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Health in 2 Point 00, Episode 135 | Amazon’s primary care entry, UnitedHealth’s digital DPP & more

Today on Health in 2 Point 00, it’s the 4th shoe! On Episode 135, we’ve got Amazon’s entry into primary care through its pilot program with Crossover Health, UnitedHealth Group launching Level2, their own digital health diabetes prevention program, Health Catalyst acquiring healthfinch, Truepill raising $25 million and then investing in Ahead, a company which matches psychiatrists to patients. —Matthew Holt

The 2020 Pandemic Election

The 2020 US election will be vicious, with a nasty pandemonium following a nasty pandemic.

By SAURABH JHA, MD

When the COVID-19 pandemic is dissected in the 2020 presidential election debates, Donald Trump will be at a disadvantage. The coronavirus has killed over 100,000 Americans and maimed thousands more. The caveat is that deaths per capita, rather than total deaths, better measure national failure, and by that metric the US fares better than Belgium, Italy and the United Kingdom. New York City owns a disproportionate share of the deaths, but this hyperconnected megapolis is an outlier whose misfortunes can’t be used to draw conclusions about administrative competence for the country as a whole.

Nevertheless, even after introducing nuance, the numbers aren’t flattering. President Donald Trump may claim that the US dodged the calamity predicted by the epidemiological models, which foretold millions of deaths. To be fair, we don’t know the counterfactual — Jeremiads aren’t verifiable. The paradox of successful mitigation is that we can’t see the future we dodged, precisely because we avoided it.

Reducing the death count logarithmically, rather than merely arithmetically, won’t be celebrated because as bad as the worst case scenario could have been, the situation still looks awfully bad. Many still disbelieve the high death toll predicted by epidemiologists early on, particularly Trump supporters who believe the response to the virus, specifically the economic shutdown, has been criminally disproportionate. One can’t simultaneously believe that COVID-19 is no more dangerous than the seasonal flu and that Trump saved millions from the coronavirus. The constituency that acknowledges the lethality of COVID-19 and credits Trump for decisive action against it is small.

Triangle of Incompetence

Trump’s challenger, former Vice President Joe Biden, will charge that fewer Americans would have died had the Trump administration acted earlier. Trump may be accused of having blood on his hands, but such rhetoric is unnecessary. Biden’s team can simply show a montage of Trump’s bombast where he downplayed COVID-19’s lethality, dismissed doctors’ concerns about the shortage of personal protective equipment or exaggerated how well the US was containing the pandemic. Incidentally, the most iconic picture of the administration’s scornful indifference is the current vice president, Michael Pence, visiting a hospital without a mask, surrounded by health-care workers wearing masks.

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Health in 2 Point 00, Episode 134 | Health Tech’s “PPP Blacklist”, Walgreens and VillageMD, & more

Today on Episode 134 of Health in 2 Point 00, Jess and I cover Livongo’s stock price swinging, Brian Dolan’s PPP “Black List” for Health Tech Startups, and Oak Street Health & GoHealth filing their S-1’s. We also get Matthew’s take on Walgreen’s deal with Village MD to become a primary care center, and Doctor on Demand closing a $75M round, bringing its total to $235M in fundingMatthew Holt

Virtually Better

By KIM BELLARD

The COVID-19 pandemic couldn’t have come at a better time for virtual reality.  It has caused many workers to work remotely, introducing many workers to collaborative tools like Slack or Microsoft Teams and even more to video platforms like Zoom or Skype.  But we’re just beginning to understand what collaboration could look like — such as virtual reality (VR).

As CNBC noted: “Virtual reality is booming in the workplace amid the pandemic.”  Even a pre-pandemic Perkins Coie survey, done for the XR Association, predicted an explosion of immersive technologies like VR, augmented reality (AR), and mixed reality (MR).   Elizabeth Hyman, President of XRA, said: “We are at the precipice of an integration of XR technology that will transform businesses and society for the better.”  

The report expected healthcare to be the industry most impacted by immersive technologies (outside of gaming/entertainment).

