Plans by several national retail pharmacy chains to expand primary care services and even some clinical laboratory test offerings may be delayed because of financial woes
Times are tough for the nation’s retail pharmacy chains. Rite Aid Corporation, headquartered in Philadelphia, closed 25 stores this year and has now filed for bankruptcy. In a press release, the retail pharmacy company announced it has “initiated a voluntary-court supervised process under Chapter 11 of the US Bankruptcy Code,” and that it plans to “significantly reduce the company’s debt” and “resolve litigation claims in an equitable manner.”
Rite Aid may eventually close 400 to 500 of its 2,100 stores, Forbes reported.
Meanwhile, other retail pharmacy chains are struggling as well. CVS Health, headquartered in Woonsocket, Rhode Island, and Walgreens Boots Alliance of Deerfield, Illinois, are each closing hundreds of stores, according to the Daily Mail.
They are each experiencing problems with labor costs, theft, being disintermediated for prescriptions by pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs), and probably building too many stores in most markets.
This is a significant development, in the sense that Walgreens, CVS, and Walmart are each working to open and operate primary care clinics in their stores. This is a way to offset the loss of filling prescriptions, which has migrated to PBMs. Primary care clinics are important to the revenue of local clinical laboratories, but retail pharmacy chains do not yet operate enough primary care clinics in their retail pharmacies to be a major influence on the lab testing marketplace.
“With the support of our lenders, we look forward to strengthening our financial foundation, advancing our transformation initiatives, and accelerating the execution of our turnaround strategy,” said Jeffrey Stein (above), Rite Aid’s CEO/Chief Restructuring Officer, in a press release. Clinical laboratory leaders may want to closely monitor the activities of the retail pharmacies in their areas. (Photo copyright: Rite Aid.)
Multiple Pharmacy Companies at Financial Risk
Rite Aid Corporation (NYSE: RAD) confirmed it continues to operate its retail and online platforms and has received from lenders $3.45 billion in financing to support the company through the bankruptcy process.
However, according to the Associated Press (AP), Rite Aid has experienced “annual losses for several years” and “faces financial risk from lawsuits over opioid prescriptions,” adding that the company reported total debts of $8.6 billion.
Rite Aid is not the only retail pharmacy brand dealing with unwelcome developments. Fortune reported last year that Walgreens and CVS paid a combined $10 billion to 12 states for “involvement in the opioid epidemic.”
Walgreens intends to close 150 US and 300 United Kingdom locations, its former Chief Financial Officer James Kehoe shared in a third quarter 2023 earnings call transcribed by Motley Fool.
And in a news release, CVS announced plans to close 900 stores between 2022 and 2024.
Pharmacy Companies’ Investment in Primary Care
Though they are experiencing difficulties on the retail side, Walgreens and CVS have significantly invested in primary care.
In that same ebrief, we reported on CVS’ acquisition of Oak Street Health, a Chicago-based primary care company, for $10.6 billion. CVS plans to have more than 300 healthcare centers by 2026.
“We looked at our business, and we said, ‘We’re seeing an aging population.’ We know people don’t have access to primary care. We know that value-based care is where it’s going. We know that there’s been a renaissance in home (care). So that’s kind of how we approached our acquisitions,” Karen Lynch, CVS Chief Executive Officer told Fortune.
Other Challenges to Retail Pharmacies
It could be that these major pharmacy chains are hoping entry into primary care will offset the loss of sales from prescriptions that have migrated to PBM organizations.
In addition to reimbursement challenges, retail pharmacies are reportedly experiencing:
High labor costs,
Competition from online, bricks-and-mortar, and grocery businesses, and
Effects from the work-at-home trend, among other struggles.
“I think there’s a number of challenges which are coming to a head. One, you have ongoing reimbursement pressure. The reimbursement level for drugs continues to decrease, so profit margin on the core part of the business is under pressure,” Rodey Wing, a partner in the health and retail practices of global strategy and management consulting firm Kearney, told Drug Store News.
Additionally, the pharmacy’s drug sales need to be high enough to retain pharmacists, who are difficult to recruit in a post-pandemic market, Drug Store News explained.
