Study of medication adherence with AI-supported selfies highlights potential for clinical trials

AiCure’s tool uses a form of artificial intelligence for facial recognition to confirm that patients have taken the correct medication.

Insurance navigator Wellthie looks beyond healthcare with $5M Series A round

Wellthie, a health insurance navigation startup launched by a former Anthem Blue Cross Bue Shield product development executive, has raised $5 million in a Series A round, according to a company blog post. The new funding will be used to bolster the New York-based company’s sales and marketing muscle as it prepares to expand into vision, dental and life insurance in the second quarter, Sally Poblete, Wellthie Founder and CEO, told MedCity News in a phone interview.

IA Capital Group led the investment round with participation from Aflac Corporate Ventures. Last month, Aflac announced plans to set up a $100 million fund to invest in early stage companies relevant to Aflac’s core business. Some of the angel investors from the insurance industry that have backed Wellthie include Mike Battaglia, former chief consumer officer at Humana, Dr. Bill Winkenwerder, a former co-CEO of Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield, and Sam Havens, a former CEO of Prudential Healthcare.

“What’s unique and exciting about this round is insurance industry luminaries are putting in their own money,” Poblete said. “It shows that the support we’re getting is from people deep within the industry.”

Poblete said she sees the business as a way to support insurance brokers that work with small businesses and carriers with technology by improving decision support and providing other robust features.  For brokers, Wellthie can do scenario planning, provide a virtual storefront and give medical and ancillary quotes through a shopping and enrollment platform. For insurers, it can help them manage small group and individual members and drive growth. Wellthie’s platform also helps payers do market analysis based on members’ purchasing behavior. 

Wellthie and other technology companies have developed customer relationship management products to help insurance companies become more consumer-focused and their plans easier to understand.  As the insurance industry waits for the GOP to put their own legislative stamp on insurance reform, it will be interesting to see whether insurance companies will rely more on health tech companies like Wellthie.

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Report: Digital health startups raise $2.5B in Q1 even as deal volume declines to six-year low

This post has been updated with data from Rock Health’s Q1 report

Digital health startups raised $2.5 billion across 124 deals in the first quarter of the year — a record high amount for the first quarter but lowest deal volume since 2011, according to a report from StartUp Health. Big data analytics business Grail’s supersized $914 million Series B fundraise accounted for a big chunk of the funding raised for the first quarter.

“Even though [venture capital firms] are betting less, they’re betting bigger,” the report noted.

Like Ping An Good Doctor’s $500 million round last year, Grail was also a spinout — in this case from Illumina. Although Grail is considered a cancer diagnostics company, it also has biotech software component, with high-intensity sequencing tools to detect signs of cancer in the blood, including ctDNA.

Interestingly, Grail is somewhat similar to Freenome, a company that raised $65 million in March. Freenome uses machine learning and big data analytics to spot signatures from immunological and metabolic changes towards early cancer detection.

For the first time, population health startups attracted more investment than other digital health subsectors, raising $392 million in 25 deals. Alignment Healthcare alone raised $115 million from private equity investor Warburg Pincus. Livongo, which focuses on diabetes management and prevention, raised $52 million from General Catalyst Partners is also listed in the population health category.

Venrock topped other investors with four investments in the quarter. Among them were Virta Health — a health IT startup that claims it can help people reverse Type 2 diabetes.

At this time last year, StartUp Health noted that startups in digital health had raised $1 billion in 100 deals, dominated by health insurance startup Oscar with a $400 million fundraise. Although big data analytics companies raised the most — $286 million — the patient/consumer experience category accounted for the highest volume of deals at 20.

Source: StartUp Health Insights Report Q1 2017

Source: StartUp Health Insights Report Q1 2017

Photo: Goir, Getty Images

Digital health companies merge to launch patient engagement business serving Medicaid patients

Voxiva and Sense Health have merged to form Wellpass, a patient engagement business designed to help providers and payers send timely messages and alerts to their patient population, according to a news release. The digital health startup is led by Voxiva Cofounder Paul Meyer. The new business is the latest in a series of mergers and acquisitions that reflect the steady drumbeat of consolidation in digital health.

Wellpass includes mobile health and wellness programs Voxiva developed with a patient engagement platform developed by Sense Health. Some of those include Voxiva’s best-known programs Text4Baby for infant care and Text2Quit for smoking cessation.Those programs have resonated with the Medicaid patient population that provider and payer customers serve, with a 44 percent increase in dental visits and 40 percent boost in appointment attendance.

The company’s combined resources give it a client base of more than 30 healthcare providers, more than 70 state Medicaid health plans, and 10 state government agencies, the release said. Although Voxivia has been around since 2001, Sense Health launched in 2012 and took part in the New York Digital Health Accelerator’s 2014 cohort.

Text messaging is viewed as a more effective way to reach Medicaid patients because research indicates they are more likely to have access to email through a mobile phone rather than a computer.

Meyer said in the release that Wellpass is intended to surmount the challenges of deploying fragmented engagement and population health solutions by enlisting Sense Health’s platform for Voxiva’s messaging programs.

