Health Tech News This Week – October 22, 2022

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

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Apple Will Launch Health Insurance In 2024, Says Analyst

First up this week is this article by Forbes contributor Barry Collins. In the article, he reports that Apple will start to offer health insurance in 2024 as it looks to build on the health data it has acquired from the Apple Watch. CCS Insight believes that Apple will take its tentative first steps into the U.S. health insurance market in partnership with a major insurer, using the health data it’s already collecting to give it a competitive edge over rivals. The analysts believe having access to such rich data will provide the company a head start in the insurance market and allow it to cut costs for consumers.

“If they join some of the dots together they can become a very competitive health insurance player and that potentially is going to have quite an impact on the structure of the healthcare market in the U.S.”

Ben Wood, chief analyst at CCS Insight

Why it’s important – Apple already collects data such as blood pressure, blood oxygen levels, ECG readings, and body temperature from the Watch, as well as helping people regulate their medication. With accompanying devices, the Watch and iPhone can also monitor conditions such as diabetes. A shift into health insurance would also add further impetus to Apple’s already booming services business. Services are already generating around $20 billion a quarter, and CCS Insight believes that will only continue to grow. And Apple isn’t the only tech giant looking at entering the insurance market. Amazon launched an insurance comparison site in the U.K. to sell home insurance. The e-commerce giant has partnered with three launch providers — Ageas U.K., Co-op, and LV + General Insurance — with more coming next year.

Infographics of the week – It’s always interesting when Gartner releases their annual Hype Cycle charts. This one on emerging tech highlights three technology themes: Evolving and Expanding Immersive Experiences, Accelerated AI Automation, and Optimized Technologist Delivery.

Image Credit: Gartner, Inc.

This week’s second infographic is some new benchmark data on health IT spending. This latest report comes from KLAS Research and Bain & Company using data from provider interviews and a survey of 289 health executives. Software investments overall appear to be a strong area of focus still, though the economic environment may be cooling bullish investment. Rev cycle is a spending priority, likely to shore up the financial bottom line that is hurting so many health systems currently – followed by #cybersecurity, patient intake, clinical systems, and #telehealth. The complete study is available here.

Image Credit: KLAS Research and Bain & Company

And a third infographic this week comes from Rock Health. The FDA has cleared 50+ AI/ML-enabled devices every year since 2018. 2022 is on track to reach at least 100 clearances, in line with 2020 (n=102) and 2021 (n=115). By all indications, the pursuit of FDA oversight is not slowing down despite softening market conditions. In previous years, startups and med techs reigned supreme. This trend continues in 2022, but Big Tech is dipping its toes in with two clearances this year from Apple and Verily.

Image Credit: Rock Health

Large insurer’s decision to cover some prescription digital therapies may be a milestone for app makers

This article from STAT+ author Mario Aguilar (subscription required) reports on Pittsburgh-based Highmark’s decision to cover a controversial class of software-based treatments for psychiatric and other conditions could prove to be a landmark moment in the development of these so-called prescription digital therapeutics, which until now had been unable to secure coverage from insurers skeptical that the new technologies are as effective as their makers claim. The policy indicates Highmark’s intention to pay for claims only for prescription digital therapeutics cleared by the Food and Drug Administration when prescribed by a clinician within the appropriate specialty and used as indicated on product labels. Highmark is currently negotiating with product developers about how much it will pay for individual treatments and over details such as what constitutes an “episode of care.”

“Highmark did exactly what insurance companies are supposed to do, which is they were judicious about covering and paying for an intervention that has already been vetted for its science by the FDA.”

Andrey Ostrovsky, managing partner of Social Innovation Ventures

Why it’s important – Highmark’s policy, describing when these treatments may be “medically necessary,” paves the way for the health insurer to be the first to cover the category for millions of members. Insurers’ refusal to cover the prescription apps has been a major roadblock for developers that have raised hundreds of millions of dollars on the promise that they can achieve widespread adoption. So Highmark’s move is welcome news for them. The willingness to launch a policy and see what happens is a striking contrast to the usual cautious approach taken by insurers.

Resource Alert: Originally shared on LinkedIn by Andrew Rebhan from Sg2. The Center for Connected Health Policy’s (CCHP) Fall 2022 Summary Report of the state telehealth laws and Medicaid program policies is now available, as well as updated information on our online Policy Finder tool. The most current information in the online tool may be exported for each state into a PDF document. The following is a summary of the current status of telehealth policy in the states, given these new updates. CCHP provides these bi-annual summary reports in the Spring and Fall of each year to provide a snapshot of the progress made in the past six months. CCHP is committed to providing timely policy information that is easy for users to navigate and understand through our Policy Finder. The information for this summary report covers updates in state telehealth policy made between July and early September 2022. A pdf infographic is also available.