And in the retail space where products are displayed, some pharmacies struggle to compete with Amazon on convenience and with “dollar” stores on price. And with more people working from home, retail pharmacies are seeing less foot traffic, Drug Store News noted.
Retail pharmacy companies also have competition from pharmacies conveniently situated in grocery and big-box stores, Forbes reported. These include:
Walmart, for its part, reduced operating hours of pharmacies at more than 4,500 sites, Daily Mail reported.
Thus, medical laboratory leaders would be wise to keep an eye on market changes in their local retail pharmacies. Some locations are equipped with clinical laboratory services and a closure could give local labs an opportunity to reach out to patients and physicians who need access to a new testing provider.
The newly approved legislation will “eliminate regulations preventing patients from learning about diagnostic testing and services provided by local clinical laboratories,” according to a press release issued by the Pennsylvania Senate Republicans.
Republican state Senator Rosemary Brown was the bill’s primary sponsor. She was joined as co-sponsors by a bipartisan group of colleagues.
“The regulations prevent patients from learning about clinical laboratories and the services they provide,” Brown said in the press release. “Patients deserve to know about their options when they are selecting a clinical laboratory to perform these important tests and procedures.”
The press release noted that Pennsylvania is the only state that prohibits clinical laboratories from advertising to residents.
“It’s time for Pennsylvania to catch up with the rest of the nation and enable patients to have access to this information,” said co-sponsor of the bill Republican Senator Tracy Pennycuick (above) in a press release. “Our bill would enable advertising while maintaining the important consumer protection provisions that ensure tests and procedures can only be performed based on a doctor’s order.” Once enacted into law, clinical laboratories in Pennsylvania will be able to advertise their services just like labs in other US states. (Photo copyright: Montgomery County Republican Committee.)
Details of Senate Bill 712
The bill applies to clinical laboratory tests ordered by licensed healthcare practitioners and performed by the medical laboratories themselves. Labs are prohibited from making claims “about the reliability and validity of the testing that is inconsistent with the testing proficiency standards” in federal law, the bill states, and labs must disclose that the test “may or may not be covered by health insurance.”
Brown, Pennycuick, and co-sponsor Republican Senator Lynda Schlegel Culver, discussed the need for the new legislation in a March 2023 memo, observing that 70% of healthcare decisions are influenced by clinical laboratory tests.
“As our state and the nation’s healthcare system continues to grow and evolve, consumers are demanding greater transparency and to be more engaged in how healthcare is delivered to them,” they wrote, adding that the state’s current restrictions are “outdated.”
“We believe permitting outreach to Pennsylvania consumers with accurate, scientifically based diagnostic information can be a source of personalized, highly relevant insight to help foster better, more informed dialogue with licensed healthcare providers, which enables Pennsylvania consumers to take action to improve their health,” they wrote.
“Patients should have access to information about the services and procedures available at their local clinical laboratories,” said Senator Culver in the press release. “I want to make sure patients can make informed decisions about where and how to obtain these important health services. Our bill would remove the gag order on this specific set of healthcare services.”
Similar legislation, HB1558, sponsored by Republican Representative Paul Schemel, is currently pending in Pennsylvania’s House of Representatives.
Larger Push for Healthcare Consumerism
Dark Daily and our sister publication The Dark Report have reported extensively about the rise of consumerism in healthcare—including factors such as price transparency—as it applies to medical laboratories.
And in “Millennials Set to Reorder Healthcare and Lab Testing,” The Dark Report advised clinical laboratories on the need to reconfigure key aspects of their services to accommodate the rising numbers of Millennials in the workforce. For example, these consumers are accustomed to using mobile devices to interact with retailers and want the same convenience when obtaining healthcare services from doctors and labs.
Global management consulting firm McKinsey and Company addressed many of these issues in report titled, “Driving Growth through Consumer Centricity in Healthcare.” The authors suggested that healthcare providers need to “redefine the consumer experience” by emulating “consumer-focused companies in other sectors” with “personalized offerings and services, value-based pricing, and an elevated experience—all from distinctive, high-quality brands.”
The report also noted that providers still have a lot of work to do. “Many consumers believe that the health system does not support their care needs, and they perceive that the quality of their healthcare is negatively affected by their personal attributes, including income, insurance coverage, weight, and age, among other factors,” the authors wrote.
