Aetna's new app, telehealth debate, and more news and views from CHC 2018

By | October 20, 2018

Connected Health Conference has drawn to a close, and there was no shortage of launches, deals and insights from healthcare and technology companies big and small. As such, MobiHealthNews has compiled a collection of odds and ends we heard during this year’s three-day show.

Aetna’s mobile strategy learns from its past

Aetna looked to be ahead of the game when it acquired Healthagen, maker of the iTriage app, back in 2011. However, the following years saw the insurance company’s mobile and digital initiatives flounder (see the 2014 collapse of CarePass), and just this year Aetna quietly shuttered iTriage itself in preparation of an Aetna Health flagship mobile app.

Speaking on stage during a one-on-one interview with Dr. Joseph C. Kvedar, VP of connected health at Partners HealthCare, Dr. Harold L. Paz, EVP and chief medical officer for Aetna, said that the payer’s early acquisition wasn’t entirely for nought. Rather, bringing on Healthagen’s talent and trying different strategies led to the company’s latest digital strategy: a single, patient-facing app that takes a long-term approach to healthcare navigation and provision. 

“It’s important to remember that 75 percent of our members overall are healthy, and their needs are different than the other 25 percent of our membership that have very different health needs,” Paz said on stage. “We need to make sure that if we have this app it’s going to be a longitudinal view for the individual, so that they say ‘Aetna’s the kind of company that’s there when I need them.’ Therefore, it doesn’t make a difference if today I’m in commercial, next day I’m in a Medicaid plan, when I turn 65 I’m in Medicare Advantage. Aetna’s a company that takes a longitudinal view and wants to partner with me on my journey to ultimately improve my health and health status. That’s really the approach we’re taking with the technology as well.” 

Paz also noted that it took the payer time to become acquainted with the culture of tech, and since 2011 has become much more appreciative of the differences between the two industries — as well as those who work in them. 

“When you acquire a technology company, it’s often a different culture than back at the main office,” he said. “You have to work through those differences and … celebrate those differences and make sure that you strive to achieve some degree of freedom so that the smart people doing that work can continue to do that work as well. I spent my entire life in academic medicine, and I, frankly, hadn’t been to a place where there were skateboards in the hallways and a keg of beer in the afternoon. But it is important to celebrate that.”


Don’t leave out the caregivers

At Thursday’s caregiver-focused panel, speakers discussed the importance of bringing this often ignored population into the fold of digital health. 

“We are in the midst of a digital health revolution. There are digital health solutions for patients that are being deployed at a dizzying pace,” Naomi Fried, founder and CEO of Health Innovation Strategies, said at the panel. “There are health solutions to help doctors and nurses be more effective and efficient. But what about the caregiver? Beyond the doctors and nurses who are the front line of care, we have family, friends, volunteers who help support patients day in and day out. Often in the background and very frequently without any recognition or compensation.”

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Some of the technologies on the market place help loop in not only care teams, but friends and neighbors at the peripheries of care. For example, FirecrackerHealth, is a platform that lets different parties see specific elements of care. For example, a friend may be able to see condition updates, and a spouse may be able to look at  the financial element. 

Others are working on platforms that help give caregivers insight into the patient experience. 

“One of the things I really struggled with was what my mom was going through and her own perspective of what Alzheimer’s looked like through her eyes,” Carrie Shaw, CEO and founder of Embodied Labs, which uses VR for caregiver education. “Eventually we found out what VR was. It was right before some of the first consumer products came into the market. When I put on that headset I saw that this could be a way that we could create a world and stories that we can live in through the eyes and bodies of others.”

Pro-telemedicine wins debate, but opposition raises good questions

In a spirited debate at CHC, Dr. Greg Watson, the current president of the American Telemedicine Association and a surgeon and vice president at UPMC, and Ateev Mehrotra,  an associate professor of health care policy and medicine at Harvard Medical School and a hospitalist at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, went back and forth on the cost and savings benefits of telehealth. While Dr. Watson was declared the winner, Mehrotra made an interesting point about telehealth’s cost effectiveness. In at least two big ways, Mehrotra suggested, telemedicine advocates want to have their cake and eat it too.

“The first question is how much of it is new utilization versus replacement of an in-person visit, he said. “Because if you’re replacing in-person visits, you’re saving money. What does the research say? Most of it is new utilization. Which is not surprising because telehealth advocates have been saying for years that it’s going to increase access, which means new utilization.”

“What is the other way that telemedicine can save money?” he continued. “Well, if it’s a lot cheaper than an in-person visit we’re going to save some money. The problem there is that’s the exact opposite of what the telemedicine community has been advocating for: telemedicine parity laws. Which means it’s not cheaper, it’s the exact same price.”

Northwell bets big on patient-facing chatbot

Following a successful pilot, Northwell Health has now rolled out a full implementation of Conversa’s Conversational AI platform, the latter company announced at CHC. The service, launched as Northwell Health Chats, is currently in use or will be implemented across a number of different use cases at the system, including behavioral health discharge, rheumatology, dermatology, OB/GYN, head and neck oncology, general surgery, colonoscopy and others. 

