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Does the quest for high utilizers really help patients?
Health insurers and providers are increasingly using machine learning to flag the subset of patients likely to rack up the most costly hospitalizations, ideally so they can be funneled into preventive care programs and toward social services that can improve their health. But as Mohana reports, there’s no standard predictive method, which means they run the risk of excluding the highest need groups from preventive care. There’s also little agreement about the best way to get these homegrown algorithms into the hospital or payer workflow. In the absence of government or industry oversight, machine learning experts are calling for more oversight in cost prediction.
One example of how the tech is being used: AtUTHealth Harris County Psychiatric Center, algorithms help identify risk factors for readmission, like schizophrenia diagnoses, and clinicians and hospital leadership refer patients who share those characteristics to relevant preventive services. “We’re really looking for malleable factors,” said Jane Hamilton, who led the project at the safety net clinic. “What could we be doing differently?”
Becerra on a gap in info blocking
The Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT — Washington’s health information regulatory agency — kicked off the second half of its annual meeting Wednesday with a commitment from HHS secretary Xavier Becerra to close a policy loophole that keeps providers from facing federal penalties for blocking patients’ access to their own data.
“It should have been done years ago,” Becerra said, referencing the current statute that imposes penalties for health IT developers and vendors engaging in “information blocking,” but leaves it up to the Secretary to define consequences for providers.
The majority of information blocking complaints lodged with ONC have blamed providers. In one case, Becerra said, a patient received a notification that their biopsy results were available, but couldn’t access them immediately because the physician who ordered them was out of town. “That is not the kind of customer experience any of us should expect,” Becerra said. He said closing the enforcement gap will be a top priority for HHS, but didn’t offer a timeline.
Racial and ethnic disparities persist in telehealth
Virtual care advocates have long pitched video- and audio-based medical appointments as a way to reach populations historically underserved in health care, including racial and ethnic groups who face extra hurdles accessing in-person care. But a recent study in the Journal of General Internal Medicine examining patients at a federally qualified health center in Texas found that Black patients were 35% less likely than white patients to use virtual care, and Hispanic patients were 51% less likely. The gaps could be attributed to the digital divide: certain groups are less likely to have the technology or know how to use it, the authors say.
Is it time to panic about funding? (No)
As we roar into the second quarter of the year, prepare to see a lot of alarming charts like the one above, from a fresh State of Digital Health report by CB Insights. By most metrics, things are slowing down compared to 2021, which saw record investment in the space prompted by newfound enthusiasm for the potential of digital health — not to mention the confidence that the economy was headed for a post-pandemic recovery. But remember that the first quarter can be quiet, and that megadeals can skew numbers from one quarter to the next. More importantly, it’s worth considering how much it matters if investors aren’t indiscriminately writing checks to every virtual care concept that crosses their desks. In health care, quality matters.
The Apple Watch rumor mill is churning
Some of Apple’s most ambitious rumored health projects are now rumored to be delayed, according to Bloomberg. An effort to bring blood pressure monitoring has reportedly been pushed back until at least 2024 for launch, and a planned non-invasive blood sugar monitoring doesn’t yet have a projected release date. On the positive side, Bloomberg reports we could soon get new Apple features around women’s health, medication tracking, and improved support for third-party glucose monitoring. The next event to watch: Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference beginning June 6.
New health tech deals
- Virtual diabetes clinic 9am.health raised a $16 million Series A round led by 7wireVentures and Human Capital with participation from StartUp Health, Leaps By Bayer, Define Ventures, and Founders Fund. The company hopes to use the funding to grow its direct to consumer business and expand into the self-insured employer market.
- Iris Telehealth, which provides telepsychiatry services to over 200 hospitals and community health centers, raised a $40 million Series B round led by Concord Health Partners and Columbia Pacific Advisors. It plans to use the funding to further scale up its operations with more staff and expanded product and technology capabilities.
- Home testing startup Base hired Murdoc Khaleghi as Chief Medical Officer. Khaleghi has worked for and advised numerous health technology companies, including Everlywell, where he was on the founding team.
- Labcorp subsidiary and family planning benefits app Ovia Health has appointed Leslie Saltzman as its chief medical officer. She was most recently vice president of medical at TrialSpark, a tech company facilitating clinical trials.
- Wellinks, a digital health company tackling COPD care, appointed Abi Sundaramoorthy as chief medical officer. She previously held positions at University Hospitals Health System in Ohio.
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