Several digital health groups have harnessed text messaging to boost patient engagement, such as HealthCrowd and Babyscripts, a company that seeks to prevent pregnancy complications. Digital health initiative coactionHealth, created by Centerstone Research Institute (CRI), Ginger.io and Verizon, seeks to improve patient quality of life and hospital utilization through a combination of case management, wellness coaching and smartphones.

The Wellpass deal underscores the consolidation trend in digital health, which saw a flurry of deals last month. This year Castlight Health acquired Jiff Health — a deal that closed today. By Rock Health’s reckoning, there were at least 112 digital health acquisitions in 2016, a figure that could well be outstripped in 2017.

Photo: Getty Images

Jefferson Health taps Teladoc for telehealth needs

Purchase, New York-based Teladoc is making moves in the telehealth space.

Jefferson Health in Philadelphia recently went live on Teladoc’s telehealth platform.

What prompted Jefferson Health to handpick Teladoc as opposed to another vendor? “Many of the other vendors were not designed the way Teladoc was,” Dr. Judd Hollander, the associate dean for strategic health initiatives at Thomas Jefferson University’s Sidney Kimmel Medical College, told MedCity in a phone interview. Instead, it was designed with health systems in mind, he pointed out. “The advantage is they have a platform that does what we need to do,” Hollander said.

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Dr. Alan Roga, president of Teladoc’s provider market, echoed that sentiment. “We understand the unique needs of hospitals and health systems and have developed a purpose-built telehealth solution specifically for them,” he said in a statement.

The Teladoc system is now part of Jefferson Health’s existing telehealth program, JeffConnect. But the new go-live doesn’t mean JeffConnect has disintegrated.

“JeffConnect still exists. It’s the brand of our program,” Hollander said. “We’ve changed nothing about JeffConnect. We’ve added the Teladoc platform, which is branded as JeffConnect, to that.”

JeffConnect, which includes inpatient care, outpatient care and transitions in care, enables patients to connect with physicians via phone, computer or tablet. Using JeffConnect, patients can see a physician in a variety of different ways. They can connect with their physicians 24/7 through on-demand visits. Patients can also schedule video visits or use the remote second opinion option to get additional thoughts on their care.

Whereas other hospitals and health systems outsource some of their telehealth visits to other providers, Jefferson Health does not. That’s what sets JeffConnect apart — patients always see a Jefferson Health physician, Hollander said. “That’s really unique about JeffConnect,” he said. “We believe our patients want to know that when you call Jefferson, you get Jefferson. We’re able to do that on this platform.”

And JeffConnect’s services aren’t limited to a certain physician specialty. “If you have an appointment, you can have it with every type of specialty at Jefferson,” Hollander said.

Though the price of a JeffConnect visit varies depending on one’s insurer, an on-demand visit currently costs $49.

Working with Teladoc and improving its JeffConnect platform aren’t the only things Jefferson Health is doing in the telehealth field. For one, it’s developing the National Academic Center for Telehealth, a hub focused on the intersection of technology and healthcare. Jefferson Health is also training medical students and residents in telehealth.

Photo: SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY, Getty Images

How one health IT company seeks to master the art of post-acute care transitions

Aidin, a health IT company focused on supporting hospital discharge, has added its 50th hospital customer through its partnership deal with Lancaster General. The 663-bed hospital is the first institution it is working with in the continuously expanding University of Pennsylvania Health System. It also illustrates the staying power of Aidin in the health IT segment serving the post-acute care market — an area that has seen some consolidation in recent years.

Aidin’s approach is to make the process of discharging patient from hospitals to post-acute care providers easier and customized to patient needs. Its Software as a Service uses automation to make the process more efficient but the company also aims to help insurers keep patients within their payer’s provider network.

John Laursen, head of business development for Aidin, said the company has a presence in 26 states. In addition to Lancaster General, it also has recently signed on Houston Methodist in Texas and Edward-Elmhurst Health in Chicago, in a phone interview with MedCity News.

He added that bundled payments give hospitals even more of an incentive to work with technology companies like Aidin to reduce the risk of rehospitalization.

“Our system ensures that patients get to the highest quality [post-acute] providers in those regions we serve,” Laursen said. “The big thing for us is we focus on creating competition for patient choice. Post-acute care providers are having to improve quality as increased competition improves the market.”

Consolidation has reduced the number of companies shaping this health IT segment. Boston-based CarePort Health was acquired by Allscripts in October, focused on post-acute outcomes management by guiding patients to select care that best fits their needs, a management system with data and alerts; and an analytics component to evaluate performance of post-acute providers and patient outcomes.  In 2015, Cardinal Health subsidiary naviHealth acquired RightCare Solutions.

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NY Attorney General’s office steps into digital health regulation in settlement with 3 companies

In a role that is normally reserved for regulators like the Federal Trade Commission or the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the New York Attorney General’s office has announced a settlement with three health app developers amounting to $30,000.

The settlement resolved allegedly misleading claims ranging from accuracy to “irresponsible” privacy practices, according to a statement from the office of Attorney General Eric Schneiderman.