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“Northwell Health Chats … come out to the patient automatically as a text message or an email — usually it’s text message — and then simply click on the text to start chatting. It brings up a secure browser window. There’s no app download and there’s no login,” Dr. Phil Marshall, cofounder and chief product officer at Conversa, said during a press event. “For Medicare beneficiaries, we’d get over 50 percent of them to participate in the chats, another 20 percent or so participate via their caregiver. For oncology patients, patients diagnosed with cancer, we’re over 80 percent participation. … With every single chat we asked the patient ‘Was today’s chat helpful?’ We average 97 percent of them saying it was.”

Digital health benefits from philanthropy, community

Philanthropy and community partners have been a substantial source of support for digital health tools ready to pilot, according to Children’s Hospital Los Angeles’ Chief Innovation Officer Omkar Kulkarni. Speaking during a panel of hospital innovation leaders, he noted that the interests of these groups often align with the focused goals of many up-and-coming digital tools, meaning that their capital can often finance new tools seeking hospital implementation.

“Over 75 percent of our patients are Medicaid, so for us in order to be able to scale anything we need to find partners, philanthropy and other community partners, … to help us scale and sustain these solutions,” Kulkarni said during the session. “But the beauty is a lot of the philanthropy is kind of purpose-driven and mission-driven. It’s not just money for the sake of giving money — a lot of the folks we’re working with are interested in these solutions, and so there’s a great opportunity for innovation and digital health, specifically, to solve problems that donors are looking to solve in ways that otherwise couldn’t be solved. There’s a really great alignment between the two, and [hospitals] right in the middle of that.” 

How to pitch a healthcare startup, from Merck and HP

It can be tough launching a startup without any clout, and doubly so without any networking connections in the industry. During a panel addressing an audience of health technology startup hopefuls, speakers told attendees that the best way to make a cold call count is to clearly communicate value and, importantly, ensure that the product being pitched is a good fit for an organization. 

“LinkedIn and Twitter are your friends. Do your research, do your homework, find people in the company [and] see what they’re reading, what they’re retweeting, what they’re reposting,” Anna Kravets, director of business consulting worldwide at Merck, said during the panel. “Do your homework so when you reach out to people, [you] make sure that your message is relevant.”

“That’s a great point, and in fact what came top of mind for me,” Fran Ayalasomayajula, global head of population health at HP, and the panel’s moderator, said. “And even if we look and you’re not a great fit for our company, we might introduce you to someone else at another company for whom you may be a right fit.”  

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PatientWisdom wins Standout! competition

CHC was host to the Health Tech Standout! Competition, in which nine startups among 82 applicants presented five-minute pitches and answered judge’s questions in front of an audience of conference attendees. The victor was chosen by audience vote for two categories: the most patient-centric startup, and audience favorite startup.

The winner of the first category was PatientWisdom, a tool that allows patients to upload a profile containing their preferences, interests, difficulties, and other information that is integrated into the EHR with the goal of improving patient-physician connections. The audience favorite category was a two-way tie between PatientWisdom and patientMpower, maker of patient-focused digital tools and connected platforms for pulmonary health, among other areas.

Partners’ brand new app

Partners Connected Health has launched a mobile app for patients that allows users to share personal health data collected through 250 different health and fitness devices, including some without their own connected apps or Bluetooth connectivity, the system announced at CHC. The PGHDConnect mobile app, which also connects with Apple HealthKit and Samsung Health, is HIPAA compliant and will be available as a free App Store and Google Play download starting next month. 

“Our PGHDConnect program is designed to make healthcare more proactive, population-based and patient-centered, by allowing patients to easily and securely share personal health data with their care team using their own consumer health devices,” Kvedar said in a statement. “Launching this new mobile app is a major step forward in our efforts to engage patients outside the clinical setting, improve care coordination, enhance patient engagement and foster collaboration between patients and providers.”  

Seniorlink posts strong pilot results

Home care technology company Seniorlink touted the results of a recent pilot involving dementia patients using the company’s Vela platform, which enables secure messaging and data sharing between care teams and patients or caretakers. When comparing the six months prior to implementation to six months of implementation, the company saw a 51 percent decline in emergency department visits, 18 percent decrease in hospitalizations, a 20 percent drop in caregiver burden and 13 percent increase in caregiver confidence, according to Seniorlink.

“We believe these results really confirm the strong relationship between reducing caregiver burden and increasing activation with improving clinical outcomes,” Jay V. Patel, clinical transformation officer at Seniorlink, said at CHC. “Our pilot shows that ability to connect asynchronously and provide coaching through Vela can be an effective way to build a relationship with caregivers, as well as keeping care teams more closely connected.” 

Brigham and Women’s taps Orbita for high-value deal

Voice tech company Orbita and Brigham and Women’s Hospital’s Digital Innovation Hub have announced a new partnership that will explore “very specific, high-value use cases” for voice and chatbot capabilities enabled through the cloud-based Orbita Voice platform. 

“[The Digital Innovation Hub] bring a deep understanding of the security implementations of these kinds of solutions, so we couldn’t be happier with the partnership relationship,” Nathan Treloar, president and cofounder of Orbita, said during a press event this morning.