues were up almost to projection (25%), it was still a $3 million miss and in context, it was the cherry on a very nasty sundae. After rosy projections last year, Teladoc lowered their 2022 revenue guidance from $2.6 billion to $2.45 billion.  

Moving forward from the questionable Livongo acquisition at the absolute peak of the market, CEO Jason Gorevic admitted some hard truths to investors that deepened the hole: much more competition, particularly in telemental health; the rising cost of paid search advertising and the keywords driving towards direct-to-consumer telehealth driving up the cost of acquisition; and difficulty closing B2B deals. This creates, in the terms of analyst SVB Leerink’s Stephanie Davis quoted in FierceHealthIT, “a direct-to-consumer air pocket that business-to-business sales (and their inherently longer cycles) are too slow to fill” at least, in her view, until the end of the year.

Teladoc’s difficulties, as this Editor has noted, started after a peak in early 2021 as the pandemic started its protracted wind-down and telehealth volumes plunged to well below 5% of claims as practices reopened. The stock value is down over 90% from last February, not helped by a volatile market triggered by war and inflation. Similar difficulties are plaguing Amwell (down 92% since February 2021), Talkspace (down to a paltry 16 cents and in court for misleading investors), SOC Telemed (taken private at a 70% drop in value, TTA 8 Feb), and other health tech companies. For our Readers, this is no surprise: the telehealth bender is ovah.

One industry leader in a post-ATA conversation with this Editor cited a less obvious factor–that hospitals and other health providers are now putting together their own telehealth/triage packages tied into population health and case management software, with and without ‘white label’ providers such as Bluestream Health and Zipnosis (acquired by insurtech/payvider Bright Health a year ago). Teladoc is a late entry to this provider/payer market with Primary360, where they also compete with Babylon Health [TTA 7 Oct 22]. And health retailers have joined the primary care telehealth game. Walmart last week announced a virtual health diabetes care program for employers through their recently acquired MeMD.

Big Telehealth’s troubles may depress investment in related earlier stage companies–or help those in niches such as telemental and population health, or remote patient monitoring (RPM) systems that have telehealth features (e.g. TytoCare), as VC investment seeks a brighter home. Right now, this Editor’s Magic 8 Ball is saying ‘outlook, cloudy”. 

The implications of Teladoc’s integration into Microsoft Teams

The Big News this week was the terse announcement by Microsoft and Teladoc that Teladoc’s Solo application for hospitals and health systems will be integrated into Microsoft Teams applications. The integration includes workflows and through Solo, integration into EHRs while remaining in Teams.

During the pandemic, many health systems resorted to Microsoft Teams to communicate internally and one-on-one with patients. Integration means that while on the Teams consult, a clinician can securely access clinical data included within the EHR and workflows via Teladoc Health Solo without leaving it. It can also connect care teams on the consult. The release also mentions the magic words artificial intelligence and machine learning, without giving examples. 

As of now, with telehealth receding to perhaps 5% of visits based on claims [TTA 9 July], it’s a strategic win for Teladoc to integrate with a part of the Microsoft suite widely used by providers. It also builds on an existing relationship between the companies, as Teladoc already uses Azure as one of its cloud providers. Health systems still have to license Teladoc Solo if they do not already, and engineering work is yet to be done. Teladoc has a substantial foothold in this market due to its July 2020 acquisition of InTouch Health. InTouch’s hospital-to-home telehealth is now Teladoc Solo, with a separate line of business into the specialty telehealth consult market through its portable wheeled telehealth carts for in-hospital use. It’s notable that the InTouch brand remains, albeit visibly transitioning to Teladoc.

According to Credit Suisse’s analysis (page 3), 46% of C-Level executives from hospitals and health systems (combined representing 563 hospitals) said that they currently work with Microsoft Teams as a telemedicine vendor. 11% said they already work with Teladoc/InTouch Health.

