Roundup: Digital health provider news in Q3 2017

By Jonah Comstock
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In the third quarter of 2017, we saw a lot of news from hospitals launching new digital health initiatives. Many hospitals and health systems partnered with digital health startups for pilots or full deployments, and a few launched their own offerings developed in house. Large health systems also participated in research activities to validate digital health technologies. Read on for a round-up of Q3 provider news.

Stanford University was involved in two major validation studies this quarter, both in the area of arrhythmia detection. Apple announced that it would work with Stanford to use the sensors built into Apple Watches to observe and analyze arrhythmias. And, earlier in the quarter, Stanford released results from a research study with iRhythm's Zio that showed that an AI algorithm, in a small proof-of-concept trial, could outperform board-certified cardiologists at identifying various types of arrhythmias from ECGs.

A large multisite trial of ResApp's smartphone-based respiratory analysis software, held at Massachusetts General Hospital, Cleveland Clinic, and Texas Children’s Hospital, experienced a major setback this quarter as top line results showed that data anomalies caused the study to fail to meet most of its primary endpoints for either negative or positive results.

California-based Sutter Health, one of the largest health systems in the US, embarked on a number of digital health partnerships this quarter. One partnership was with behavioral health startup Quartet, the latter's first major provider partnership. Normally, Quartet uses claims data to find patients with mental health comorbidities. But working with a health system allows them to wrap EHR data into the mix too. In addition to using data to find patients whose mental health conditions aren’t being addressed, Quartet also uses data to match those patients with the best mental health providers, both face to face and via telemedicine. That includes finding a provider who takes a patient’s insurance.

Sutter made moves to improve the mental health of its physicians as well as its patients. The Palo Alto Medical Foundation (PAMF), a healthcare organization that is part of Sutter Health in California, tapped Meru Health, which has offices in Finland and Palo Alto, to provide a digital program to combat burnout and depression among physicians. 

Two other Sutter deals made headlines in the third quarter: Sutter Physician Services cut a deal with ride-sharing app Lyft to get patients to non-emergency healthcare appointments, and teamed up with predictive analytics company Qventus to try to expedite Sutter’s pharmacy operations and seek cost savings as a result.

Cedars-Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles continued to run its in-house accelerator in addition to a number of other digital health operations. CIO Darren Dworkin told reporters about the health center's strategy of creating a single point-of-contact app for patients in the hospital. 

"For our patients, we’ve gotten a lot more serious about it and we have a strategy we refer to as our virtual services strategy. It’s built on the premise that we as Cedars-Sinai won’t allow anything to disintermediate us and the patient. There will be one flagship app, the Cedars-Sinai app,” he said in July.

That flagship app got a boost in late September with the launch of Apple Watch functionality. Patients with Apple Watches will now be able to find hospital and urgent care locations, get directions to the hospital, and even call a recently-searched doctor, all from the wrist.

As for the accelerator, it kicked off its third class in September, which included companies working on voice assistants, chatbots, and machine learning as well as apps for patients and providers.

The Mayo Clinic was also involved in a couple of developments in the digital health space this quarter. It launched Mayo Clinic First Aid, an Amazon Alexa skill to follow up its existing Mayo Clinic News Network skill. Users may open the voice-driven platform to access and browse a listing of common health topics. Otherwise, vocally addressing Alexa with the name of the skill and a specific question will prompt a spoken response from the device.

The Mayo Clinic also partnered with smartphone-connected ECG maker AliveCor, its second such partnership. The two will work together to develop algorithms to screen for Long QT syndrome, a heart condition that can often cause sudden death, especially in children. The partnership also includes an additional, undisclosed investment in AliveCor from Mayo Clinic.

Several children's hospitals entered into digital health partnerships this quarter and one, Shriner's Hospital for Children, even launched its own in-house app to help parents screen their children for sculiosis. SpineScreen is a free app that detects curves as the cell phone is moved along a child's back, giving parents a quick, informal way to regularly monitor their child's spine.

Connecticut Children's Hospital in Hartford tapped healthcare payment tech company InstaMed to manage its patient payments, integrating InstaMed's technology with the hospital's Epic EHR, and Children’s Hospital of New Orleans deployed Vocera’s hospital communications system, which allows doctors and nurses to communicate via secure texting on Vocera’s HIPAA-compliant mobile app.

Also in the area of children's health, NewYork-Presbyterian added to its lineup of telehealth services with the introduction of Pediatric Urgent Care. And Nemours Health System in Texas conducted a study of 120 pediatric sports medicine patients, which showed that telemedicine saved patients an average of $50 in travel costs and 51 minutes in waiting and visit time, saving a health system $24 per patient. Nemours also offered free telehealth visits during Hurricane Irma.

In Boston, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center made a deal to work with digital health startup The Right Place to help connect its post-discharge patients to the best skilled nursing facilities for them and Massachusetts General Hospital launched a pilot study of Heart Habits, a cardiac care management app from Jana Care.

Government-related provider news

The US Department of Veterans Affairs made some digital advancements this quarter. In July, The VA Midwest Health Care Network signed a collaborative agreement with the Air Force Medical Operations Agency, to provide five military treatment facilities with access to the VA’s Tele-ICU capabilities. Then in August, President Trump and VA Secretary Dr. David Shulkin introduced a new appointment booking app, part of a plan to build out telehealth tools and services for veterans, and announced forthcoming rules that would make virtual care more accessible.

Across the pond, the UK National Health Service had a busy quarter. UK-based digital remote care company Inhealthcare, which already offers several services with NHS trusts, launched a new toolkit for developing digital health interventions and getting them into the NHS system. Inhealthcare also deployed a cardiovascular self-test that that can remotely transfer results via a Bluetooth mobile app, secure web portal, or automated telephone call. The service is available to as many as 200 patients with atrial fibrillation living in North Manchester, England, and is being delivered by staff of the Pennine Acute Hospitals NHS Trust.

Additionally, London-based Drayson Technologies, a healthcare IoT company, the University of Oxford, and Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust signed a five-year, strategic research agreement to develop digital health products based on research from Oxford Biomedical Research Center and funded by the National Institute for Health Research. 

Also during the quarter Now Healthcare Group became the first telehealth GP service provider in the UK to be declared safe by the UK's Care Quality Commission, meeting all regulations put forth by the commission's new digital health reporting guidelines.

Finally, New York-based health giant Northwell Health teamed up with the Israel Innovation Authority to develop and implement a number of medical innovations it says will improve patient care. The joint agreement was brokered in part by Northwell Ventures and the Government of Israel Economic Mission, which promotes collaboration between Israeli and American companies in a variety of sectors.