Health Tech News This Week – August 19, 2023

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

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Digital Health App Helps Asthma and Depression, 2 Trials Find

A new digital health app called juli proved effective in helping patients with asthma or depression, two randomized controlled trials showed. Marissa Plescia provides the details in her article in MedCity News. Boston-based juli is an AI-driven app that helps patients manage their chronic conditions, including asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, generalized anxiety disorder, major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder, migraine, hypertension, and chronic pain. It takes data from electronic medical records, smartphones, wearable devices, the environment, and patient questionnaires. Based on that data, juli will provide suggestions to help patients tackle their symptoms, such as walking an additional 2,000 steps than the day before or exercising indoors if there’s too much air pollution that day. It can also provide medication reminders.

Why it’s important – In the asthma randomized controlled trial, patients improved their symptoms by more than five points on average on the Asthma Control Test, from 12.6 points to 17.93 points (a higher score is better). An improvement in symptoms includes experiencing shortness of breath less often or using an inhaler less. In the depression randomized controlled trial, patients also improved their symptoms by more than five points on average, from 16.09 to 10.78 (a lower score is better). An improvement in symptoms of depression includes having a better appetite or sleeping better.

Infographics of the week – Dr. Bertalan Meskó and his team at The Medical Futurist Institute have compiled a database and crafted an infographic showcasing 59 healthcare companies harnessing AI for drug design and development. Through vibrant colors, they depict their financial standing, while each company is introduced with a concise description and country of origin. Columns categorize them into three brackets: pre-2017, 2017-2019, and post-2020 establishments.

Image Credit: The Medical Futurist Institute

This week’s second infographic comes from an article in Nature summarizing the potential use of harnessing digital technologies for effective geriatric care. Special attention is given to the role of wearables in assisting older adults to monitor their health and maintain independence at home.

Image Credit: Chen, C., Ding, S. & Wang, J. Digital health for aging populations. Nat Med 29, 1623–1630 (2023).

One final infographic this week is from CB Insights (subscription required). Pharmaceutical companies are embracing AI in droves. CB Insights has launched the Pharma AI Readiness Index — a ranking of the 50 largest pharmaceutical companies in the Americas and Europe by market cap, based on their demonstrated ability to attract top AI talent, execute AI projects, and innovate through R&D and investments. The index is calculated based on CB Insights datasets, including patent applications, partnership & licensing agreements, dealmaking activity, acquisitions, key people, product launches, and earnings transcripts.

Image Credit: CB Insights Pharma AI Readiness Index

Google Health, radiology vendor seek regulatory approval of AI as independent mammography reader

Marty Stempniak in Radiology Business reports that Google Health is working with radiology vendor iCAD to seek approval for the use of artificial intelligence as an independent breast image reader. Under the terms of the agreement, iCAD will integrate Google’s AI technology into its ProFound Breast Health Suite for 2D Mammography over the next 20 years. Once the product is approved, providers can use the mammography tool “as an independent reader for breast cancer screening” across the globe, the companies said.

Why it’s important – The conventional double-reading workflow utilized by most countries, where two separate radiologists assess mammograms, has become increasingly challenging due to the scarcity of radiologists worldwide. Google’s mammography AI system outperformed six human readers, scoring an area under the receiver operating characteristic curve greater than the average radiologist by an absolute margin of 11.5%, a 2020 analysis found. Another trial estimated it could reduce a second reader’s workload by 88%.

Radiation, a mainstay of cancer treatment, begins a fade-out

Every year, doctors get better tools to fight cancer. Engineered cancer-killing cells, immunotherapies, targeted drugs, and more are helping clinicians cure more patients. Increasingly, though, oncologists are trying to use less radiation, long one of the main pillars of cancer therapy. In some cases, they even keep certain patients with low-risk tumors off radiation entirely. Angus Chen provides the details in his article in Stat Health. Treating cancer has always been a balancing act between the brutal therapies that kill tumors and how much treatment the human body can take. At their worst, the side effects of chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery can leave lasting damage, disrupt vital bodily functions, or permanently disfigure a patient. So doctors have always wondered just how much of a therapy they could dial back without sacrificing any efficacy.

“There’s also been this long history of trying to reduce the mortality of radiation in different ways, and the big thing that people think about is the best way to reduce mortality is to not give it at all.”

Abram Recht, a radiation oncologist at Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital

Why it’s important – There are more and more settings where that appears to be possible for patients, with studies showing that omitting radiation from standard therapy seems to make little or no difference in outcomes in specific low-risk or early-stage disease in lymphoma, breast cancer, thyroid cancer, and more. There are two main reasons for this. Cancer treatments today are magnitudes beyond what they were just two or three decades ago. Also, oncologists have more advanced tools to understand patients’ tumors, like better biomarkers or imaging, often allowing them to triage different cancers as low or high risk.