As for telehealth already used by providers, such as Zipnosis’ ‘white label’ triage/telehealth system (now owned by insurtech Bright Health) and Bluestream Health, can they compete? Also FierceHealthcare

‘Insurtech’ Bright Health’s IPO second largest to date, but falls slightly short of estimates (updated)

Bright Health Group’s IPO last Friday (23 June) fell a little short of the $1 billion+ raise and valuation projection two weeks ago, but not by much on a bad market day. Their $924 million raise was based on a float of 51.3 million shares at an opening price of $18 per share, with a targeted price range of $20 to $23. (Thursday 1 July’s BHG close: $16.85, a typical pattern.)

The raise compares favorably to Oscar Health’s blockbuster $1.44 billion IPO, Clover Health’s controversial but lucrative SPAC [TTA 9 Feb]. and Alignment Health’s $490 million.  Bright Health also acquired Zipnosis, a telehealth/telemedicine ‘white label’ triage system for large health systems, in April [TTA 6 Apr].

The IPO now creates a company value of $11.23 billion, down from the expected $14 billion. Bright Health is unique in its category in not only offering exchange and Medicare Advantage plans but also NeueHealth, 61 advanced risk-bearing primary care clinics delivering in-person and virtual care to 75,000 unique patients. FierceHealthcare, Reuters, Bright Health Group release. Also see TTA 18 June and 28 May.

Zipnosis, health system telemedicine/triage provider, acquired by insurtech Bright Health Group

Breaking: Zipnosis, a telemedicine/telehealth company that provides telehealth and diagnosis triage for large health systems, had a stealthy announcement of its acquisition by Bright Health Group late yesterday. The announcement is not on either corporate website but was made by Zipnosis’ financial advisers in the transaction, Cain Brothers/KeyBanc. Neither the value of the transaction, the transition plans for Zipnosis management and staff, nor operating model, were disclosed. Both Zipnosis and Bright Health are HQ’d in Minneapolis. Release

Why This Is Verrrry Interesting. Zipnosis developed an interesting niche as a relatively early starter in 2009 by providing white-labeled telemedicine systems to large health systems. They made the case to over 60 health systems across the US, including large systems like Allina Health with a ‘Digital Front Door’ that provided initial triage for a claimed 2 million patients, moving them into synchronous or asynchronous care fully integrated with hospital EHRs. They were named as the ‘Hottest Digital Startup from Flyover Country’ by Observer.com, once upon a time in this Editor’s wayback machine an actual print weekly newspaper and, as is obvious, NYC-centric. Release Their funding to date is, surprisingly, limited: under $25 million from seven investors, including Ascension Ventures, Safeguard Scientifics, Hyde Park Ventures, and Waterline Ventures, with the last round back in 2019. Crunchbase

Bright Health Group, on the other hand, is an insurance provider in both the exchange and Medicare Advantage (MA) markets in 13 states and 50 markets, covering 500,000 lives. Their model integrates both technology like web tools and apps with their insurance plans to be an ‘insurtech’ like Oscar Health and Clover Health. They claim to be the third-largest provider of the highly specialized type of Medicare Advantage plans called Chronic Condition Special Needs Plans (C-SNP) for those with severe and/or disabling chronic conditions. Bright Health operates in 13 states and 50 markets. In January, they announced the acquisition of Central Health Plan in California with 110,000 MA members.

However, what is verrrry interesting about Bright’s model, compared to other ‘insurtechs’, is that they own or manage a care delivery channel–40 advanced risk-bearing primary care clinics delivering in-person and virtual care to 220,000 members. The ‘risk-bearing’ is also interesting as it leads one to believe that some of these practices may participate in Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) value-based care models such as Primary Care First, the Medicare Shared Savings Program, or End-Stage Renal Disease (ESRD).

Bright Health is also extremely well funded now–and may be even better funded in the near future. Last September, they raised $500 million in a Series E led by New Enterprise Associates with Tiger Global Management, T. Rowe Price Associates, and Blackstone, as well as existing investors including Bessemer Venture Partners and Greenspring Associates (Crunchbase and Mobihealthnews). The purpose stated at the time was new market expansion both geographically and to small groups. Last week’s rumor was that they are preparing for an IPO in the $1 bn range with a valuation between $10 and $20 bn, which is Big Hay indeed. No paperwork has been filed yet with the SEC. Twin Cities Business, YahooFinance.