Samsung, HealthTap partner to bring digital healthcare to Smart TVs

California-based virtual healthcare provider HealthTap and multinational electronics company Samsung announced a strategic partnership to bring virtual healthcare to Samsung Smart TVs in the U.S. Jessica Hagen reports on the partnership in her article on MobiHealthNews. The partnership extends HealthTap’s services to Samsung TV owners, who will be able to connect to HealthTap’s healthcare platform and visit with a health provider via a connected television camera. Consumers can review a doctor’s bio and credentials, watch video interviews to designate their preferred doctor and then schedule an appointment to see the provider.

Why it’s important – The ability to conveniently access telemedicine through a TV screen empowers everyone to take care into their own hands without needing a computing or other device. However, Samsung isn’t ignoring the more significant opportunity here. This week, Samsung also announced its aim to screen 150,000 Indians for eye disease by the end of 2023 using upcycled phones. The technology manufacturer is modifying old Galaxy devices into fundus cameras via its Galaxy Upcycling program. The EYELIKE fundus cameras utilize AI to detect diseases in scanned retinal images.

Podcast of the week – I’m always looking for great podcast episodes. This TED Interview episode features surgeon, writer, and the Assistant Administrator for Global Health at USAID, Atul Gawande, who talks about how essential investment in innovation, geriatric medicine, and accessible education could help Americans live longer, more fulfilling lives.

A 24-Hour Skin Patch That Monitors Blood Pressure: The BioBeat Review

From Dr. Bertalan Mesko and his team at The Medical Futurist Institute comes this review of the BioBeat 24-hour blood pressure monitor. The technology is based on reflective photoplethysmography (PPG), a noninvasive optical method that measures the heart rate, blood oxygen saturation, blood pressure, and several other cardio-pulmonary parameters. His verdict: he liked this device, it was indeed comfortable, I think it has a place in healthcare, and it is filling an important niche. The price is also okay-ish. It is supposed to be $99, although this info can’t be found on the company’s website.

Image Credit: Dr. Bertalan Mesko

Why it’s important – Devices for remote monitoring at the point of care continue to move the market forward. Having a comfortable and reliable way for prolonged blood pressure monitoring is something we’ve been long waiting for. Holter monitors do the job reliably, but they are far from being comfortable; even if you manage to somehow find a tolerable sleeping position with the bulky box, it will wake you up several times during the night inflating the cuff. 24-hour measurements are more informative than sporadic readings – and there is no guarantee that patients carry out the measurements properly with a traditional device. So, making the process easy allows providers to obtain more reliable information on a patient’s condition and eliminates multiple trips to the hospital for the patient.

FDA-Approved At-Home Spirometer: Interview with Charvi Shetty, Co-Founder and CEO at Aluna

In another development in the home monitoring area, Conn Hastings from Medgadget interviews Charvi Shetty, Co-Founder, and CEO of Aluna. For those with chronic lung diseases, such as asthma and COPD, a vital way to keep track of lung health is to use a spirometer to measure how well air can move in and out of the lungs during forced breathing. However, patients would typically require a visit with a lung specialist to perform this test. This is inconvenient and precludes regular monitoring to keep a close eye on lung health and spot any upcoming disease exacerbation. This is the motivation behind this latest technology, an at-home digital spirometer created by a medical startup called Aluna. The device is easy to use, requiring the patient to blow into it daily. The company envisages the technology as similar to the blood-glucose tests used by patients with diabetes to keep track of their condition. To increase patient compliance and to make the process more fun, the system also includes computer games that incentivize the patient to use the device regularly and share their lung health data with their clinician. Here is the company website.

YouTube Video Credit: Aluna

Why it’s important – Forty-one million patients suffer from chronic respiratory conditions in the US, 25 million have asthma, and 16 million suffer from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Respiratory conditions like asthma and COPD impact the ability to breathe, making daily activities difficult through symptoms such as coughing and wheezing. Left uncontrolled and improperly managed, these conditions can progress to attacks that lead to avoidable ED visits and hospitalization. Regular monitoring of lung conditions allows for early intervention, similar to a blood glucose monitor for patients with diabetes. Patients and providers can see the effectiveness of their treatment plan and modify their strategy based on a complete understanding of their lung health.

Smart Mouthguard Uses Bite to Control All Kinds of Devices

The National University of Singapore posted an article on reporting on a new mouthguard device that may soon give people with limited hand function a way to easily control devices such as computers, smartphones, and wheelchairs. The mouthguard, a first-of-its-kind bite-controlled optoelectronic system, translates complex bite patterns accurately and quickly into instructions to control these kinds of electronic gadgets. Besides supporting human-computer interaction, the mouthguard can also be used for medical assistance and health care devices such as smart electronic skin and dental diagnosis. Each smart mouthguard currently costs S$100 (about $70 US) to produce in the lab, and the team expects the cost to be reduced substantially in mass production. The study appears in the journal Nature Electronics.

Image Credit: National University of Singapore

Why it’s important – Various assistive technologies such as voice recognition, eye tracking, and brain-computer interfaces have been developed to help people—especially those with limited dexterity or neurological disorders—control electronic devices. However, these technologies have limitations associated with environmental interference, control accuracy, cost, and maintenance. Weighing about 7 grams, the mouthguard requires less training experience when compared to existing assistive technologies.

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