Huron, a healthcare consulting company, identified five current trends in healthcare consumerism based on a survey of US consumers, Healthcare Dive reported. They are:
Greater digital functionality, including telehealth, wearable devices to report health data, and mobile apps for scheduling, communication, and payment.
Affordability, shorter wait times, and online ratings as factors driving consumers to choose providers.
Accurate diagnoses and effective treatment plans as drivers of consumer satisfaction.
Increasing demand for technology-enabled conveniences such as virtual care.
More price transparency in response to concerns about affordability.
Pennsylvania’s decision to join the rest of the nation and allow clinical laboratories to advertise their services may be evidence that the growing number of consumers who want direct access to medical care and the ability to choose their provider—be it hospital, physician, or clinical laboratory—are encouraging the pathology and medical laboratory professions to lobby their state lawmakers to make it easier to advertise their services to the public.
This trend, which began during the COVID-19 pandemic, may bypass those clinical laboratories and pathology groups that recruit patients for clinical trials, but increase the diversity of the pool of study participants
National retail pharmacy chains are seeking new lines of business in the healthcare market and their efforts could cost clinical laboratories and pathology groups revenue. Their strategy is to identify patients who are candidates for specific clinical trials and connect them with clinical trial managers for enrollment, according to CNET.
Traditionally, there are clinical laboratories and anatomic pathology groups that actively work to connect their patients with appropriate clinical trials (and earn revenue for both the enrollment and doing necessary testing of the patient in support of the trial). Now, following the FDA’s lead, pharmacy companies seem to be working to capture some of that revenue.
“COVID-19 was definitely the impetus for reevaluating how we did clinical trials,” Ramita Tandon, Chief Clinical Trials Officer at Walgreens, told CNET. The interest of retail pharmacies in the business of identifying their patients as candidates for clinical trials is a development that clinical lab managers and pathologists may want to monitor. (Photo copyright: Walgreens.)
Customer Demand for Convenience a Factor
Clinical trials are imperative to the drug approval process required by the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research (CDER). The COVID-19 pandemic fueled the FDA’s move to decentralize clinical trials to help pharmaceutical companies recruit subjects for drug testing.
Retail pharmacy chains apparently saw that as the latest opportunity to position retail pharmacies as intermediaries between drug manufacturers and patients.
In response to growing demand for convenient healthcare locations, Walgreens, CVS, Rite Aid, and Walmart have all installed primary care clinics into their retail pharmacies and added vaccinations. Further, after COVID-19 caused retail pharmacy chains to sell over-the-counter SARS-CoV-2 home test kits, pharmacies sought to offer more diagnostic test options to their customers, which would further direct such tests away from clinical laboratories.
Over the last two years, Walgreens, Walmart, CVS, and Kroger have also added clinical trials divisions to their corporate holdings. Among the companies’ stated goals is to make clinical trials more accessible and convenient for their customers, as well as to recruit more trial participants from underrepresented populations.
According to an article published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research (JMIR), “around 80% of trials fail to meet the initial enrollment target and timeline, and these delays can result in lost revenue of as much as US $8 million per day for drug developing companies.” This shortfall may delay the creation of useful drugs, medical devices, and other essential treatments.
“If you see the trial is at an academic institution that’s 30, 40 miles away, you’re going to say, ‘Forget it. It’s too far,’” Ramita Tandon, Chief Clinical Trials Officer at Walgreens, told CNET. “But if you can go to a Walgreens that’s maybe five miles away, you’re more likely to participate and complete the trial.”
Creating a More Diverse Group of Clinical Trial Participants
CNET reported that “Pfizer, Gilead, and other biopharmaceutical companies are eager to diversify their patient pool.”
According to the FDA’s 2022 Drug Trials Snapshot, “Whites comprised the majority of patients enrolled in most of the pivotal trials supporting approval of all 37 novel therapies, followed by Asians and Blacks.”
Walgreens, which operates 8,698 pharmacies in 53 states and territories, has installed special clinical trial centers at 15 pharmacies and has approximately one dozen clinical trials in various stages. Tandon said more than two million Walgreens customers have already been contacted about participating in clinical trials.