As an acquisition for Bright Health, Zipnosis brings in large healthcare systems with a unique triage platform that could be modified for primary care practices. It seems like a snack-sized acquisition that doesn’t require Federal approval but can be operated stand-alone–as health systems may be leery of an insurer’s ownership–with technology that can be integrated into other parts of the Bright Health business. This will be updated as additional news develops.

Two major moves and what they mean: Doctor on Demand, Grand Rounds to merge; Amazon Care will go national by summer (updated)

This week’s Digital Health Big Deal (as of Wednesday!) is the merger agreement between telehealth/virtual visit provider Doctor on Demand and employer health navigator Grand Rounds. Terms were not disclosed. It’s important because it extends Grand Rounds’ care coordination capabilities beyond provider network navigation and employee clinical/financial tools for six million employees into an extensive telehealth network with 98 million patients in commercial, Federal, and state health plans.

Both companies had big recent raises–$175 million for Grand Rounds in a September 2020 Series E (Crunchbase) and Doctor on Demand with a $75 million Series D last July (Crunchbase). The transaction is a stock swap with no cash involved (FierceHealthcare, CNBC), and the announcement states that the two companies will operate under their own brands for the time being. Owen Tripp, co-founder and CEO of Grand Rounds, will run the combined company, while Doctor on Demand CEO Hill Ferguson runs DOD and joins the board. The combined company is well into Double Unicorn status with over $2 bn in valuation. Also Mobihealthnews.

What it means. Smaller (than Teladoc and Amwell) telehealth companies have been running towards M&A, with the most recent MDLive joining Optum’s Evernorth [TTA 27 Feb] creating interstate juggernauts with major leverage. Doctor on Demand was looking at their options for expansion or acquisition and decided 1) the time and the $ were right and 2) with Grand Rounds, they could keep a modicum of independence as a separate line while enjoying integration with a larger company. The trend is profound enough to raise alarms in the august pages of Kaiser Health News, which decries interstate telehealth providers competing with small and often specialized in-state providers, and in general the loosening of telehealth requirements, including some providers still only taking virtual visits. Contra this, but not in the KHN article, this Editor has previously noted that white-labeled telehealth providers such as Zipnosis and Bluestream Health have found a niche in supplying large health systems and provider groups with customized telehealth and triage systems.

UPDATED. In the Shoe Dropping department, Amazon Care goes national with virtual primary care (VPC). To no one’s surprise after Haven’s demise, Amazon’s pilot among their employees providing telehealth plus in-person for those in the Seattle area [TTA 17 Dec 20] is rolling out nationally in stages. First, the website is now live and positions the company as a total care management service for both urgent and primary care. Starting Wednesday, Amazon opened the full service (Video and Mobile Care) to other Washington state companies. The in-person service will expand to Washington, DC, Baltimore, and other cities in the next few months. Video Care will be available nationally to companies and all Amazon employees by the summer.

Notably, and buried way down in the glowing articles, Amazon is not engaging with payers on filing reimbursements for patient care. Video Care and Care Medical services will be billed directly to the individual who must then send for reimbursement to their insurance provider. The convenience is compromised by additional work on the patient’s part, something that those of us on the rare PPO plans were accustomed to doing back in the Paper Age but not common now. It also tends to shut out over 65’s on Medicare and those on low-income plans through Medicaid. It is doubtful that Amazon really wants this group anyway. Not exactly inclusive healthcare.

TechCrunch, FierceHealthcare. Jailendra Singh’s Credit Suisse team has a POV here which opines that Amazon continues to have a weak case for disruption in VPC, along with their other healthcare efforts, and an uphill battle against the current telehealth players who have already allied themselves with employers and integrating with payers.

