Amazon launches new prescribing venture, Google tests search in health care, & Maven’s $90M round

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Amazon takes another stab at telehealth

Just three months after revealing that it would be shuttering its telehealth venture Amazon Care, Amazon is announcing another foray into digital health: Amazon Clinic. The model reads a lot like existing direct-to-consumer telehealth storefronts like Hims and Ro, allowing patients to message with a third-party teleprovider about 20 health conditions — including common DTC targets like acne, allergies, and hair loss — and potentially receive prescriptions, which can be fulfilled through Amazon Pharmacy or another pharmacy. The company said the service would launch in 32 states to start, and won’t be accepting insurance for visits, my colleague Katie Palmer tells us.


Maven scores $90 million in a funding drought

The closely watched womens’ and family health tech startup Maven Clinic raised a $90 million Series E this week in a round led by General Catalyst — a bid to protect maternal health in a post-Roe world, our Jayne Williamson-Lee writes. The round, which brings its total funding to $300 million and tips its valuation to $1.35 billion, is notable also because health tech funding overall has slowed as employers mull scaling back investments in virtual care amid economic uncertainty. But  “regardless of what’s happening in the financial markets, the state of the maternal health crisis in the U.S. is more acute than ever,” GC’s Holly Maloney said. Read more.


Speaking of General Catalyst…

…The firm announced plans to add 10 new health systems to its network of strategic partners, including Banner HealthCincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, and Hackensack Meridian Health. These collaborations could encourage health systems to “work with startups, scale existing products, and even collaborate on new technologies,” the firm said. As my colleague Mario Aguilar points out, the announcement echoes Andreessen Horowitz’s recent partnership with Basset Health Network. It’ll be interesting to watch how venture firms use these partnerships to speed the development of their portfolio companies — and to attract the very best companies and partners to its stable.

Overheard at HLTH

Mario here, interrupting Mohana’s regularly scheduled newsletter with a few choice bits from my conversations at the HLTH conference in Las Vegas so far. More to come later in the week.

  • “It’s about depth”7wireVentures partner Alyssa Jaffee told me while reflecting on the recent partnerships announced between venture firms and health system partners, like those named above. She noted that though such relationships aren’t always announced in press releases, it’s a big part of what good VCs — like 7wire, naturally — do. But she went on to say that it’s important that such support goes deeper than just email intros, and that investors have the strength of connections to close a deal. (When I met Jaffee, she was just wrapping up a conversation with CVS Health…)
  • “It’s too thin”Firefly Heath CEO Fay Rotenberg told me why health care navigation companies fall short of delivering care and cost savings. Firefly — which recently expanded from a virtual primary care offering sold to employers to a full-on health plan, complete with a navigation service — said that it won’t work without a primary care layer that creates trust and consistent communication. “If someone is motivated enough to seek out a navigator, It means that they’re already in trouble,” she said. And while she thought the health plan offering would be most interesting to small employers, she said major employers have taken interest, with more to be announced soon.
  • “Because they are regional and smaller, they are more attuned to the needs of their members”Freespira’s new CEO Joe Perekupka explained why small regional health plans are a key short-term growth opportunity. Freespira, which makes an FDA-cleared medical device and software combination to help people manage PTSD, recently earned its way into a pilot with Point32Health. Freespira gets lumped in with digital therapeutics companies facing reimbursement hurdles, and Perekupka said it’s likely to stay that way until CMS starts recognizing the products. That said, Freespira’s had some luck: Though much has been made of the recent Highmark Health decision to cover FDA-cleared prescription digital therapeutics, Freespira has had a good relationship with the payer for years.
  • “Our goal for 2023 is to really penetrate California, Arizona, and Texas and really learn there, and scale nationally”: Equip Health CEO Kristina Saffran told me about the company’s plans to expand its Medicaid relationships. Equip, which provides virtual family-based treatment for people with eating disorders, has built commercial payer deals across the country and is now just starting to wade into Medicaid. But it faces challenges, including the misconception that eating disorders don’t impact lower income people.

How a federal rule could inhibit online prescribing

Health tech companies taking advantage of pandemic-era flexibilities allowing online prescribing for controlled substances without in-person exams might soon get a reality check if regulators reinstate a decades-old ban on the practice. The public health emergency allowed some of these young companies — like Cerebral and Mindbloom— to reach more patients across the country.  But it’s not clear how long the public health emergency declaration will last, and companies tell me and Katie Palmer that they’re scrambling to prepare in case the ban is reinstated or dismantled.

The regulatory uncertainty isn’t ideal for their business, nor for patients, they say. Some are thinking of building in-person clinics or flying doctors into certain states to conduct in-person exams for virtual prescriptions.

“It’s a ton of operational stress on us to be constantly preparing for the substantial adjustments we’d need to make,” Emily Behar, who leads clinical operations at Ophelia, which offers online medication-assisted treatment for opioid use disorder, told me. She said the company can make changes, but “really the biggest burden is on the patient” — especially if they now have to travel or wait to schedule appointments before receiving needed medication.

If you need a regulatory refresh, these companies are talking about a 2008 law called the Ryan Haight Act, named after an 18-year old who overdosed after getting an online prescription for Vicodin without an in-person visit. Read our story here.

A look inside Google’s search pilots

The tech giant has long framed its search technology as a potential boon to the health care industry. And now it’s testing that assertion with a pair of pilots at health systems far afield from its Mountain View campus. A tiny Wisconsin hospital and a health system in Alabama are among the first to try integrating Google’s Care Studio search tool into their health records systems, which both rely on Meditech software. The goal, my colleague Casey Ross writes, is to make it easier for caregivers to collate patient information stored across disparate systems and formats. Read more.

What we’re reading

  • Uganda plans to 3D print human tissue in space, Quartz
  • Amazon plans to lay off thousands of employees, The New York Times
Source: STAT