Health Tech News This Week – September 11, 2021

What happened in health care technology this week – and why it’s important.

Image Credit:

Amazon has ambitious plans to bring in-person medical care to 20 more US cities.

To quote Mark Twain: “The reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.” Despite the many articles over the last month that reported that Amazon was shutting down many of their health care initiatives, Blake Dodge posted an exclusive article in Business Insider on Amazon’s plans to expand both their telehealth and in-person programs to 20 more cities by the end of 2022.

The company is looking to bring the full package, both
telehealth and in-person care, to Philadelphia, Chicago, Dallas, and Boston in 2021. In 2022, it’s proposing to bring in-person Amazon Care to 16 more cities, bringing the total number of new additions to 20: Atlanta; Denver; Detroit; Houston; Indianapolis; Kansas City, Missouri; Los Angeles; Miami; Minneapolis; Nashville, Tennessee; New York; Phoenix; Pittsburgh; San Francisco; San Jose, California; and St. Louis.

Why it’s important – About 40,000 people were enrolled in Amazon Care as of earlier this summer, though that’s heavily weighted to Amazon employees. But, Amazon is also pitching the program to insurers, health plans, and employers. That would open the service up to insured people, who could use Amazon Care as they would any other in-network healthcare provider.

10 Issues Every Healthcare Leader Should Be Thinking About.

Martin McGahan, Managing Director and co-Head of Alvarez & Marsal’s Healthcare Industry Group, published an article in MedCity News where he presented ten issues that health care leaders should be thinking about now to prepare their organizations for the post-pandemic environment. Here’s his list:

  • Staffing
  • Balancing public health needs with cost-effective care delivery
  • The evolution of care delivery – what changes are here to stay?
  • IT Transformation
  • Balance sheet structure for the post-COVID world
  • The post-COVID compliance reckoning
  • Am I a hunter or am I prey?
  • Re-evaluating your pre-pandemic strategic priorities and determining where they fit in a post-pandemic world
  • Insurance, Payers and Reimbursement
  • Develop new metrics for your organization

Why it’s important – The challenges and changes to the healthcare industry will continue long after Covid-19 disappears. While I agree with Mr. McGahan’s list of critical issues to consider, I would add two additional items: addressing new patient expectations, and embracing the cultural transformation created by digital health. It’s clear to me that the changes in care delivery developed to deal with the pandemic have transformed patient expectations about where, when, and how they want to receive care. For an detailed summary of these expectations, check out this article from Philips Healthcare. Returning to the old pre-pandemic routines isn’t an option. And organizations who choose that route will experience a significant out-migration of patients to health systems who meet their new expectations. That leads to the topic of digital health and its associated cultural changes. Organizations who return to the old “hospital/office care as the center of care delivery” model are in for a big shock. Patients and their families will vote with their feet if their regular provider doesn’t offer a multi-channel, “anytime anywhere” solution for them.

Virtual reality technology is about to improve aging in a big way, especially for isolated seniors.

Image Credit:

Immersive experiences going deeper and helping tackle isolation and cognitive decline, two of the biggest issues as we age Janet Siroto reports in an article on Another way VR can uplift aging is by connecting people who can’t be together IRL (in real life). Some VR companies are piloting programs in which an elder and a family member in different places each get a headset and go virtual adventuring together. Think of this as the new “family reunion.” Beyond creating new, shared memories, VR can also channel those we already have stashed in our memory banks. Virtual reality is playing a more prominent role in reminiscence therapy.

“We wanted to offer residents a new avenue for experiencing things and reminiscing in a positive way. We schedule a dozen or so group sessions a week, and the immersive experience is very powerful.”

Julie Bauman, Executive Director , Ohio Living Breckenridge Village

Why it’s important – One report found that nearly 1 in 4 adults aged 65 and older are considered to be socially isolated, which significantly increases a person’s risk of premature death from all causes and is also linked to a 50% higher risk of dementia. The research on VR in this realm is quite promising. A 2020 study found that digital reminiscence therapy (uploading and sharing materials that will trigger personal memories) improved the mood of people with dementia and provided more social-interaction opportunities. And U.K. research showed that VR experiences helped reduce aggression and improve interactions among this population. MIT research showed that assisted-living residents who engaged in VR versus showed fewer indicators of depression and social isolation and enjoyed better moods than ones who watched television. For a more detailed look at VR, AR, and XR in health care, check out my previous post here.

Inside Verily’s make-or-break push to turn its most promising ideas into profits.