Take VR-start-up Spatial, which thinks it has a better mousetrap.  Chief Product Officer described their solution to MIT News:

Spatial is a collaborative, holographic, augmented reality solution.  You can teleport to someone’s space, work as an avatar sharing that 3D space, and use it instead of a screen to manage a project, present an idea, and more.

Don’t you love the “and more,” as though the teleportation wasn’t enough?  

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Doctors and Democracy: Why Vote-By-Mail is Good Public Health

Rob Palmer
Josh Hyman
Isaac Freedman

By ROB PALMER, ISAAC FREEDMAN, and JOSH HYMAN

Suppose tomorrow you were informed that patients could no longer have medications delivered to their homes. Thus, in the midst of the worst pandemic in recent history, your patients would have to go to pharmacies to get essential medications. Undoubtedly, you’d be puzzled, wondering why your patients must needlessly put themselves and others in harms’ way to care for their own health. In light of the change, you might even debate if it’s worth the risk of getting your own medications. 

Thankfully, the common-sense practice of delivering medication to people’s homes seems here to stay. Yet many people will face a similar issue on election day this November: Fifteen states severely restrict who can vote by mail. In these states, millions of citizens will be forced to choose between exercising their right to vote and safeguarding their own health. 

So long as SARS-CoV-2 remains a threat, in-person voting is a public health crisis. Unless we want to risk a spike in new COVID-19 cases, with the concomitant deaths and strain on the healthcare system, it is critical to ensure that anyone who wants to vote in the upcoming general election can use mail-in voting. Indeed, a peer-reviewed study published in May found a statistically significant increase in COVID-19 cases in the weeks after the Wisconsin primary, specifically in counties with higher in-person votes per voting location. The study also found a decrease in COVID-19 cases in counties with the highest rates of absentee ballots. Unsurprisingly, the study’s authors exhort policy makers to “expand the number of polling locations or encourage absentee voting for future elections.”

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We Are in Store for the Greatest Change to Our Health Care System Since the Affordable Care Act. Here’s Why.

By LOGAN CHO

The COVID-19 pandemic has been harsher and lasted longer than many of us would have predicted. While our media has been inundated with updates on death tolls and economic depression, there has been little conversation of healthcare beyond the era of COVID-19. The first question that we ask when we hear of deaths: was it COVID? We have grown to expect the primary cause of death to be of coronavirus. But the impact of COVID-19 will extend beyond the individual, effecting fundamental and long-lasting change to our healthcare system.

By this point, it is clear that the public health ramifications are reaching well beyond the physical impacts of the virus. Social isolation, economic depression, soaring unemployment, and mandated closures all contribute to the adversity that we have had to face – notwithstanding the explosive, ever-present sociopolitical climate of a pandemic that is killing Black Americans at a rate almost three times that of whites. This hardship will likely last for months more.

A recent Kaiser Family Foundation publication found that half of the public have skipped or postponed medical care due to the pandemic, with one-fourth reporting worse health as a result. Many of these people do not plan to receive the care they need within the next three months. The public is simultaneously reporting declines in mental health. Furthermore, over 30% say they have had difficulty paying for household expenses, like food, rent, and medications. The figures are disproportionately damning among Black and Hispanic populations.

Taken together, the inaccessibility of medical care, deteriorating mental health, increasing poverty, worsening access to nutrition, and host of other challenges present a dark, impending storm. Cancer, diabetes, and other chronic diseases will all be rearing their untreated heads post-pandemic. Communities and policymakers must therefore act quickly and decisively to heal not only a sick population, but a fraying social fabric.

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A Conversation with John Ioannidis

By SAURABH JHA, MD

The COVID-19 pandemic has been a testing time for the already testy academic discourse. Decisions have had to be made with partial information. Information has come in drizzles, showers and downpours. The velocity with which new information has arrived has outstripped our ability to make sense of it. On top of that, the science has been politicized in a polarized country with a polarizing president at its helm.