Doctor, Nurse Practitioner Pay Rising As Amazon, CVS And Walgreens Buy Providers

Bruce Japsen authored this article in Forbes online. A new report from AMN Healthcare shows nurse practitioners—not doctors—topped the staffing company’s list of “most requested search engagements for the third consecutive year,” according to an annual report released Monday from AMN Healthcare’s Physician Solutions division, formerly known as Merritt Hawkins. A compensation report released earlier this year from the Medical Group Management Association showed primary care compensation had its biggest increase in five years, with the total compensation rising 4.4%, to $299,157, in 2022 from $286,525 in 2021. The 2023 MGMA Provider Compensation and Production report reflects data from nearly 190,000 providers across more than 6,800 hospitals, healthcare systems, and other healthcare organizations.

Why it’s important – The entrance of large retailers into the business of providing healthcare is causing bidding wars for primary care medical care providers. CVS Health, which paid more than $10 billion for the Chicago-based senior primary care clinic developer Oak Street Health, is adding dozens of new clinics via that acquisition, which includes hiring more doctors and nurse practitioners. Meanwhile, Amazon this year entered the primary care space with its $3.9 billion acquisition of One Medical, which operates more than 220 primary care offices in more than 28 U.S. markets. This comes with Walmart doubling the size of its Walmart health center footprint across the U.S. and Walgreens’ effort with VillageMD to roll out hundreds of new doctor-staffed clinics across the country that are requiring these companies to hire new primary care physicians.

Hospitals are dialing back on venture capital investing

Hospitals once dove headfirst into venture capital with splashy headlines and attention-grabbing numbers. Now, in an era of flattened margins and exceedingly uncertain returns, many health systems are quietly pulling back. Tara Bannow provides the details in her Stat article online. It’s a type of investing founded on a hopeful premise — that hospitals can be a testing ground for new technologies and devices. Rather than get money from traditional venture capital firms, startups could get money from hospitals that would also become their first big customers. Nearly all sizable health systems were venture investing in some form back in the years leading up to the pandemic. But that’s starting to change, according to more than a dozen former employees of hospital venture arms and other experts — with systems either dissolving those offices, putting a halt on new investments, or turning to private equity instead. Several said it may turn out that only the biggest systems can make that kind of investment work.

Why it’s important – The trend is one side effect of hospitals becoming more risk-averse in a challenging financial environment. The median hospital operating margin was just 0.2% in 2022, according to Fitch Ratings, which said it could be the worst year on record for hospitals’ operations because of higher labor expenses and weak patient counts. If hospitals are less willing to pour money into companies whose ideas could improve medicine, it’s potentially bad news for the entrepreneurs that rely on hospitals to be their keystone customers and for patients frustrated with entrenched problems that a breakthrough technology could solve. Now that margins have grown incredibly tight, anything that costs money without a compelling return is on the chopping block. That’s especially true for something inherently risky, like betting on startups. The general rule of thumb is that out of 10 venture capital investments, seven will dissolve, two will make a little money, and one will go gangbusters through an IPO. Now that the IPO window has nearly closed amid interest rate hikes, however, that last scenario is increasingly uncertain.

AI is Everywhere. But Americans Are Concerned About Its Role in Health Care

People are more likely to say they are comfortable with AI use for administrative tasks than for tasks like diagnosing an illness or developing a treatment plan, writes health analyst Ricky Zipp in his Morning Consult article. Healthcare has used some version of AI for years, but much like other sectors, the technology has recently uniquely captured the industry’s attention. The industry is not immune to common concerns about AI use — privacy, bias in algorithms, companies owning user data, etc. — but consumers may find it particularly risky due to the sensitivity of personal health data or use for services that directly impact their health.

A new Morning Consult survey found that 7 in 10 U.S. adults are concerned about the increase in the use of AI in the healthcare industry, compared with 1 in 5 who said they are not concerned and 1 in 10 who said they don’t know or have no opinion. Older Americans were more concerned than their younger counterparts: 77% of baby boomers and 70% of Gen Xers said they are worried about the growing presence of AI in health care. However, younger people are not necessarily embracing AI either, as most Gen Zers (63%) said they are concerned.

Image Credit: Morning Consult survey

Why it’s important – AI in health care has been around for years, but its presence in the industry has expanded over the past ten months or so. And it’s not likely that AI will go away any time soon. There was a meaningful gap between how the people in the industry view the use of AI in health care over the next five years compared with the general public. Among healthcare workers, 2 in 5 said AI use would increase in the next five years, compared with about 1 in 3 who said it would stay the same. For comparison, about 2 in 3 adults said AI use would increase over the next five years, while about 1 in 7 said it would stay the same. As companies continue to work AI into their practices, it may be beneficial to do so cautiously, as most Americans are still concerned about the technology. Consumers are less comfortable with using AI for tasks that would directly impact their health, suggesting that it may take some time before people are comfortable with use for diagnosis, treatment plans, or procedures.

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