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Taking the pulse on telehealth scams
The Justice Department has been cracking down on fraud enabled by telehealth platforms, charging dozens of defendants with conducting schemes involving referrals for unnecessary tests and medical equipment — with losses exceeding $1 billion. Telehealth advocates, including the American Telemedicine Association’s vice president of public policy, say those releases have created an “overblown” sense of telehealth’s risks, and that virtual care isn’t more prone to billing fraud than in-person visits.
The reality is that the scale of telemedicine fraud — and its impact relative to long-standing medical billing fraud — is still poorly understood. “I’ve been in this space and hearing about these issues for years,” said Harvard professor Ateev Mehrotra. “I don’t have numbers, I can’t quantify it.” But even the appearance of risk could end up limiting patient access to telehealth. Read more in Mohana’s latest analysis.
Amwell’s thoughts on Amazon
After Teladoc reported a more than $3 billion loss in the second quarter, telehealth competitor Amwell was always going to come out looking relatively good. But last week, the also-ran’s earnings call reflected the same fundamental business tests faced by Teladoc: Challenged revenue growth in the face of increasing competition for clients that are also increasingly strapped for resources. Amwell still plays second fiddle when it comes to scale, with total quarterly revenues of $64.5 million next to Teladoc’s $592.4 million — increases of 7% and 18%, respectively, compared to the same time period last year.
Competition has been coming from multiple directions, but analysts mostly wanted to know what Amwell makes of Amazon‘s growing health care footprint. CEO Ido Schoenberg isn’t running scared: “We see this movement by Amazon as a very strong accelerant to many of our customers,” he said, “who can use our platform in order to survive and flourish in a marketplace that is becoming incredibly more sophisticated and more competitive to them.”
…and its role in CVS’s digital dreams
Schoenberg didn’t mention CVS Health as one of those customers, but the argument certainly applies to the pharmacy giant. With a foundation of brick-and-mortar access points, CVS has been talking up its virtual and hybrid care ambitions, including a reported plan to bid for home care technology company Signify Health, and a virtual primary care service it announced in May. Schoenberg led off the earnings call by announcing that Amwell’s unified virtual platform Converge will power that “digital front door,” which will serve eligible CVS Caremark and Aetna members in 2023.
VA + AI + CBT FTW
As the health care system struggles with shortages of behavioral health specialists, some hope automation can help. And in at least one case, it does, according to results from a randomized trial of chronic back pain patients in the Veterans Affairs system, published in JAMA Internal Medicine. Previous research from the VA showed automated voice delivery of cognitive behavioral therapy was comparable to in-person CBT. Next, the VA trained an artificial intelligence algorithm to suggest whether a patient would benefit from a 15- or 45-minute personal session or more automated calls. Once again, patients who followed the AI’s recommendations did as well as those who got weekly 45-minute calls — and the approach cut therapist time in half.
Does telemedicine have a burnout problem?
In theory, virtual visits provide an opportunity for clinicians to save time on patient care, with easier appointment-making, check-ins, and self-serve admin duties. But a new analysis in the Journal of Medical Internet Research suggests that overall, telemedicine can be less efficient than in-person care — potentially adding to clinician burnout. Tracking after-work hours for more than 2,000 physicians in the NYU Langone Health System, researchers found that doctors who delivered more virtual care spent more time working in their electronic health records after hours when adjusted for total appointment volume. The imbalance became more marked after the initial acute phase of the pandemic passed and telemedicine became more normalized.
Data deals and early rounds
- Medical technology company Sibel Health raised $33 million in a Series B round led by Steele Foundation for Hope, money that will go toward scaling up the company’s remote patient monitoring sensors and software.
- Device maker Abbott is partnering with WeightWatchers to make data from its FreeStyle glucose monitors available for users of a recently-launched weight plan and app. The partnership will launch in 2023 and focus on users with diabetes, but Abbott is working on a direct-to-consumer line of sensors that could beef up the data sharing.
- Atropos Health, which sells clinical consults based on real-world evidence, raised a $14 million Series A round led by Breyer Capital, with participation from Emerson Collective and Boston Millennia Partners. Co-founder Brigham Hyde, who previously led data and analytics at Eversana, will become CEO.
Getting out of the cloud
- Phoebe Yang, who led Amazon Web Services’ non-profit health care business, announced her upcoming departure on September 1. Her next position is unclear, but Doximity announced Yang’s addition to its board of directors last week.
- New York state’s biggest health care provider, Northwell Health, has a new chief information officer: Sophy Lu, who has worked in IT positions for Northwell since 2010, replaces John Bosco after his nearly two decades in the position.
- Another CIO announcement: Managed care company Magellan Health appointed Tom Britt to the position. The move follows Magellan’s January acquisition by Centene, where Britt was regional vice president of digital technologies.
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