As practices reopen, telemedicine visits continue to plunge from 69% to 21%: Epic (US)

The extreme high tide has receded–but still way up than before the pandemic.  The Epic Health Research Network (yes, that Epic EHR), updated its earlier study through 8 May [TTA 22 July] to compare in-office to telehealth visits through 12 July. The trend that EHRN spotted (as well as Commonwealth Fund/Phreesia/Harvard) continued with telemedicine visits declining as practices reopened. As of mid-July, telehealth visits, as a  percentage of national ambulatory visits, declined to 21.2 percent compared to 78.8 percent in-office. 

The new EHRN study used a broader sampling than previously. They surveyed healthcare providers of data: 37 healthcare organizations representing 203 hospitals and 3,513 clinics in 50 states. The decline in telehealth visits noted in early May continued, with May finishing with a national 50/50 split.

But in context, telehealth visits immediately before the COVID-19 pandemic were a whopping .01 percent

Regionally, the Northeast leads in July telehealth visits with 25 percent. The South has the least adoption of telehealth with only 13 percent. In terms of total office visits, neither the South nor West have rebounded to pre-pandemic levels, whereas the Northeast and Midwest have.

The key to the future of the telehealth bubble bath is if telehealth usage versus in-person stabilizes for several months. But there’s another factor which has come about through higher telehealth usage. Noted in our July article was speculation on the reasons why the sudden decline, other than practices reopening, most of which pointed to practice training, reimbursement, and older/sicker patients falling into the smartphone/digital divide. The STAT article has statements from telehealth providers which are quite bubbly and quotable, with the CEO of MDLive stating that new bookings are up 300 percent and mental health hasn’t declined. But a problem now surfacing is providing patients with the right care at the right time–and fitting it into the office schedule. What visits can best be handled as telehealth and which require an in-person visit? This Editor recalls that Zipnosis, a white-labeled telehealth system we haven’t heard from in a while, incorporated for health system applications a triage intake which would direct the patient to the right level of care. Can this be rolled out in a similar way to the practice level?

Robots, robots, everywhere…even when they’re NHS 111 online algorithms

[grow_thumb image=”https://telecareaware.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/Overrun-by-Robots1-183×108.jpg” thumb_width=”150″ /]The NHS continues to grope its way towards technology adoption, gets slammed–but is it justified? The Daily Telegraph (paywalled–see The Sun) revealed a draft December NHS report that recommended that the NHS 111 urgent non-emergency care line’s “enquiries will be handled by robots within two years.” Moreover, “The evaluation by NHS England says smartphones could become “the primary method of accessing health services,” with almost 16 million inquiries dealt with by algorithms, rather than over the telephone, by 2020.” (That is one-third of demand, with one-quarter by 2019.)

Let’s unpack these reported statements.

  • An algorithm is not a ‘robot’. This is a robot.[grow_thumb image=”https://telecareaware.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/robottoy-1.jpg” thumb_width=”100″ /]
  • What is so surprising about using algorithmically based questions for quick screening? Zipnosis in the US has been using this method for years as a pre-screener in major health systems. They call it an ‘online adaptive interview’ guiding the patient through branching logic of relevant questions; a provider can review the provided clinical note and make a diagnosis and treatment recommendation in 2 minutes. It also captures significant data before moving to an in-person or telemedicine visit if needed. Babylon Health uses a similar methodology in its chatbot-AI assisted service [TTA 26 Apr 17].
  • Smartphones as a primary means of accessing health services? How is this surprising when the Office of National Statistics says that 73 percent of adults use the internet from their mobiles? 51 percent go online for health information.
  • Based on the above, 66 percent would still be using telephonic 111 services.

It seems like when the NHS tries to move forward technologically, it’s criticized heavily, which is hardly an incentive. Over New Year’s, NHS 111 had a 20 percent unanswered call rate on its busiest day when the flu epidemic raged (Sun). Would an online 111 be more effective? Based on the four-location six-month test, for those under 35, absolutely. Yes, older people are far less likely to use it, as undoubtedly (but unreported) the disabled, sight-impaired, the internet-less, and those who don’t communicate in English well–but the NHS estimates that the majority of 111 users would still use the phone. This also assumes that the online site doesn’t crash with demand, and that the algorithms are constructed well.

