Episode 15 of “The THCB Gang” was live-streamed on Thursday, June 25th!
Joining Matthew Holt were our regulars: health futurist Ian Morrison (@seccurve), writer Kim Bellard (@kimbbellard), WTF Health Host Jessica DaMassa (@jessdamassa), radiologist Saurabh Jha (@RougeRad), policy expert Vince Kuraitis (@VinceKuraitis), and THCB’s Editor-in-Chief, Me (@zoyak1594)! We got into increasing COVID-19 rates, updates in health policy, what is the future of hospitals, and how the new generation is dealing with the health care industry. All while keeping an eye on the politics of the US.
If you’d rather listen, the audio is preserved as a weekly podcast available on our?iTunes?&?Spotify?channels —?Zoya Khan
Until scientists discover a vaccine or treatment for COVID-19, our economy and our privacy will be at the mercy of imperfect technology used to manage the pandemic response.
Contact tracing, symptom capture and immunity assessment are essential tools for pandemic response, which can benefit from appropriate technology. However, the effectiveness of these tools is constrained by the?privacy concerns?inherent in mass surveillance. Lack of trust diminishes voluntary participation. Coerced surveillance can lead to hiding and to the?injection of false information.
But it’s not a zero-sum game. The introduction of local community organizations as trusted intermediaries can improve participation, promote trust, and reduce the privacy impact of health and social surveillance.
Balancing Surveillance with Privacy
Privacy technology can complement surveillance technology when it drives adoption through trust borne of transparency and meaningful choice.
Gastrointestinal diseases like inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) are more prevalent—and costlier—than many employers realize. Up to 70 million Americans are affected by gastrointestinal (GI) diseases each year—twice as many people as those living with diabetes (34.2 million)., Overall direct healthcare costs for GI diseases are estimated to be $136 billion each year in the U.S., more than heart disease ($113bn) and mental health disorders ($99bn) [Figure 1]. However, GI conditions are often overlooked by employers as they consider their benefit offerings, even though a large proportion of their workforce is likely living and struggling with these conditions.
The Rising Direct Cost of GI Conditions
Irritable bowel syndrome, characterized by symptoms like recurring abdominal pain, constipation and diarrhea, affects as many as 15% of people worldwide—though only 5 to 7% of people receive a diagnosis. While this low diagnosis rate limits the value of cost estimates, the direct medical costs of IBS, excluding prescriptions and over-the-counter medicines, have been estimated to be $10 billion (or nearly $14 billion in today’s dollars) in the US. Medication spend is another cost driver as IBS patients receive an average of 3 to 7 medications annually. That’s 2 to 3 more prescriptions than a person without IBS would receive over a year.
Another important financial consideration for IBS is out-of-pocket (OOP) spend incurred by patients on over-the-counter medications, probiotics and functional medicine providers. One survey of about 600 people with IBS found that patients spent an average of $288 (2020 equivalent: $693) during a three-month period on over-the-counter and alternative therapies for IBS symptoms. A 2007 study published in the journal Alimentary Pharmacology and Therapeutics looked at the OOP spend among people with IBS and found that individuals incurred an annual average of $406 OOP costs for the treatment of IBS symptoms.
Sadly conferences have all gone digital, but Jess and I are still here covering deals on Health in 2 Point 00. On Episode 130, DispatchHealth gets $136 million, providing in-home health care by sending a tech to your house, BrightInsight gets $40 million to help biopharma and medtech companies leverage connected devices and develop digital health tools, Cedar raises $102 million for their medical billing software, Big Health raises $39 million for digital mental health tools Sleepio and Daylight, Redox lays off a quarter of their staff, and Plume raises a $2.9 million seed round, providing telehealth for trans individuals.—Matthew Holt
As the U.S. reckons with centuries of structural racism, an important step toward making health care more equitable will require transferring control of health records to patients and patient groups.
The Black Lives Matter movement calls upon us to review racism in all aspects of social policy, from law enforcement to health. Statistics show that Black Americans are at higher risk of dying from COVID-19. The reasons for these disparities are not entirely clear. Every obstacle to data collection makes it that much harder to find a rational solution, thereby increasing the death toll.
In the case of medical research and health records, we need reform that strips control away from hospital chains and corporations. As long as hospital chains and corporations control health records, these entities may put up barriers to hide unethical behavior or injustice. Transferring power and control into the hands of patients and patient groups would enable outside auditing of health practices; a necessary step to uncover whether these databases are fostering structural racism and other kinds of harm. This is the only way to enable transparency, audits, accountability, and ultimately justice.
A recent review in STAT indicates that Black Americans suffer three to six times as much morbidity due to COVID-19. These ratios are staggering, and the search for explanations has not yielded satisfying answers.
With about one month left on the existing 90-day Public Health Emergency that’s eased regulations and improved reimbursement to help make telehealth, remote monitoring, and other virtual care services easier for providers to implement and patients to use, health tech companies across the US are wondering what it will take to make these changes permanent. One of digital health’s few ‘DC Insiders,’ Livongo Health’s VP of Government Affairs, Leslie Krigstein, gets us up-to-speed on what’s happening on Capitol Hill and what we can expect moving forward. What changes will (literally) require an Act of Congress? And what can be handled by HHS and CMS? From codes and co-pays to e-visits and licensing, Leslie breaks it down and tells us whether or not we can continue to expect a ‘health tech-friendly’ agenda in Washington DC.
