Telehealth companies that provide abortion pills grapple with regulatory uncertainty 

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Telehealth providers stay nimble amid regulatory uncertainty 

A handful of online abortion medication providers told me they were anxiously awaiting the Supreme Court’s ruling on mifepristone last week — a decision that risks dramatically altering their operations by limiting the types of medication they could dispense via mail. Mifepristone is often used in combination with misopristol to end a pregnancy, though misopristol can also be used on its own.


While the nation’s highest court maintained access to mifepristone in the short term by putting a hold on a Texas district court decision that would remove the drug from the market, telehealth abortion providers like Wisp and Hey Jane say they’re ready to adapt. As my colleague Sarah Owermohle reports, the case is headed to an appeals court which will address the case in the next few weeks.

In the event of a limit, Wisp said it was prepared to transition to a misopristol-only protocol — a change that could take the Bay Area company a few weeks.


Kiki Freedman, head of Hey Jane, which has continued to offer mifepristone, said her team was encouraged by the Supreme Court decision. “Access to medication abortion should never have been jeopardized in the first place, but we know these baseless attacks are far from over,” Freedman said.

How cyber threats could impact surgeries

Late last week, STAT’s Lizzy Lawrence was at the CyberMed Summit, where FDA tech leaders, cybersecurity experts, and cyber safety advocates mingled wearing name badges printed on floppy disks.

By far the most illustrative part of the event, Lizzy reports, was the live clinical simulation, where the audience watched over Zoom as a George Washington University emergency medicine resident attempted to treat patients in the midst of a fake cybersecurity attack. He had to figure  out how best to treat a stroke patient without a working CT scanner, and take care of a patient in cardiac arrest without a catheter lab. Without the CT scan, for example, he had to guess based on patient behavior whether the stroke resulted from a clogged blood vessel or a brain bleed. Blood thinners would treat the clogged vessel, but fatally worsen the bleed.

Another highlight: a panel on how medical device regulation fits into the country’s security strategy. The FDA’s Suzanne Schwartz discussed FDA’s plan with its new cybersecurity authorities enshrined in the omnibus, and the agency’s Jessica Wilkerson cautioned that securing legacy devices is a complex, ongoing issue.

Bad news for Oracle: VA’s health record overhaul on pause

The federal government’s multi-year, multi-billion dollar health records software boondoggle has hit yet another snag: The Veterans Affairs Department said last week it was halting deployments of health record technology provided by Oracle — which recently acquired bid winner Cerner — to focus on improving its function at handful of sites that currently use the software.

VA officials struck a conciliatory tone in a department press release. Veterans and clinicians said the EHR software “is not meeting expectations – and we’re holding Oracle Cerner and ourselves accountable to get this right,” VA Secretary Denis McDonough said.

“For the past few years, we’ve tried to fix this plane while flying it – and that hasn’t delivered the results that veterans or our staff deserve,” the VA’s Neil Evans said.

AI industry tidbits

A slew of tech heavyweights — and one disgraced pharma exec — made major AI announcements this week:

  • Google parent company Alphabet is combining two disparate AI research teams to better focus their work, Google and Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai said in a blog post last week. The new Google DeepMind team merges Google Research’s “Brain” team with DeepMind, the AI property Google acquired in 2014. Demis Hassabis, who co-founded DeepMind, will lead the combined team. Jeff Dean, a senior Vice President of Google Research and Health, according to LinkedIn, will take over as chief scientist to both Google Research and Google DeepMind.
  • Martin Shkreli — the former pharmaceutical executive who served a seven-year prison sentence for securities fraud — revealed he’d been working on a virtual health care assistant known as DrGupta.Ai. In a blog post announcing the service, Shrkreli blamed health care costs on an “artificially constrained supply of healthcare professionals,” and argued that large language models like GPT-4 could soon help offer medical advice comparable to specialists’. (I welcome your thoughts on DrGupta.Ai and its premise.)
  • The implosion and sale of  IBM’s Watson AI assets doesn’t seem to have deterred Moderna, which is now partnering with IBM to explore quantum computing and artificial intelligence for mRNA research. Quantum computing and AI could help scientists “understand how molecules behave and may facilitate creating entirely new ones,” IBM’s Dario Gil said in a release.

Earnings to watch

We’ll get a little insight into public health tech companies’ performance this year as they share earnings for 2023’s first quarter over the next few weeks. I’ll be paying special attention to Teladoc’s — slated for Wednesday — as the company wades into weight loss drugs and doubles down on its behavioral health service, BetterHelp. (If you’ll also be tuning in, let me know what you’re watching out for.) Talkspace and Hims & Hers announce their earnings next week and the following.

Philips — the health tech company embroiled in a recall of its CPAP machines — already reported a net loss of about $733 million. It’s also seen some decline in its connected care business — especially in sleep and respiratory care — though its diagnosis and treatment sales, which include imaging and ultrasound services, offset those losses, the company said.

What we’re reading

  •  Dying patients protest telehealth crackdown, Associated Press
  • Oura is partnering with BestBuy to get its ring into more stores, TechCrunch
  • Apple is planning to expand its journaling app as part of its health initiatives, Wall Street Journal
Source: STAT