In January, grocery giant Kroger announced its first clinical trial partnership with Persephone Biosciences to locate subjects for a study on gut health and its influence on colorectal cancer. Data collected from this trial will help develop personalized medicines and discover cancer-specific indicators that may be beneficial in guiding treatments and preventative measures.
Kroger Health operates nearly 2,200 pharmacies across the US, including 11 specialty pharmacies and 225 clinics.
In October of last year, Walmart announced the creation of the Walmart Healthcare Research Institute (WHRI), which will focus on innovative interventions and medications to help communities that are unrepresented in clinical trials, such as older adults, rural residents, women and minority populations.
Walmart operates over 3,000 pharmacies in 49 states. Ninety percent of Americans live within ten miles of a Walmart, which translates to the retailer being able to reach a large number of candidates for clinical trials.
Study findings published by marketing research company Precedence Research illustrate how the business of clinical trials generated more than $48 billion last year and is projected to reach over $83 billion by 2032. (Graphic copyright: Precedence Research.)
CVS Discontinues Decentralized Clinical Trial Business
CVS Health was the first pharmacy to launch a clinical trials program back in May 2021. However, in May of this year, the company announced it was shuttering that portion of its business.
CVS Health expects to fully phase out its clinical trials unit by the end of 2024, citing “the need to align existing businesses with its larger corporate strategy,” according to BioSpace.
“Fully decentralized models preclude a huge swath of possible research because of safety and regulatory concerns,” Steve Wimmer, Vice President of Partnerships at decentralized clinical trial recruiter 1nHealth, told BioSpace. “It’s difficult to conduct such trials in a standardized manner. I think [CVS] may have imagined that a clinical study visit wouldn’t be that different from the primary care visits they already do. But for interventional, go-to-study trials, it’s not the same as a primary care visit.”
There are clinical laboratories and anatomic pathology groups that actively work to connect their patients with those clinical trials. Though pharmacy companies’ clinical trial recruitment programs may reduce revenue for those labs and pathologists, the increased participation in such trials by greater numbers and more diverse populations of people could advance the development of new lifesaving treatments and therapies, which is good for everyone.
Consumer demand for telehealth services and convenient healthcare locations fuels Amazon’s quest to ‘reinvent’ healthcare
Amazon’s stated goal of disrupting traditional healthcare processes and workflow continues. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Amazon built several large clinical laboratories to do its own SARS-CoV-2 testing. Then, last February, Amazon acquired One Medical, a San Francisco-based primary care provider that offers telehealth services, for $3.9 billion. Now, Amazon is opening new One Medical locations and expanding its primary care service nationwide.
Acquiring One Medical gave Amazon dozens of existing physical healthcare locations. There are currently more than 125 One Medical clinics offering clinical laboratory testing and primary care services—including telehealth and live chat consulting—in several large metropolitan areas around the country.
For an annual fee of $199, patients who utilize One Medical receive access to year around 24/7 on-demand, virtual care. Other services, such as in-office doctor visits and clinical laboratory testing, can be billed to most major insurance health plans.
The trend of shifting clinical services from in-person, medical-office visits to other approaches, such as virtual care, continues to expand throughout the healthcare industry driven by consumer demand.
Amazon now offers virtual healthcare services in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The company appears committed to delivering what it believes are better alternatives to existing primary care, clinical laboratory, and retail pharmacies.
“We’re on a mission to make it dramatically easier for people to find, choose, afford, and engage with the services, products, and professionals they need to get and stay healthy, and coming together with One Medical is a big step on that journey,” said Neil Lindsay, Senior Vice President of Amazon Health Services in a press release. Clinical laboratories in areas where One Medical operates may want to investigate opportunities to collaborate with Amazon. (Photo copyright: Advertising Age/Daniel Berman.)
Does One Medical Represent the Future of Healthcare?
In August, Amazon announced the opening of new One Medical offices in Connecticut and San Francisco. A new facility will also be opened in Milwaukee in the fall with more new locations planned for 2024.