I knew about TikTok, but not “TikTok Teens.” I was vaguely aware of K-Pop, but I didn’t know its fans had common interests beyond, you know, K-Pop. I’d been tracking Gen X and Millennials but hadn’t really focused on Gen Z. It turns out that these overlapping groups are quite socially aware and are starting to make their influence felt.
I can’t wait for them to pay more attention to health care.
This is the generation that has grown up during/in the wake of 9/11, the War on Terror, the War on Drugs, the 2008 recession, the coronavirus pandemic, and the current recession — not to mention smartphones, social media, online shopping, and streaming. Greta Thunberg is Gen Z, as is Billie Eilish, each of whom is leading their own social movements. This generation has a lot to protest about, and a lot of ways to do it.
They were in the news this past weekend due to, of all things, President Trump’s Tulsa rally. His campaign had boasted about having a million people sign up for the rally, only to find that the arena was less than a third filled. An outdoor rally for the expected overflow crowd was cancelled.
It didn’t take long for the TikTok Teens/K-Pop fans to boast on social media about their covert — to us older folks — campaign to register for the rally as a way to gum up the campaign efforts. Steve Schmidt, an anti-Trump Republican strategist, tweeted: “The teens of America have struck a savage blow against @realDonaldTrump.”
Telehealth has been a lifeline for many doctors and patients during the pandemic, and the decisions of CMS and many private payers to cover telehealth visits—in some cases, at full parity with in-person visits–has helped physician practices stave off bankruptcy. Assuming that these policies remain in effect after the pandemic, I agree with the commentators who assert that telemedicine will become a much larger part of healthcare.
Nevertheless, what that means is still far from clear. To begin with, telehealth visits may be adequate for some purposes but not for others. Historically, the technology has been used mostly for diagnosing and treating minor acute problems. Physicians were generally reluctant to take on more complex cases or treat chronic conditions without seeing patients in person.
Pre-pandemic, most telehealth encounters took place between patients and doctors who had never treated them before, using services such as Teladoc, American Well and Doctor on Demand that usually didn’t communicate with the patients’ personal doctors. Some larger physician groups had begun to use the technology with their own patients; but even in those groups, certain doctors were often assigned to conduct virtual visits with patients who were not necessarily their own.
Clearly, the latter barrier has been broken down, with nearly half of U.S. physicians in an April survey saying they were using telemedicine in patient care. While it’s unclear what kinds of cases these doctors are diagnosing and treating, it’s likely that the scope of practice for telehealth has been expanded to include some chronic disease care.
The main barrier to this expansion is that, in telehealth encounters, physicians don’t necessarily have the data they need to make sound medical decisions. To manage hypertension, for instance, the physician needs to be able to measure a patient’s blood pressure. If the patient has a digital blood pressure cuff at home, that data can be transmitted to a physician’s office; in fact, a smartphone app could show the trend of the patient’s hypertension over time. Right now, however, only a small fraction of patients have this kind of remote monitoring equipment.
By PRANAV PURI, PUNEET KAUR, and MARCUS WIGGINS, MBA
As current medical students, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic represents the most significant healthcare crisis of our lifetimes. COVID-19 has upended nearly every element of healthcare in the United States, including medical education. The pandemic has exposed shortcomings in healthcare delivery ranging from the care of nursing home residents to the lack of interoperable health data. However, the pandemic has also exposed shortcomings in the residency match process.
Consider the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) Step 1. A 2018 survey of residency program directors cited USMLE Step 1 scores as the most important factor in selecting candidates to interview. Moreover, program directors frequently apply numerical Step 1 score cutoffs to screen applicants for interviews. As such, there are marked variations in mean Step 1 scores across clinical specialties. For example, in 2018, US medical graduates who matched into neurosurgery had a mean Step 1 scores of 245, while those matching into neurology had a mean Step 1 score of 231.
One would assume that, at a minimum, Step 1 scores are a standardized, objective measure to statistically distinguish applicants. Unfortunately, this does not hold true. In its score interpretation guidelines, the National Board of Medical Examiners (NBME) provides Step 1’s standard error of difference (SED) as an index to determine whether the difference between two scores is statistically meaningful.? The NBME reports a SED of 8 for Step 1. Assuming Step 1 scores are normally distributed, the 95% confidence interval of a Step 1 score can thus be estimated as the score plus or minus 1.96 times the standard error (Figure 1). For example, consider Student A who is interested in pursuing neurosurgery and scores 231. The 95% confidence interval of this score would span from 215 to 247. Now consider Student B who is also interested in neurosurgery and scores 245. The 95% interval of this score would span from 229 to 261. The confidence intervals of these two scores clearly overlap, and therefore, there is no statistically significant difference between Student A and Student B’s exam performance. If these exam scores represented the results of a clinical trial, we would describe the results as null and dismiss the difference in scores as mere chance.
Omada Health put to use part of their recent $57M funding round to acquire Physera, a musculoskeletal care company that uses telehealth and digital interventions to deliver ‘virtual physical therapy’ to those suffering from back, knee, and neck pain. How does the acquisition fit into Omada’s growth strategy? WTF Health’s Jessica DaMassa chats with both Omada Health’s CEO, Sean Duffy, and Dan Rubinstein, CEO of Physera, about the acquisition, the IPO buzz that continues to swirl around Omada, and whether or not the opportunity that COVID-19 has created for digital care will be lasting as we move forward.