As the country awoke to an unprecedented economic lockdown in the middle of March, John Ioannidis, professor of epidemiology at Stanford University and one of the most cited physician scientists who practically invented “metaresearch”, questioned the lockdown and wondered if we might cause more harm than good in trying to control coronavirus. What would normally pass for skepticism in the midst of uncertainty of a novel virus became tinder in the social media outrage fire.

Ioannidis was likened to the discredited anti-vax doctor, Andrew Wakefield. His colleagues in epidemiology could barely contain their disgust, which ranged from visceral disappointment – the sort one feels when their gifted child has lost their way in college, to deep anger. He was accused of misunderstanding risk, misunderstanding statistics, and cherry picking data to prove his point.

The pushback was partly a testament to the stature of Ioannidis, whose skepticism could have weakened the resoluteness with which people complied with the lockdown. Some academics defended him, or rather defended the need for a contrarian voice like his. The conservative media lauded him.

In this pandemic, where we have learnt as much about ourselves as we have about the virus, understanding the pushback to Ioannidis is critical to understanding how academic discourse shapes public’s perception of public policy.

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THCB Gang Episode 17, LIVE 7/9 1PM PT/4PM ET

Episode 17 of “The THCB Gang” was live-streamed on Thursday, July 9th! Watch it below!

Joining me were some of our regulars: patient advocate Grace Cordovano (@GraceCordovano), health economist Jane Sarasohn-Kahn (@healthythinker), WTF Health Host Jessica DaMassa (@jessdamassa), and guests: Tina Park, partner at Diagram (@diagramoffice) & Shannon Brownlee, Senior VP at the Lown Institute (@ShannonBrownlee). The conversation focused on asynchronous care, the gap between patients & technology, and the Supreme Court ruling on employers’ ability to limit women’s access to birth control coverage. It was a great and engaging conversation with some of the top health care experts in the field.

If you’d rather listen, the audio is preserved as a weekly podcast available on our iTunes & Spotify channels — Zoya Khan

Equipoise and Its Problems

By MICHEL ACCAD, MD

I recently participated in a debate opposing me to Professor Adam Cifu on the topic of “Evidence-based medicine in the age of COVID.” The debate took place on an episode of Dr. Chadi Nabhan’s Outspoken Oncology podcast. Dr. Saurabh Jha was the moderator and he did a great job keeping us on point and asking for important clarifications when needed. It was a fun and cordial moment and I found it intellectually fruitful. You can listen to it here or on any podcast platform. The discussion strengthened my conviction that the central issue about EBM is the conflation of the role of the physician with that of the clinical scientist.

That conflation was quite apparent in a recent online editorial published by Robert Yeh and colleagues on the topic of equipoise during the COVID-19 pandemic. Yeh at al. are accomplished academic cardiologists and outcomes researchers (Yeh was a guest on The Accad and Koka Report a couple of years ago).

I’ll get to their editorial in a moment, but equipoise is a term that I became aware of only in the last few years, mainly from mentions on MedTwitter. From those mentions I developed an intuitive sense of what equipoise must mean: a mental state of uncertainty about a treatment that prompts the medical community to seek a more definitive answer by way of a randomized controlled trial. For example, one might say “I’m not sure if hydroxychloroquine works to prevent or treat COVID-19.  Based on the existing collective experience, there is equipoise about it.  We need a clinical trial.”

That seems reasonably straightforward, but the editorial by Yeh et al. piqued my curiosity so I decided to look into the origin of the term and its introduction in the medical literature.

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Health in 2 Point 00, Episode 133 | PBMs galore, Genome Medical, & the FCC’s Rural Health Program

Episode 133 of Health in 2 Point 00 is brought to you by the letter P — that’s P for PBMs, of course. In this episode, Jess and I talk about Genome Medical extending their series B and getting another $14 million on top of the $23 million they already raised for their remote genetic counseling services, the FCC adding another $198 million to their rural health program, bringing the funding to a whopping total of $802 million, Anthem’s PBM IngenioRx acquiring pharmacy startup Zipdrug, and Capital Rx, a startup PBM, announced a deal with Walmart. —Matthew Holt

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