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The Public Health To-Do List is Choking Doctors and Jeopardizing Patients’ Lives

By HANS DUVEFELT, MD

“By the way, Doc, why am I tired, what’s this lump and how do I get rid of my headaches?”

Every patient encounter is a potential deadly disease, disastrous outcome, or even a malpractice suit. As clinicians, we need to have our wits about us as we continually are asked to sort the wheat from the chaff when patients unload their concerns, big and small, on us during our fifteen minute visits.

But something is keeping us from listening to our patients with our full attention, and that something, in my opinion, is not doctor work but nurse work or even tasks for unlicensed staff: Our Public Health to-do list is choking us.

You don’t need a medical degree to encourage people to get flu and tetanus shots, Pap smears, breast, colon and lung cancer screening, to quit smoking, see their eye doctor or get some more blood pressure readings before your next appointment. But those are the pillars of individual medical providers’ performance ratings these days. We must admit that the only way you can get all that health maintenance done is through a team effort. Medical providers neither hire nor supervise their support staff, so where did the idea ever come from that this was an appropriate individual clinician performance measure?

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Will ‘Digital-First’ Health Plans Usher in Telehealth At-Scale? | Danielle Russella, American Well

By JESSICA DAMASSA, WTF HEALTH

Is healthcare on the way to ‘telehealth at-scale?’ We checked in with American Well’s Danielle Russella, President & GM of Health Plan Solutions, to rumor-check the buzz we’ve been hearing about “digital-first health plans” and what that means for the future of health plan coverage for telehealth services. From provider uptake and payment parity to patient awareness and utilization, Danielle weighs in on the state-of-play of telehealth/health plan relations and how digital health seems to finally becoming part of payer strategy talks within the C-suite. At American Well, that’s meant more growth in last 2 years than in the previous 8 years, says Danielle. Is that why we’re hearing those IPO rumors? Tune in to find out if there’s any merit to that chatter.

Filmed at HLTH 2019 in Las Vegas, October 2019.

“Chasing My Cure”: A Book Review

By CHADI NABHAN, MD, MBA, FACP

Have you thought about your own mortality?

Who hasn’t, given the frequency of seeing death and grief depicted in the media or through real life encounters with friends, relatives, neighbors, or patients? These incidents trigger uncomfortable and sometimes uneasy thoughts of how we might personally deal with potential illness and disease. The same thoughts are soon displaced by the busyness of living. 

Despite dealing with the death of his mother from a brain tumor, we learn David Fajgenbaum was healthy, living life to its fullest, and a future doctor in the making. He may have thought about his own mortality as he grieved the death of his mother, but likely never imagined anything dire would happen to him. Fajgenbaum was pushing forward on several fronts, including leading a non-for-profit organization for grieving college students, symbolically named “Actively Moving Forward” or “AMF” after his mother’s initials, all while first playing college football and then attending medical school. By all accounts, this was a vigorous young man, meticulous about his diet and physicality.  When he became ill, it was a blunt reminder that life is unpredictable.

In his book “Chasing my Cure”, Dr. Fajgenbaum takes us back to the time when he first got ill.  He vividly describes his physical symptoms and various scans which detected his enlarged nodes. Interestingly, we learn how long he was in denial of these symptoms, thereby delaying medical attention in favor of studying. This neglect of self-care highlights part of his personality, but also represents the pressure and expectations placed upon a majority of medical students. 

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How Health Plans Pick Startups for Partnerships & Investment | Bryony Winn, BCBS North Carolina

By JESSICA DAMASSA, WTF HEALTH

It’s the ‘holy grail’ of advice for health tech startups. BlueCross BlueShield of North Carolina’s Chief Strategy & Innovation Officer, Bryony Winn, tells what it takes for digital health and digital therapeutics startups to gain partnership agreements, reimbursement, and possible investment from health plans. How do you figure out how to “align incentives” in a way that perks up a payer’s ears? Bryony gives us some VERY FRANK advice about how startups can bring innovation to BCBS of North Carolina, other Blues plans, or their VC funds (which in this case is Echo Health Ventures where BCBS North Carolina partners with Cambia Health Solutions.) To play the game, you have to know the players. Tune in for more.

Filmed at HLTH 2019 in Las Vegas, October 2019.

Presenting Complaint: Social Injustice

By ANISH KOKA, MD

Bobby

It took some doing, but I had finally made it to Bobby’s home.

It was a rowhome tucked into one of those little side streets in the city that non-city folks wouldn’t dream of driving down. As I step in, I’m met by the usual set up – wooden steps that hug the right side of the wall leading up to the second floor.  Bobby certainly hasn’t made it up to the second floor in some time. At the moment she is sitting in her hospital bed in the living room. The bed is the focal point to a room stuffed to the gills with all manners of stuff. At least three quarters of the stuff seems to be food. Cinnamon buns, Doritos, donut holes, chocolate frosted Donuts, crackers, Twinkies. The junk food aisle at Wawa would be embarrassed by the riches on display here.