“If you fast forward 10 years from now, people are not going to believe how primary care was administered. For decades, you called your doctor, made an appointment three or four weeks out, drove 15-20 minutes to the doctor, parked your car, signed in and waited several minutes in reception, eventually [you] were placed in an exam room, where you waited another 10-15 minutes before the doctor came in, saw you for five to ten minutes and prescribed medicine, and then you drove 20 minutes to the pharmacy to pick it up—and that’s if you didn’t have to then go see a specialist for additional evaluation, where the process repeated and could take even longer for an appointment,” said Amazon CEO Andy Jassy in a One Medical news release.
“Customers want and deserve better, and that’s what One Medical has been working and innovating on for more than a decade. Together, we believe we can make the healthcare experience easier, faster, more personal, and more convenient for everyone,” he added.
These are some of One Medical’s offerings according to the news release:
Around-the-clock access through the One Medical app.
On-demand virtual care services, like 24/7 video chats and easy in-app messaging, included in membership at no extra cost.
Same and next-day in-office or remote visits.
Walk-in availability for on-site clinical laboratory services.
Clinical and digital integrations with leading hospital networks across the US.
Easy access to vaccine and medical records, prescription renewals, specialty referrals, and lab results in the One Medical app.
“One Medical has set the bar for what a quality, convenient, and affordable primary care experience should be like,” said Neil Lindsay, Senior Vice President of Amazon Health Services in the news release. “We’re inspired by their human-centered, technology-forward approach and excited to help them continue to grow and serve more patients.”
Not Amazon’s First Attempt at Delivering Healthcare
This latest venture is not Amazon’s first dive into the healthcare market. The company initially began offering medical services through its Amazon Clinic in limited locations starting last November.
According to its website, Amazon Clinic can quickly treat common health issues via 24/7 video visits with a clinician. No appointments are needed, and health insurance is not a requirement.
Other Amazon ventures into healthcare have not been successful. In 2020, their Haven Healthcare project failed less than three years after its launch. Despite partnering with Berkshire Hathaway and JPMorgan Chase, Haven Healthcare faltered mostly due to insufficient market power, unacceptable incentives, and poor timing because of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Harvard Business Review.
Amazon also shuttered Amazon Care, a pilot program for their employees that blended telehealth and primary healthcare services, at the end of last year.
With an increase in the number of companies moving into the healthcare market, patients may have access to better options, more reasonable pricing, and faster and more convenient access to services in the future, including clinical laboratory testing.
“At the end of the day, all patients, all customers, all people want to be healthy,” said Nworah Ayogu, MD, Amazon Clinic General Manager and founding Medical Director for CityBlock Health, during a CNBC Healthy Returns Summit virtual event earlier this year. “The reason why they’re not healthy is because the health system has all these barriers, so whether that is cost, confusion … some are societal, some within the healthcare system, so that’s really on us to remove those barriers and think through how we do that.”
Clinical laboratories operating in areas serviced by Amazon’s One Medical clinics may find an opportunity to help support Amazon’s goal of providing affordable healthcare in convenient locations. At the same time, pathologists and lab executives may find it timely to recognize how primary care is poised to be transformed by disruptors, such as Amazon and those national retail pharmacy chains now building primary clinics in their stores.
Sales of SARS-CoV-2 tests at other IVD companies, including Roche Diagnostics and Danaher’s lab businesses also report declines in COVID-19 test revenue
Clinical laboratory leaders and pathologists seeking a marker that the COVID-19 pandemic has passed may have it in the plunge in SARS-CoV-2 test revenue during the second quarter at Abbott Laboratories, Abbott Park, Illinois.
COVID-19 test sales in Q2 2023 at Abbott fell a “whopping” 89% as people try to “move on” from the SARS-CoV-2 outbreak, the Chicago Tribune reported.
Developer of the BinaxNOW rapid COVID-19 antigen self-test, Abbott saw its COVID-19 sales revenue decline from $2.3 billion in Q2 2022 to $263 million in the quarter ending June 30, the Chicago Tribune noted.
The decline was expected by Abbott. Nonetheless, the company will likely sell more than $1 billion in COVID-19 tests by the end of this year—business it did not have in 2019.
Abbott lowered its forecast for COVID-19 sales in 2023 to $1.3 billion, down from $1.5 billion, MedTech Dive reported.
