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Category: Health Technology

Inside Wheel’s $150M Series C: CEO Talks “Long Game” for Stealthy Virtual Care Infrastructure Biz

By JESSICA DaMASSA, WTF HEALTH

Wheel’s CEO Michelle Davey says the white-label virtual care startup’s $150M Series C – led by notable health tech mega-funders Lightspeed Venture Partners & Tiger Global – is “really about the long-game.” We get into the details of this purposeful funding round and what it means for the future of Wheel, as well as the play-by-play analysis of what happened over the past 9 months, since the company closed its $50M Series B. (FYI: Wheel’s total funding is at $216 million to-date.)

Wheel is currently running behind-the-scenes for an undisclosed client list of brands, facilitating 1.6 million virtual visits a year for digital health companies, digital pharmacies, retailers, and, now, even traditional healthcare providers. That number is expected to triple by the end of 2022, and we get into what’s fueling that growth and whether or not Michelle believes that this institutional push toward online care will persist as the pandemic wans and the world continues re-opening.

Armed with this fresh funding, how will three-year-old Wheel continue to differentiate its offering from legacy telehealth infrastructure providers like Amwell and Teladoc? How will it win against their legacy relationships with legacy healthcare providers? Or, is Wheel’s big bet on the continued scaling of what Michelle calls “next generation healthcare”? Wheel has added A LOT of tech to its own infrastructure recently, providing asynchronous options, better clinician matching, more triaging and navigating, and, with this funding, are is now talking about adding “diagnostic services” to round out their service line. What, exactly are we talking about here in terms of business model evolution? Tune in and find out what this stealthy startup is up to!

Infermedica raises a big round and demos new product

Infermedica is a company that started by creating symptom checking and chatbot functionality in Poland back in 2012. It’s spread to delivering that patient-facing diagnosis functionality via API and now as preparation for a physician visit. Today they announce a $30m series B and demo their new product which helps prepare a visit, and integrates into the clinician workflow. I spoke with CEO Piotr Orzechowski and Chief Product Officer Tim Price–Matthew Holt.

Interview & Deep Dive into Summus Global

Summus Global is company with a very interesting model that gives a glimpse about the future of virtual care. It delivers online specialty care and much more to employers. You might think that means it is in the second opinion space, or in the care navigation space. And you’d be right, but not completely right. Julian Flannery the CEO tells me that it’s much more than that and has greater ambitions too. I took really deep dive into Summus with conversation with Julian and a thorough demo of the service from Dennis Purcell the COO–Matthew Holt

Fall Risk: It’s All in Your Head

By HENRY MAHNCKE

More than one in four senior citizens fall each year, making it the leading cause of both fatal and non-fatal injuries in older adults. Anyone with a loved one at high risk of falls can tell you it creates constant worry and curtails many of life’s pleasures. And, if that loved one has fallen and broken a hip, too many of those caregivers can share the oft-told tale of how that break was the beginning of the end.

As our population grows and ages, the costs of this widespread risk multiply.  However, recent breakthroughs in the science of brain health demonstrate that we could be taking relatively low-cost, highly scalable, steps to reduce these risks.

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Tech Can’t Fix the Problems in Healthcare

By KIM BELLARD

Shira Ovide, who writes the On Tech newsletter for The New York Times, had a thoughtful column last week: Tech Can’t Fix the Problem of Cars.  It was, she said, inspired by Peter Norton’s Autonorama: The Illusionary Promise of High Tech DrivingThe premise of both, in case the titles didn’t already give it away, is that throwing more tech into our cars is not going to address the underlying issues that cars pose. 

It made me think of healthcare. 

What’s been going on in the automotive world in the past decade has truly been amazing. Our cars have become mobile screens, with big dashboard touchscreen displays, Bluetooth, and streaming. Electric cars have gone from an expensive pipedream to an agreed-upon future, with Tesla valued at over a trillion dollars, despite never having sold a half-million cars annually before 2021. 