Bobby weighs in at four hundred pounds, 5 foot 5 inches. She has a tracheostomy from multiple prior episodes of respiratory failure that have required ventilatory support. I’m here at the request of a devoted primary care physician that still makes home calls. I’ve looked through the last number of hospital stays. The last few discharge summaries are carbon copies of each other. Hypoxemic respiratory failure related to pulmonary edema complicated further by morbid obesity. Time on the vent. Antibiotics. Diuretics. Home. Return to the hospital 2 weeks later. The last echocardiogram done was 3 admissions ago. A poor study. Not much could be seen due to ‘body habitus’.

I sit on the side of the bed trying to acquire my own images of her heart. I talk to her as I struggle. Bobby is 58, the youngest of three sisters, and the only surviving member of the family. Her elder sisters died of respiratory complications as well. They both died with tracheostomies. The conversation is circular. The problem according to Bobby is the tracheostomy. Everything was fine before that. I explain that a prolonged period of time on the ventilator on a prior admission prompted the tracheostomy, and that the multiple recent admissions to the hospital that required a ventilator seemed to validate that decision. She doesn’t waver. Both her sisters died shortly after they got tracheostomies. Bobby thinks the physicians taking care of her sisters had a hand in their demise. “They didn’t care.” “We told them they were sick.”

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The AMA’s Digital Health Investment Fund | Andrew Elkind & Stas Sokolin, Health2047

By JESSICA DAMASSA, WTF HEALTH

The American Medical Association (AMA) announced Health 2047, its accelerator and investment fund in 2018. A year later, Andrew Elkind and Stas Sokolin, both Principals at the fund, stop by to get us up-to-speed on the progress the AMA has made so far with its $45 million accelerator fund and $30 million investment fund. What kinds of health tech startups are piquing the attention of this physician-led fund? Get the details behind the Health 2047 investment thesis here!

THCB Spotlights: Omri Shor, CEO & Co-founder of Medisafe

Today on THCB Spotlights, Matthew chats with Omri Shor, the CEO and Co-founder of Medisafe. Way back in 2014, Medisafe took home the gold at Health 2.0, winning first place at Traction. Since then, their consumer medication management tool has evolved quite a bit. While the app is available for patients with over 6 million users today, they also have folks across the health care continuum partnering with Medisafe to manage the medication journey for their patients. Matthew picks Omri’s brain on how things will continue to evolve, what he’s learned to help people in health care think about the problem of medication management, and how Medisafe fits in with the numerous medication management and chronic disease management tools out there.

Explain yourself, machine. Producing simple text descriptions for AI interpretability

By LUKE OAKDEN-RAYNER, MD

One big theme in AI research has been the idea of interpretability. How should AI systems explain their decisions to engender trust in their human users? Can we trust a decision if we don’t understand the factors that informed it?

I’ll have a lot more to say on the latter question some other time, which is philosophical rather than technical in nature, but today I wanted to share some of our research into the first question. Can our models explain their decisions in a way that can convince humans to trust them?


Decisions, decisions

I am a radiologist, which makes me something of an expert in the field of human image analysis. We are often asked to explain our assessment of an image, to our colleagues or other doctors or patients. In general, there are two things we express.

  1. What part of the image we are looking at.
  2. What specific features we are seeing in the image.

This is partially what a radiology report is. We describe a feature, give a location, and then synthesise a conclusion. For example:

There is an irregular mass with microcalcification in the upper outer quadrant of the breast. Findings are consistent with malignancy.

You don’t need to understand the words I used here, but the point is that the features (irregular mass, microcalcification) are consistent with the diagnosis (breast cancer, malignancy). A doctor reading this report already sees internal consistency, and that reassures them that the report isn’t wrong. An common example of a wrong report could be:

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This Digital Health Tool is Proven to Improve Cognitive Fitness | Jean Castonguay, NeuroTracker

By JESSICA DAMASSA, WTF HEALTH

Neuroscience startup, NeuroTracker, has a virtual training tool with a proven ability to help improve “cognitive fitness.” Jean Castonguay, co-founder, board member and Head of Global Strategic Partnerships at NeuroTracker, explains the science and clinical validation behind their tech and drops some big name users in the process — Manchester United, German and French soccer teams, US special forces, as well as some of the world’s leading sports concussion rehabilitation clinics. What sets the startup apart from other companies in the mental performance space? How have they shored up their science in the face of Lumosity’s Federal Trade Commission suit against false claims about brain health outcomes? It shook up the industry, and NeuroTracker actually feels it strengthened their business and their value proposition.

Filmed at Bayer G4A Signing Day in Berlin, Germany, October 2019.

Lower Health Insurance Premiums Sound Like Great News – But It’s Only Part Of the Story

By A. MARK FENDRICK, MD

It’s great news to read headlines that the average health-insurance premium will drop by 4% next year in the 38 states using federal Obamacare exchanges. As millions of Americans entered open enrollment this year to choose their health insurance plans, it is important to remember that premiums are only one of the ways that we pay for our medical coverage. 

In many plans lower premiums (paid by everyone) often mean a higher deductible — or paying more out-of-pocket before insurance coverage kicks in. This burden is paid only by those who use medical care services.

Deductibles are rising, and so is the number of Americans enrolled in so-called high-deductible health plans (HDHPs). Thus, more people with health insurance are being asked to pay full price for all their care, regardless of its clinical value. Although it may be better for many people with significant medical needs (and less disposable income) to avoid plans with high deductibles, more and more people who receive health insurance through their employer no longer have a choice except to choose a plan with hefty costs in addition to premiums.

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