It’s interesting because it could mean other state attorney generals will step up and take similar action against digital health companies as the public and private sectors attempt to rein in a sector of digital health likened to snake oil salesmen by the American Medical Association.

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The three companies singled out in the settlement had apps that had been downloaded several thousand to 1 million times. The companies and apps include:

Cardiio, which produces an app of the same name to measure heart rate. The company’s touchless heart rate monitor had received certification from Happtique as part of a program that was later called into question and dismantled. The company also took part in Rock Health’s accelerator in 2012. The company was formed by MIT researchers but had not been endorsed by the institution.

Runtastic, an Austria-based company that produces an app with the same name to measure heart rate and cardiovascular performance under stress. The AG’s office also took issue with Cardiio and Runtastic for failing to test the app’s accuracy with users who used it in “vigorous exercise,” despite marketing the app for that purpose.

MobiHealthNews noted that Adidas acquired Runtastic in 2015.

Matis, an Israeli company, sells My Baby’s Beat, has claimed that the app could transform any smartphone into a fetal heart monitor. The AG’s office directed the company to post “prominent” disclaimers so that consumers understand that their apps are not approved by the FDA. The AG office also took issue with Matis for failing to be more scientifically rigorous, such as evaluating its own product against a fetal heart monitor or Doppler. For its part, Matis said in a statement posted on its website that the company had never presented its device as a medical tool to measure baby health indicators. But why else would you use it? As an ice-breaker at cocktail parties?

Privacy was also an issue with these apps. Developers have to improve consumer privacy protections to get affirmative consent, according to the settlement. The companies also have to disclose that they collect user data and share it. That’s an important point because this data includes GPS location, unique device identifier, and “deidentified” data that third parties may be able to use to re-identify specific user, the statement said.

Privacy with connected devices and apps underscore a longstanding source of concern from the FTC about how open companies are with customers about how personal health data and other personal information is used.

Photo: Getty Images

Virtual rehab to gain ground in orthopedics as bundled payments take hold

If you believe that digital health and orthopedics seem mutually exclusive, then you are sadly out of step with the times.

At a panel presentation about alternative payment models and bundled care at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons in San Diego on Tuesday, speakers clearly signaled that virtual therapy would be used more and more in the future. Especially now when bundled care programs like the CMS-mandated Comprehensive Care of Joint Replacement (CJR) is in place in 67 metropolitan statistical areas in the U.S.

That should be good news for digital health startups in the field who are eager to prove the clinical validity of their products, as well as help hospitals to lower the overall cost of joint replacement procedures.

Dr. Owen O’Neill, an orthopedic surgeon with Twin Cities Orthopedics, explained how the large ortho group practice with 116 providers implemented a commercial bundle in 2013 and lessons learned from that program, now in its fifth year.

“I can tell you that 97 percent of our bundles actually are financially positive,” O’Neill declared. “Three percent lose so overall financially they are very successful.”

Still, there are challenges. Under the fee-for-service model, physical therapy offered by Twin Cities Orthopedics was a profit center. Now as the group implemented the bundle, they looked at post-acute care as the area in which costs can be cut. And five years into the program, what was a profit center is now a cost center.

“Future directions, on the therapy side we are looking at things like virtual therapy,” O’Neill said.

Later, in response to a question from this reporter, Richard Iorio, an orthopedic surgeon with NYU Langone Medical Center, echoed O’Neill.

“We are actively moving toward online physical therapy programs and our goal is to eliminate physical therapy for hips, only use in knees when we need it …,” said Richard Iorio, a hip and knee surgeon at NYU Langone Medical Center.

Iorio did not mention which companies and online programs NYU uses but mentioned there are several out there.

Here are a few that MedCity has come across:

Reflexion Health
This San Diego-based virtual rehab company uses sensors, Microsoft Kinect, and the Vera avatar to guide joint replacement patients through their physical therapy at home. This daily exercise routine done in front of a TV reduces the need for patients to go to a physical therapist or can keep them moving in between sessions. The patient’s physical therapist is in charge at all times and can choose to bring him or her in at their discretion. The system also provides a technology solution for hospitals eager to lower their costs to treat joint replacement patients.

The Vera system is cleared by the FDA and also is able to facilitate the collection of patient-reported outcomes as is required for reimbursement.

Jintronix
This Montreal, Canada-based company also uses sensors and Kinect similar to Reflexion Health, as well as adopts elements of gaming to provide visual feedback for users to make physical therapy and occupational therapy exercises more interesting for patients. The company’s FDA-cleared platform targets patients recovering from stroke, hip replacement, hip fractures and knee replacement. It also helps track patients with multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s disease.

Force Therapeutics
New York-based Force Therapeutics is a remote monitoring company whose digital health platform provides physical therapy to joint replacement patients. What’s more, patients have access to surgeon videos and instructions, and physicians can track patient progress in between appointments. The goal of Force Therapeutics, as with the above companies is to reduce readmission rates that can increase the cost of the joint replacement episode of care.