If we don’t feel like driving, we can use our smartphones to call an Uber or Lyft. Or we can use the various autonomous features already available on many cars, with an expectation that fully self-driving vehicles are right around the corner. Soon, it seems, we’ll have non-polluting, self-driving vehicles on call: fewer deaths/injuries, less pollution, not as many vehicles sitting around idly most of the day. Utopia, right? 

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CareCentrix CEO on Walgreens Taking Majority Stake, How Post-Acute Care Will Fair in Retail Health

By JESSICA DaMASSA, WTF HEALTH

The same day Walgreens announced its $5.2B investment in VillageMD to snag a majority stake in the growing primary care clinic, it ALSO revealed it had made a $300M investment in CareCentrix that scored 55% of that company and another opportunity to expand its reach beyond the pharmacy – this time into the home.

CareCentrix’s CEO John Driscoll takes us behind the deal, which lands Walgreens into the world of post-acute care (home nursing, hospital discharge recovery, home infusion, palliative care, etc.) which he describes as the “long-form sexy-cool” segment of the healthcare market that’s not only worth $75B annually now, but that’s also set for massive growth over the next 20 years.

Walgreens is clearly seeing the opportunity John’s seeing, particularly when it comes to positioning its pharmacies as “local health distribution and support centers” – hubs that leverage both the trust patients have in their pharmacists and the frequency with which they visit a Walgreens store compared to a doctor’s office or hospital. In the Walgreens Health strategy, what’s the vision for how CareCentrix and VillageMD will ultimately work together to take care of these regular Walgreens customers? Will post-acute care fair as well as primary care when it comes to a retail distribution channel? And, of course, we HAVE to go behind the scenes on the deal itself and ask John what we were all wondering: Why didn’t Walgreens just acquire both VillageMD and CareCentrix outright??

Woman’s Health Startup Pollie Wins Bayer G4A’s Attention With Female-Focused Chronic Condition Play

By JESSICA DaMASSA, WTF HEALTH

Forget being pigeon-holed as a “femtech” company! VERY early-stage women’s health startup, Pollie, is taking an integrated care approach to complex chronic conditions that either just affect women, OR impact women differently or disproportionally than men. Think not only about conditions caused by hormone imbalances like PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome) or endometriosis, but also auto-immune disorders and digestive disorders that present differently or more frequently in women.

Co-Founder and CEO, Jane Sagui, drops by to talk us through the platform Pollie is building (and I mean, building-as-we-speak) which will ultimately teach women how to manage their chronic conditions via a highly-personalized program that includes all possible treatment management solutions, from pharmaceuticals to lifestyle-based treatments like diet and exercise. The company is currently piloting a version of their solution with a cohort of PCOS patients, but, has grand plans to expand their multi-modality pill-plus approach into other categories of women’s health that are NOT reproductive system related. Their biz has already caught the eye – and some investment dollars – from Bayer, as the company is one of four that’s been selected for this year’s Growth Track within G4A’s Digital Health Partnerships Program.

Jane gives us the details behind Pollie: their business, the pilot, the round they’re currently raising, and the types of partners they’re seeking as they evolve their offering. What’s also exciting? An early-stage bet from a big pharma co like Bayer that signals a future for women’s health care that may (finally) be about MORE than just reproductive health.

Medicine May Be an Art, but AI May Be Artists

By KIM BELLARD

Six hundred years ago, Swiss physician/scientist/philosopher Paracelsus disclaimed: “Medicine is not only a science; it is also an art.”  Medicine, most people in healthcare still believe, takes not just intelligence and fact-based decision-making, but also intuition, creativity, and empathy.  This duality is often cited as a reason artificial intelligence (A.I.) will never replace human physicians.

