Each week I’ve been adding a brief tidbits section to the THCB Reader, our weekly newsletter that summarizes the best of THCB that week (Sign up here!). Then I had the brainwave to add them to the blog. They’re short and usually not too sweet! –Matthew Holt
For today’s health care tidbits, the elephant in the room has truely come home to roost, and now it’s landed on the phone wire, it’s close to breaking it. OK, I have stretched that metaphor to death but you’ll get my point. Writing on THCB earlier this month Jeff Goldsmith and Eric Larsen picked up on something I’ve been saying for a while –the fall in valuation of publicly traded digital health companies will have a knock effect on private companies.
It took a while–those public companies stock prices started falling from their heights 14 months ago–but in the last month the venture capital scene has gone quiet. The days of sub $20m ARR companies getting mutli-hundred million dollar valuations are over for now. They will be back at some point in the future, as that’s how Silicon Valley has always worked, but it’ll be a while and in the meantime everyone is going to have to figure out what to do in the new world.
The “What to do?” question is getting harder as the data starts to come in, and it’s getting ugly. On the one hand the two fastest growing digital health companies ever have both had their comeuppance. Livongo was a tremendous exit for its investors and ended up trading at 20 times future revenue before it got acquired by Teladoc for $18bn mostly in stock. This quarter Teladoc wrote off much of its investment in Livongo and the whole company is now only worth $5bn. Clearly those “synergies” between telehealth and chronic care management didn’t work. The other rocket ship was Cerebral, which went from nothing in Jan 2020 to by Jan 2022 having over 100,000 patients and thousands of providers on its system as it raised over $300m from Softbank et al. Its aggressive & expensive customer acquisition costs, with its controversial controlled medication prescribing patterns, brought it way too much controversy. Its young CEO is gone, and it’ll be a slow climb back with bankruptcy and collapse the likeliest of outcomes.
But the part of digital health that’s trying to replace the incumbents is not the only place showing ugliness. The technologies and services being rolled out are often not working. Exhibit A is a randomized controlled trial conducted a Univ of Pennsylvania. One set of heart patients was set up with connected blood pressure cuffs, a pillbox that tracked their Rx adherence and lots of coaching help. The others were sent home with the proverbial leaflet and told to call if they had problems. You’d assume many more deaths and hospital readmissions in the second group. You’d be wrong. There were no differences.
So digital health needs to see if it can produce services companies that move the needle on costs and outcomes. The advantage is that they are eventually competing with hospital systems whose DNA doesn’t allow them the ability to let them cross the chasm to the new world. The bad news is that those systems have huge reserves which they can use to subsidize their old world activities.
I’m hoping digital health’s impact in the next 2 years will be as big as it was in the past 2, It’s by no means dead or over, but I am pessimistic.