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STAT Health Tech

This week, be sure to catch the new crop of devices that got the FDA’s breakthrough designation in STAT’s Breakthrough Device Tracker, and catch Casey’s virtual event on Wednesday at 1 p.m. ET, where leading clinical AI researchers discuss how to make sure the technology lives up to its potential. 

Was Teladoc a flash in the pan(demic)? 

Teladoc reported a big net loss in the second quarter and slower revenue growth — not exactly a confidence builder amid broader weakness in the economy. The questions it’s facing are the same ones bearing down on scores of other digital health companies: Are these services really valuable to consumers and employers? Do they result in better, more convenient care at a lower cost? The lack of clarity on those points, combined with sluggish demand, points to a tough second half for the company, which has begun bracing investors for disappointing full-year results. BTIG analysts asserted that Teladoc offers an unusually comprehensive set of services, from primary care to mental health and chronic disease management. “But we also believe that a slew of other companies may have products that are perceived to be as effective, or perhaps even more effective, than TDOC,” they wrote. Mohana has the full story.   

Meta and hospitals face lawsuit over tracking tool

A new lawsuit filed in the Northern District of California accuses Facebook’s parent company Meta and two major health systems of violating the federal health law known as HIPAA by collecting sensitive information about patients on the hospitals’ web sites. The lawsuits follow an investigation co-published by the Markup and STAT that found a piece of code embedded in hospital web sites was collecting data on patients — including details about their medical conditions and prescriptions — and reporting it to Facebook for ad targeting.  The medical system of the University of California San Francisco and Dignity Health, also based in San Francisco, were named as defendants. The suit follows another complaint filed in the same court in June by an anonymous patient of Baltimore’s Medstar Health System. That lawsuit alleged Facebook has received patient information from 664 hospital or medical provider web sites.

Will the FTC crack down on Amazon's acquisition? 

Last week, Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) called on the Federal Trade Commission to put Amazon’s planned acquisition of One Medical under a magnifying glass. “This particular acquisition, if allowed to proceed, would represent an alarming new direction for a company that already wields far too much power,” he wrote. “Most importantly, this acquisition would provide Amazon with access to enormous tranches of patient data.” 

In the letter, Hawley refers to many of the arguments FTC chair Lina Khan has made to redefine anti-competitive behavior in the era of big tech goliaths and the data they control: “It doesn’t matter if the primary care market as such is presently competitive: by having its hand in dozens of smaller markets, Amazon positions itself to eventually emerge as the dominant player in each,” he wrote. And Khan appears ready to test those ideas in the real world: Last week, the FTC filed what some call an experimental suit against Meta to block its acquisition of the VR fitness startup Within. If that stake in the ground holds, Amazon may well expect some pushback.

Putting digital health through the wringer 

The Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI) is spending tens of millions of dollars to answer some of the most pressing questions facing digital health consumers and providers. Here’s a quick sampling of the tech-focused studies included in the organization’s new $258 million funding announcement:

  • A comparison of outcomes for chronic heart disease patients who receive rehab services via telehealth versus those who receive care in person.

  • An assessment of the effectiveness of text-messaging reminders and financial incentives in treating adults with opioid use disorder following an emergency department visit.
  • An examination of the effectiveness of a patient smartphone app and an online clinician dashboard in treating people with serious mental illness at three community-based providers.

Remote patient monitoring for Medicare spikes

JAMA Internal Medicine

After Medicare expanded coverage for remote patient monitoring in 2019, sensor-based claims increased — but they skyrocketed when the pandemic hit, growing more than six times from pre-pandemic levels. An analysis of billing codes in JAMA Internal Medicine showed that more than 60% of claims came from primary care physicians, mostly for monitoring blood pressure, though trackers for diabetes, sleep, and hyperlipidemia also drove prescriptions. Despite the rapid growth, researchers are unsure whether remote monitoring is improving outcomes. Authors of a paired commentary noted that Medicare has separate codes for data monitoring and management — but that tracking alone may not help. “There should be greater prioritization of how RPM can fit in care delivery models, rather than as a standalone intervention,” they wrote.

A chip on the shoulder 

The newly-passed CHIPS Act aims to bring U.S. semiconductor production to an internationally competitive level — but in the short term, it won’t do much to relieve the chip shortages bottlenecking medical technology manufacturers, said Stephen Ezell, the director for life sciences innovation at the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation. Among other issues, the legislation doesn’t include a provision to prioritize the allocation of chips, leaving medtech companies to continue jockeying for chips at a significant markup in the near future. That’s frustrated industry leaders like ResMed CEO Mick Farrell, who said in a recent interview that one ventilator requires two chips, while a Model 3 Tesla requires “over one thousand.” 

“Do we need one more Model 3 Tesla going zero to 60 in five seconds?” Farrell said. “Or do we need 500 ventilators that can give the gift of breath?”

It was the best of times…

  • Salvo Health, a virtual clinic focused on gut conditions, raised $10.5 million in a seed round led by Threshold Ventures. The company is offering paying subscribers unlimited messaging access to a care team, including a dedicated physician, health coach, and care navigator.
  • While fundraising continues, so do layoffs. Pear Therapeutics shed 25 employees, or 9% of its workforce; wearable-maker Whoop lost 15%; and Included Health, a telehealth provider that resulted from the combination of Grand Rounds and Doctor on Demand, slashed its head count by 6%.  

  • Oura, the maker of a smart ring that tracks and analyzes biometric data, is teaming up with the birth control app Natural Cycles to help users automatically track temperature trends while they sleep. Previously, Natural Cycles could only obtain temperature readings through daily, manual checks by users.

  • Seqster, which collects and analyzes health data, inked a three-year deal with Boehringer Ingelheim to link health records on the drug maker’s customers. The idea is to give Boehringer more detailed, comprehensive data to inform drug development. 

  • Mayo Clinic and Mercy Health unveiled a 10-year deal to share de-identified data on hundreds of millions of patient visits to develop and validate novel AI algorithms. The data will be shared in a “distributed network” that will allow the organizations to see and analyze outcomes without transferring control over patient information.

Job jumps

  • Tech-driven primary care company Aledade has two new execs: Phuong Phillips joins from social gaming company Zynga as chief legal officer, as Doug Streat, former chief of staff to Aledade CEO Farzad Mostashari, moves into a new role as chief operating officer of new subsidiary Aledade Care Solutions. 

  • CVS Health continues to notch executive firsts: After naming its first chief data, digital, and technology officer last month, it has brought on Taft Parsons, former enterprise medical director for behavioral health at Humana, as its first chief psychiatric officer. 

  • Cardiac wearable company iRhythm made two new hires: Brice Bobzien joins from Dexcom as the company’s chief financial officer, and Reyna Fernandez will lead human resources after holding the same role at a slew of medical device companies.

What we’re reading

  • Hospitals, health systems play critical roles in the real-world data movement, STAT First Opinion

  • Data centers are facing a climate crisis, Wired

  • The web is home to an illegal bazaar for abortion pills. The FDA is ill-equipped to stop it, Politico 

  • DeepMind has predicted the structure of almost every protein known to science, MIT Technology Review

Thanks for reading! More Thursday,

@caseymross, @KatieMPalmer, @mariojoze, @ravindranize
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Tuesday, August 2, 2022

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