Perhaps those skeptics have not heard about Ai-Da

Now, I have to admit, “she” wasn’t on my radar either until recently, when she was imprisoned/impounded at customs by Egyptian authorities on her way to an art exhibit at the Great Pyramids of Giza, where she was scheduled to show her work.  Egyptian authorities first objected to her modem, then to the cameras in her eyes.  “I can ditch the modems, but I can’t really gouge her eyes out,” said her creator Aidan Meller.  After a 10 day stand-off, she was released late last week

Let me back up.  Named in honor of famed 19th century mathematician/programmer Ada Lovelace, Ai-Da is “the world’s first ultra-realistic humanoid robot artist.”  She was created in 2019, and uses AI algorithms to create art with her cameras/eyes and her bionic arms.  She can draw, paint, even sculpt, and had her first major exhibit – Ai-Da: Portrait of the Robot — this summer at London’s Design Museum.

The description of her exhibit says:

As humans increasingly merge with technology, the self-titled robotic artist, Ai-Da, leads us to ask whether artworks produced by machines can indeed be called ‘art’…Ai-Da can both draw and engage in lively discussion…These features, and the movements and gestures that Ai-Da is programmed to perform, raise questions about human identity in a digital age.

Her website elaborates:

…current thinking suggests we are edging away from humanism, into a time where machines and algorithms influence our behaviour to a point where our ‘agency’ isn’t just our own. It is starting to get outsourced to the decisions and suggestions of algorithms, and complete human autonomy starts to look less robust. Ai-Da creates art, because art no longer has to be restrained by the requirement of human agency alone.  

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The “Secret Sauce” – A Comparison of TSMC and Pfizer

By MIKE MAGEE

This week’s Tom Friedman Opinion piece in the New York Times contained a title impossible to ignore: “China’s Bullying Is Becoming a Danger To The World and Itself.” The editorial has much to recommend it. But the item that caught my eye was Friedman’s full-throated endorsement of Taiwan’s “most sophisticated microchip manufacturer in the world,” Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC).

TSMC owns 50% of the world’s microchip manufacturing market, and along with South Korea’s Samsung, is one of only two companies currently producing the ultra-small 5-nanometer chips. Next year, TSMC will take sole ownership of the lead with a 3-nanometer chip. In this field, the smaller the better. (For comparison, most of China’s output is 14 to 28 nanometers.)

U.S. Silicon Valley companies like Apple, Qualcomm, Nvidia, AMD, and recently Intel contract with TSMC rather than produce chips on their own. In addition, the key machines and chemicals necessary to produce the chips are willing supplied to TSMC by U.S. and European manufacturers. TSMC’s secret sauce, according to Friedman, is “trust.” As he writes, “Over the years, TSMC has built an amazing ecosystem of trusted partners that share their intellectual property with TSMC to build their proprietary chips.”

“Trust me” is not a phrase often associated with intellectual property. Consider, for example, Washington Post’s reporting the very same day as Friedman’s under the banner, “In secret vaccine contracts with governments, Pfizer took hard-line in the push for profit, report says.” The article reveals documents in a Public Citizen report that confirms that Pfizer has been maximizing their vaccine profits “behind a veil of strict secrecy, allowing for little public scrutiny… even as demand surges…”

As I describe in my book “Code Blue: Inside the Medical Industrial Complex” (Grove 2020), Pfizer’s focus on intellectual property as a commercial weapon has a history that extends back a half-century.

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You Need a Cyber Team

By KIM BELLARD

Maybe you, like me, are an Olympics fan (in my case: Summer Games, track & field).  Most Americans look forward eagerly to the Super Bowl, while the rest of the world (and, increasingly, many in the U.S.) are waiting for the World Cup.  But too few of us are aware that next summer will be the inaugural International Cyber Security Challenge, an esports event that pits teams from multiple countries against each other in cybersecurity skills.  The U.S. is sending a 25 person team.  

So what, you might say?  Well, if you work in healthcare (or any industry, for that matter), or use any kind of digital device, you should care.  Ransomware attacks on healthcare organizations continue to proliferate. The Colonial Pipeline cyberattack this past spring illustrated the weakness of other parts of our critical infrastructure, and we’ve all almost certainly had some of our personal data exposed in data breaches.    

We’re in a war, but it’s not clear that we have the right army, with the right weapons, ready to fight it. Thus the U.S. Cyber Games.

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