“We decided to bring our COVID-19 number down a couple of hundred million dollars, because we’re seeing—as the public health emergency ended—a little bit of a decline in testing,” said Abbott’s Chairman and CEO Robert Ford during an earnings call transcribed by Motley Fool. “So, we’ll see how that’s going to play out in Q4 (2023), the first quarter we will see an endemic respiratory season.” Clinical laboratories that performed high numbers of SARS-CoV-2 test during the pandemic will likely experience similar declines in test volumes. [Photo copyright: Abbott Laboratories.)
Overall, Abbott Has ‘Good Recovery’
COVID-19-related diagnostics was just part of the financial report by Abbott, which also develops other clinical laboratory tests, clinical laboratory analyzers and automation, medical devices, pharmaceuticals, and nutritional products such as infant formula.
Abbott said in a news release that its sales—driven by base business performance—were $10 billion in Q2.
“We have had a really, really good recovery here as the health systems are opening up, and are seeing routine testing come back,” said Abbott’s Chairman and CEO Robert Ford during the earnings call.
Here are diagnostics financial results for Q2 2023 as compared to Q2 2022, according to the news release:
Diagnostic sales fell to $2.3 billion from $4.2 billion.
Core laboratory sales were flat at $1.2 billion.
Molecular sales plunged to $141 million from $212 million.
Rapid diagnostics plummeted to $741 million from $2.7 billion.
As need for COVID-19 testing contracts, Abbott is focusing on research and development of assays that may be “missing on the menus,” Ford said during the earnings call.
“We’ve been working on expanding the menu in molecular and point-of-care. One of the most exciting assays that the team has developed for point-of-care is a rapid test for traumatic brain injury,” he added.
COVID-19 Revenue Falls at Roche, Danaher
Abbott is not the only in vitro diagnostics (IVD) manufacturer to report a recent significant decline in demand for COVID-19 products.
Another sign the major wave of the pandemic has passed is the dramatic fall in COVID-19 product revenue at Roche to 0.4 billion Swiss Francs (CHF) (US$460 million) from 3.1 billion CHF (US$3.5 billion) in the first half of 2022, according to a Roche news release.
The Basel, Switzerland company—reporting on six months of financial results—said its Roche Group base business increased 8% and Diagnostics Division base business rose 6% in 2023, as compared to the first six months last year.
Diagnostics Division sales overall fell 23% to 7 billion CHF (US$8 billion) from 9.9 billion CHF (US$11.3 billion), Roche said.
Here are more first-half of 2023 financial results at Roche as compared to the same period in 2022:
Core lab: 3.9 billion CHF ($US 4.4 billion), up 10% from 3.8 billion CHF (US$4.3 billion).
Molecular lab: 1.1 billion CHF (US$1.2 billion), down 40% from 1.9 billion CHF (US$2.1 billion).
Diabetes care: 723 million CHF (US$831.7 million), down 5% from 832 million CHF (US$957 million).
Pathology lab: 687 million CHF (US$790 million), up 12% from 652 million CHF (US$750 million).
Point of care: 635 million CHF (US$730.6 million), plummeted 74% from 2.6 billion CHF (US$2.9 billion).
“In the first half of 2023, sales in the base business of both of our divisions (diagnostics and pharmaceuticals) grew strongly, largely offsetting the impact of declining demand for COVID-19 products,” said Roche CEO Thomas Schinecker, PhD, in the news release.
COVID-19 May Linger as IVD Companies Refresh Menus
As the COVID-19 pandemic wanes, healthcare providers will continue to test patients for the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus.
But it also appears that IVD companies are aiming to keep their instruments—which ran full tilt performing COVID-19 testing during the pandemic—of high value to clinical laboratories by developing new tests for possible inclusion on labs’ testing menus.
Loss could indicate an industrywide slowdown in digital health adoption and suggests medical laboratories will want to continue developing a virtual care strategy
Only two years after Teladoc Health (NYSE:TDOC) completed acquisition of Livongo, a data-based health coaching company, the virtual healthcare provider reported a 2022 net loss of $13.7 billion, a company press release announced.
The loss, which has been described as “historic,” is “mostly from a write-off related to the plummeting value of its Livongo acquisition. … By comparison, in 2021 [just a year earlier], Teladoc posted a net loss of $429 million,” Fierce Healthcare reported.