Not that the present service has been long-term satisfactory. David Doherty at mHealth Insight/3G Doctor takes a 4G scalpel to its performance and offers up some alternatives, starting with scrapping 111.

Equivocal long term telemonitoring studies released by Telemonitoring NI, U. of Wisconsin

The HSC Public Health Agency for Northern Ireland and Queen’s University Belfast have released an evaluation of the six-year (2011 – 2017) Remote Telemonitoring Service for Northern Ireland (RTNI). The Centre for Connected Health and Social Care (CCHSC) launched the Telemonitoring NI project in 2011, which enrolled over 3,900 patients with COPD, diabetes, weight management, stroke, heart failure and kidney problems in both telehealth (vital sign) and telecare (behavioral) monitoring. The study period was through 2015, but the program continues to be implemented by all five NI Health and Social Care (HSC) Trusts across a range of chronic conditions. 

The Northern Ireland findings were at best equivocal. While the qualitative data gathered from patient, carer, and clinician focus groups and interviews were positive in terms of engagement and on reassurance–to be able to carry on with their lives as usual–the quantitative data did not confirm gains in effective care.

Although there were a number of testimonials from the participants in the patient focus groups regarding
reduced hospitalisations and a reduced need to attend outpatient clinics, this did not carry through to
the data obtained in the effectiveness aspect of the current evaluation. In general terms, the number
of hospitalisations, length of hospital stay and outpatient clinic attendance (and therefore overall cost
of healthcare provision) did not differ between the quasi-control ‘never installed’ group and any of the
groups who received some amount of telemonitoring. The results, where they were statistically
significant, were largely driven by an anomalous result for the heart failure ‘never installed’ group. (page 17)

The Executive Summary, Telehealth, and Telecare Reports are available for free download on the HSC R&D Division website. Many thanks to former TTA Ireland Editor Toni Bunting for the information, summary, and researching the previous TTA coverage below.

This is the second discouraging study on the long term effectiveness of patient monitoring released in the past month. A five-year, 140,000 patient/90 provider study conducted by the University of Wisconsin found that giving patients the option of telemedicine, instead of being more convenient for the provider, created new issues. It increased office visits by six percent, added 45 minutes per month of additional visit time to practices, and reduced the number of new patients seen each month by 15 percent. For the patient, the researchers found “no observable improvement in patient health between those utilizing e-visits and those who did not. In fact, the additional office visits appear to crowd out some care to those not using e-visits.” The study suggested that the telemedicine visits could be made more effective by structured questions prior to the visit. (This approach has been taken by telemedicine provider Zipnosis with adaptive online interviews and patient triage.) Mobihealthnews

Previous commentary by TTA’s Editor Emeritus Steve Hards on the procurement of the NI Remote Telemonitoring Service:

http://archive1.telecareaware.com/the-long-and-winding-road-that-leads-to-your-doorin-northern-ireland/
http://archive1.telecareaware.com/african-elephant-ecch/
http://archive1.telecareaware.com/remote-telemonitoring-northern-ireland-service-tender-long-list-mystery/
http://archive1.telecareaware.com/short-listed-companies-rtni-service/
http://archive1.telecareaware.com/northern-ireland-remote-monitoring-servicegoes-to-tf3/

 

Babylon Health ‘chatbot’ triage AI app raises £50 million in funding (UK)

[grow_thumb image=”https://telecareaware.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/babylon_lifestyle2.jpg” thumb_width=”150″ /]Babylon Health, which has developed an AI-assisted chatbot to triage a potential patient in minutes, has raised a serious Series B of £50 million (US$60 million). Funders were Kinnevik AB, which had led the Series A, NNC Holdings, and Vostok New Ventures (Crunchbase). According to the FT (through TechCrunch), Babylon’s value is now north of $200 million. Revenues were not disclosed.