Erin Brodwin and Casey Ross continue their reporting on big tech in health care with an article in STAT+ (subscription required) on Verily’s efforts to drive business value in their product development. Brodwin and Ross describe this as a make-or-break moment for the company, following David Feinberg’s departure from Google Health and the dismantling of the division to spread projects to different divisions.

In recent months, the company has assembled an all-star team of executives to bring its software and data tools to the market. They include Amy Abernethy, formerly a top data and informatics leader at the Food and Drug Administration, and Stephen Gillett, previously an executive at Best Buy and Starbucks, who is now Verily’s chief operating officer. Since its founding seven years ago, the company has functioned essentially as a think tank with an array of disparate initiatives. Now, its new C-suite will be put to the test as it tries to turn Verily into a sustainable business capable of delivering on its core promises.

Why it’s important – I think too many health care leaders have viewed the recent news that several big tech and other commercial competitors were either scaling back or discontinuing their health care efforts as proof that they are safe because “health care is too hard.” I think that’s misguided. Big Tech is not exiting health care; they are simply changing their approach. I love this blog post from Aaron Martin, Executive Vice President and Chief Digital Information Officer at Providence Health. As a former Amazon executive, he has unique insight into how they operate and how they approach growth opportunities like health care.

“Remember, health tech companies (big and small) have several disruptive advantages compared to health systems. They are digital first; have fewer financing constraints; have lower fixed cost and capital infrastructure; they target only our profitable services; have (sometimes) massive audiences; and they have a focused value proposition and brand. Furthermore, they are getting traction.”

Aaron Martin is the Executive Vice President and Chief Digital and Innovation Officer for Providence

Parkinson’s disease has no approved treatment. Scientists want to use lab grown mini-brains to change that.

Upwards of 10 million people globally and nearly 1 million in the United States live with Parkinson’s disease, which has no approved treatments. The only option for patients is drugs that can keep the degenerative condition in check rather than tackle its root causes. Sy Mukherjee authored an article in Fortune this week that reports on a study first published in the July edition of the journal Annals of Neurology, where scientists used synthetic mini-brains to mimic the activity of a regular human midbrain, which is critical to muscle movement and visual and auditory processing affected by Parkinson’s disease.

The researchers created the pea-size mini-brains by growing stem cells that create neurons. They were able to modify this human-based mini-brain with genetic tweaks to the stem cells that, in turn, mimicked the genomic qualities associated with a higher risk for Parkinson’s.

Why it’s important – In essence, the researchers replicated what an actual human brain would go through if it carried all the risk factors for a particular brain disease, in this case, Parkinson’s. That’s particularly important since drug development for the disease must currently be done using mouse brains, which may produce different results than when using those of humans. The inability to directly access the brain and the complexity of the nervous system are key reasons brain drugs are so hard to create. The hope is that a better understanding of what a Parkinson’s disease patient’s brain goes through will make it easier to deconstruct the illness and spur drug development.


Laura Landro authored an article in the Wall Street Journal’s “The Future of Everything” Health section this week outlining research efforts to potentially eliminate the need for surgery to replace knee or hip joints affected by osteoarthritis in the future. Osteoarthritis, the most common form of the disease, affects more than 32.5 million people in the U.S. More than 754,000 knee replacements and 448,000 hip replacements took place in 2017, according to the most recent federal data, and the number is expected to rise over the next decade.

“We shouldn’t be waiting for osteoarthritis to develop, but stopping the whole degeneration process so patients never have to have a joint replaced.”

Michael Longaker, Professor of Surgery at Stanford University School of Medicine

Researchers are developing new techniques to protect, repair and regrow articular cartilage, the layer of connective tissue that covers the ends of bones and enables joints to move smoothly, to stop the progression of osteoarthritis and curb the need for joint replacement surgery. They are programming stem cells to become cartilage cells, developing drugs to change the course of osteoarthritis, experimenting with methods to more effectively deliver new cells and compounds, and designing materials to help new cells integrate with existing tissue.

Why it’s important – Many clinics offer untested, unregulated stem-cell treatments for joint issues, which the Food and Drug Administration warns patients to avoid. Meanwhile, no disease-modifying drug for osteoarthritis has cleared the FDA. The agency’s guidelines say that such a drug must show it not only avoids or significantly delays the complications of joint failure and the need for joint replacement, but also that it reduces the deterioration of joint function and worsening of pain. If the current programs under consideration are successful, patients suffering from this debilitating disease can potentially avoid surgery and the associated recovery challenges associated with joint replacement.

Leave a Reply