However, during Teladoc’s fourth quarter earnings call, CEO Jason Gorevic said, “We are pleased with the strong fourth quarter and full-year operating results. Despite a challenging macro environment, we were able to expand our product offerings and enhance the level of care delivered across our integrated whole-person platform.” Teladoc Health’s 2022 revenue was $2,406,840 compared to $2,032,707 in 2021. That’s an 18% increase over last year’s revenue, according to the earnings report. Nevertheless, a month before the earnings call Teladoc laid off 300 non-clinician employees, Fierce Healthcare noted.
“Teladoc Health has been at the forefront of the adoption curve, and we believe that our scale, breadth of product offering, and proven outcomes will enable us to maintain and expand our position in the market,” said Teladoc Health CEO Jason Gorevic during February’s earnings call. Clinical laboratory leaders may view the company’s $13B loss as indication that adoption in telehealth by physicians, healthcare providers, and patients of digital-based health services is not happening as swiftly has been predicted. (Photo copyright: The Business Journals.)
Predictions in Telehealth Adoption Fall Short
Teladoc Health, based in Purchase, New York, acquired Livongo of Mountain View, California, in October 2020 for $18.5 billion.
A news release at that time declared that the merger was “a transformational opportunity to improve the delivery, access, and experience of healthcare for consumers around the world.
“The highly complementary organizations,” the release stated, “will combine to create substantial value across the healthcare ecosystem, enabling clients everywhere to offer high quality, personalized, technology-enabled longitudinal care that improves outcomes and lowers costs across the full spectrum of health.”
The deal was hailed as advancing telemedicine and digital health services. As it turned out, though, the demand for those types of services fell far short of the Teladoc’s expectations. One way to interpret the cause of the multi-billion dollar write-down is that adoption of digital health services by physicians, healthcare providers, and consumers is not happening as fast as Teladoc projected.
It may also be that companies allocated too much money to deals during the COVID-19 pandemic, an unstable period of time for making major business decisions.
Teladoc to Reduce Costs while Pursuing Increased Adoption of Virtual Care
Gorevic told analysts during the earnings call that the company needs to reduce costs and reach a market that is “in the early innings.” Year-over-year growth of 6% to 11% is expected in 2023, he said.
“You should expect us to balance growth and margin with an increased focus on efficiency going forward. Part of that approach is rightsizing the cost structure to reflect the current growth rates of the business,” Gorevic said. “The more balanced approach does not mean that we will stop relentlessly pursing growth and increased adoption of virtual care across the industry. Virtual care’s role within the healthcare industry remains underpenetrated, and we will continue to invest to expand our leadership position,” he added.
Digital Health Investing Falls Off
However, citing digital health market data in the new CB Insights report, Becker’s Hospital Review(Becker’s) suggested the digital health bubble may have “popped,” and that funding by investors is falling fast from the “Golden Age” of 2021.
The digital health category grew by 79% in 2021 to $57.2 billion, a record high, according to data cited by Becker’s. In the fourth quarter of 2021, there were 13 new digital health companies with valuations of at least $1 billion each. But by the end of 2022, digital health funding dropped to $3.4 billion. That’s “a five-year low,” Becker’s reported.
“The drop in funding in digital health companies I feel is a response to the volatility in healthcare where over 50% of hospitals and healthcare providers have posted losses for 2022 and a bleak outlook for 2023,” Darrell Bodnar, Chief Information Officer at North Country Healthcare in Lancaster, New Hampshire, told Becker’s.
And, in a statement about hospitals’ financial health, Fitch Ratings said providers in 2022 reported “weaker profitability and liquidity” as compared to 2021. For most providers, a “rapid financial recovery” is not expected, Fitch noted.
Labs Need Telehealth Strategies
All of this uncertainty in the telehealth/virtual care markets may ultimately benefit clinical laboratories and lab investors who delayed investing in technology that enables supporting physicians and patients using telemedicine visits. Still, it would be smart for medical laboratory leaders to develop a digital health strategy to meet consumer demand for lab testing services in tandem with virtual care visits with healthcare providers.