The current app uses texts to determine the level of further care, recommends a course of action, then connects the user if needed to a virtual doctor visit, or if acute to go to Accident & Emergency (US=emergency room or department). It also follows up with the user on their test results and health info. The funding will be used to enhance their current AI to extend to diagnosis. They are accumulating daily data on thousands of patients, machine learning which further refines the AI. Founder Dr. Ali Parsa, founder and CEO of Babylon, said in a statement. “Babylon scientists predict that we will shortly be able to diagnose and foresee personal health issues better than doctors, but this is about machines and medics cooperating, not competing.” Like other forms of telemedicine and triage (Zipnosis in health systems), it is designed to put healthcare access and affordability, as they claim, “into the hands of every person on earth”. The NHS pilot in north London [TTA 18 Jan] via the 111 hotline is testing Babylon as a ‘reliever’ though it directs only to a doctor appointment, not a video consult. BBC News, Mobihealthnews

Virtual care stops germs dead in their tracks! (Who would have thought it?)

Here at TTA we do receive and read a lot of press releases, and most are pretty meh. (We work very hard to avoid subjecting our readers to meh, as we don’t much like it either.) Now this one takes a different tack. It backs up telemedicine and telehealth technology that enables the patient to avoid the germ-filled doctor’s office and ED. According to Zipnosis citing the Infection Control and Hospital Epidemiology journal, after the standard well-child visit, there is a 3.17 percent increase in influenza-like illnesses among children and their family members within two weeks. Extrapolated, this results in more than 766,000 additional office visits for flu-like symptoms each year and nearly $492 million in annual costs. Now here is a simple, proactive improvement in outcomes that achieves savings (hear that, HHS and NHS?) facilitated by healthcare technology. (See previous article on ‘A tricorder one step closer‘)

The remainder of the release concentrates on what a bad idea it is to subject the rest of the world to your germs when down with a cold or flu. Even the CDC wants patients to stay home from work, school and errands. (That is, if you can.) The point is made that virtual care can unjam doctor offices and EDs for those less dangerous who need hands on care. The light touch of the product message is that Zipnosis provides a white-labeled virtual care platform to health systems that first uses an online adaptive interview with a patient to document the condition, provides a diagnosis and treatment plan within an hour, directing the patient to an appropriate level of care. Release.

A hybrid telehealth/telemedicine model for health systems

Your Editors have been projecting that the Big Future of telecare-telehealth-telemedicine lies in integrating services, not the Big Data backend (though there’s a Big Role there). These three have to be more tightly aligned with health systems, whether ACOs/IDNs (US) or the NHS. Most of our consideration has been where they go at the end of acute care–transitional care (post-discharge/post-acute–those bed-blockers)–but here’s a different approach that puts them at the start of the care continuum. Minneapolis-based Zipnosis [TTA 13 May] has an asynchronous platform that is ‘white labeled’ for a health system and carries their branding. Their model uses pre-screening/assessment first–an ‘adaptive questionnaire’ taken online or on mobile, compiles the information, then depending on the result, returns to the patient to schedule a virtual (video/audio) consult, lab visit or referral to a physician. The smart parts are that this is completely within the the health system and integrates with their EHR, making it reimbursable. It also can be used to expand the patient base even if the care is short term or episodic.

Zipnosis currently has 17 health system clients. The latest is Fairview Health Services in Minneapolis where the system test is first with their 22,000-plus employee workforce. The focus is on early detection of diabetes and heart disease. Also recently announced were two Nebraska health systems, Bryan Health and Memorial Health Care. Somebody likes the model as their Series A back in January was $17 million led by Safeguard Scientifics with participation from Ascension Ventures, the investment arm of Ascension, a large Catholic health system. mHealth Intelligence, Becker’s Health ITHealthcareITNews,

Unintended consequences: American Well loses, loses patent, to Teladoc

On Tuesday, the Federal District Court of Massachusetts not only dismissed the American Well patent infringement lawsuit against Teladoc, but also invalidated American Well‘s patent, held by co-founder Dr. Roy Schoenberg since 2009. It was invalidated on the grounds that the claims in the patent were “too abstract” to be patentable and do not “amount to an inventive concept.” American Well is appealing the court decision.

Teladoc started this call-and-response in March 2015 by petitioning the USPTO (US Patent and Trademark Office) to invalidate several American Well patents. (AW claims to hold 28 patents and 22 pending applications). Shortly before Teladoc’s IPO on the New York Stock Exchange last June, American Well sued Teladoc on patent infringement. Those in the industry saw an effort to scupper the IPO. Our Editor Chrys at the time took a decidedly jaundiced view of American Well’s grounds for infringement:
This author is wondering who thought this was such a novel technology as to warrant a patent? What were they thinking? Having worked on developing unified messaging systems for a mobile phone operator at the turn of the century (now that’s a scary 15 years ago) I am just picking myself off the floor after reading this.
Surely all these functions are no more than what is in every instant messaging program, dating back to 1990s? Replace the words “medical service provider” by “friends” or “contacts” and “consultation” by “chat” or “call” it seems to me you get … Skype and Face Time and more! [TTA 9 June 15]
No matter, the result was yesterday’s double shot of a decision. In addition, three Teladoc complaints against American Well‘s patents to invalidate them are still in progress with the USPTO. A triple, anyone? MedCityNews, Teladoc press release, American Well press release
All this is despite the sobering facts that telemedicine has been unprofitable to date–and that IP wars have unintended consequences. (more…)

Are virtual visits consistent and effective? JAMA-published study raises doubts.

A medical/health policy team from University of California-San Francisco (UCSF) studied virtual telemedicine visits and found a “significant variation in quality.” Over a year, 67 trained standardized patients over 599 visits presented their symptoms to the eight largest telemedicine (video and phone) providers (not named in the abstract). Their illnesses were common and acute: ankle pain, streptococcal pharyngitis, viral pharyngitis, acute rhinosinusitis, low back pain and recurrent female urinary tract infection. Based on their metrics, histories and physical exams were completed only 70 percent of the time; key management decisions adhered to accepted guidelines 54 percent of the time. Rates of guideline-adherent care (best practices) ranged from 206 visits (34.4 percent) to 396 visits (66.1 percent) across the eight websites. Wide variations were also found in diagnosis of pharyngitis and acute rhinosinusitis, with clinicians adhering to guidelines anywhere from 12.8 percent to 82.1 percent of the time. JAMA Internal Medicine, May issue, published online 4 April: Variation in Quality of Urgent Health Care Provided During Commercial Virtual Visits (abstract only without subscription)

The type of telemedicine they studied were the typical live, real-time video appointments. Another ‘virtual care platform’ provider, Zipnosis, offers a contrasting way. They claim that the live simulacrum of the in-person appointment is lacking, and what’s needed is an asynchronous approach–‘store-and-forward’ information in what they call an “online structured, adaptive interview” integrated with health systems’ services.

In preview information released to press and as a letter to JAMA just prior to the start of the American Telemedicine Association’s (ATA) annual meeting, Zipnosis offered its own, far more positive study. Their review of 1,760 patient encounters (more…)

ONC gets in study game in designing the Consumer Centered Telehealth Experience

ONC (the Office of National Coordinator for Health Information Technology, HHS) in the spring conducted a design session on creating a more consumer-centered telehealth experience, commissioning the engagedIN research firm to help select a panel, run it and produce the study. The white paper focuses on how telehealth can either further fracture or integrate PHR (study pages 7-11), and what’s needed to make telehealth and telemedicine more convenient and effective for consumers. The panel avoided the big telemedicine providers (a bone that Mobihealthnews picks with the study) which typically dominate these panels–to this Editor a positive action–but included other telehealth providers like Qualcomm Life, Care Innovations and Zipnosis, as well as the US’ largest user of telehealth, VA Home Telehealth. Among the key drivers of telehealth are HHS’ and private insurers (UHC) shift to value-based payments; CMS’ target of 50 percent of Medicare value-based care is cited (page 5). There are nine principles at the end (pgs 13-16) to guide the way forward. Designing the Consumer Centered Telehealth and e-Visit Experience (PDF) (Though it is confusing why e-Visit was used rather than ‘virtual visits’ or, in fact, telemedicine.)