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.
Will health monitoring with finger rings become more popular than wrist worn devices? One company hopes the answer is yes!
Personal health monitoring devices continue to grow smaller. Now there is a company selling a smart ring that fits on an individual’s finger. Clinical laboratory managers and pathologists may find this an interesting development, particularly because it shows progress in miniaturizing diagnostic capabilities and putting them into ever-smaller devices.
At the same time, health monitoring devices are becoming increasingly popular with consumers who want to track their overall health and certain medical conditions. However, devices currently on the market generally attach at the wrist like the Apple Watch and Fitbit.
Introduced by Movano, Inc. of Pleasanton, Calif., at the 2022 CES (Consumer Electronic Show) in Las Vegas, the Movano Ring tracks “sleep, heart rate variability, body temperature, and more,” according to the company’s website. Whether clinical laboratories will be involved with this data remains to be seen.
Primarily targeted at women, the Movano Ring offers “superior health-tracking technology and the convenient form,” according to Digital Trends.
The new smart ring device is expected to be released in beta form later this year. It is similar to the Oura Ring, which was launched in 2017 by OURA, located in Oulu, Finland (US office in San Francisco).
The Movano Ring (above) will come in four styles and be available later this year. The monitoring device “measures a user’s heart rate, temperature, SpO2, calories consumed, and steps taken, among other parameters generally tracked by smart wear. However, Movano’s app is the killer feature, as it can give actionable insights to users into their health so that they can make short-term, as well as long-term, changes,” Digital Trends reported. Clinical laboratories may one day be processing data streamed from these devices if the FDA grants class II medical device designation. (Photo copyright: Movano.)
Movano Seeks FDA Clearance
In an interview with MedTech Intelligence, Movano’s CEO John Mastrototaro, PhD, said the company saw a gap in the wearables market. “There was a real lack of solutions designed specifically for women and some of the unique health challenges women face as they age.”
Cuffless blood pressure testing and blood glucose monitoring are “holy grails for wearable tech,” and Movano plans to add them over time and testing of its radio frequency, The Verge reported.
“We’re taking the regulatory side of things very seriously,” Mastrototaro told The Verge.
In a news release, Movano announced completion of a study it conducted with University of California San Francisco “to assess the accuracy of the Movano Ring’s blood oxygen saturation (SpO2) and heart rate data.
“With results that exceeded the requirements of the industry standard used by FDA for evaluating SpO2 devices, this successful study is a promising step toward the company’s goal to provide medically-validated data to consumers and healthcare professionals,” the news release stated.
Seven participants wearing Movano Ring prototypes participated in the study to test the device’s accuracy during mild, moderate, and severe hypoxia, as well as heart rate changes while they were deprived of oxygen.
Comparing data to other reference devices, the researchers found the Movano Ring resulted in a 2% margin of error, which was well below the FDA’s 4% margin of error requirement for blood oxygen saturation, the news release stated.
Ring Works with Sensors, App
Sensors embedded in the Movano Ring collect data which is available to wearers through a smartphone application.
“Data from sensors that are embedded within the ring revolve around heart rate, heart rate variability, sleep respiration rate, temperature, blood oxygen, steps, calories, and other women-centric features. We want to have the app experience where all that sensor data is going to the app,” Mastrototaro explained in an interview with Medical Device and Diagnostic Industry.
“One of our goals is to translate those measures into what it means about your overall health. We don’t want to bombard people with data … we want to distill it all down to insights for people that help them understand how activities of daily living and their lifestyle affect their overall health,” he said.
Another Smart Ring
Meanwhile, wearable health device developer OURA recently released a third-generation ring model of its Oura Ring, which Engadget called a “technical marvel.”
“Taking the sensors from a smartwatch or fitness tracker and shrinking them into a ring is worthy of enormous praise … There’s much more tech crammed in this time around … including continuous heart rate tracking, temperature monitoring, blood oxygenation, and (menstrual) period prediction,” Engadget said.
OURA developed a new SpO2 feature to help ring wearers uncover problems in breathing while sleeping. In a blog post, scientists explained: “Typically, SpO2 is measured by placing a pulse oximeter on the tip of the finger … the Oura Ring measures light reflected back from the tissue. Fingertips provide good optical characteristics for this noninvasive measurement as blood vessels have thinner walls and are more diffused.”
The Oura Ring Generation 3 costs $299 and comes in silver, black, stealth, and gold finishes. There is a $5.99 monthly membership fee, and the app is compatible with Android and Apple iOS operating systems.
Wearable Health Monitoring Device Trend on the Rise
Over the years, Dark Daily and our sister publication The Dark Report have regularly covered the growing trend of consumers using wearable technologies to monitor their own health and the health of loved ones.
It should be clear to clinical laboratory leaders that popularity of wearable monitoring devices and digital healthcare is expanding among consumers. The data collected may soon find its way into new treatments for chronic illnesses and early warnings for diagnosticians.
All-of-Us program is free to participants and provides data to more than 800 research studies for cancer, COVID-19, Alzheimer’s, and other diseases; findings will lead to new biomarkers for clinical laboratory tests
Many pathologists and clinical laboratory managers know that this group of researchers hope to build a database of more than one million genetic sequences to better understand “how certain genetic traits affect underrepresented communities, which could greatly affect the future of customized healthcare,” CBS affiliate 8 News Now reported.
“Customized healthcare” is a euphemism for precision medicine, and genetic sequencing is increasingly playing a key role in the development of personalized diagnostics and therapeutics for cancer and other deadly diseases.
Matthew Thombs, Senior Project Manager of Digital Health Technology at Scripps Research in La Jolla, Calif., joined the All-of-Us program after losing a family member “to a condition I believe could have been managed with changes to their lifestyle,” he told 8 News Now.
“What we are building will empower researchers with the information needed to make such conclusions (about possible need to change lifestyles) and forever alter how diseases are treated,” he added. “I hope that what we are doing here will help my son grow up in a world where healthcare is more of a priority, and many of the ailments we see today are things of the past.”
Such genetic testing could discover biomarkers for future personalized clinical laboratory diagnostics and drug therapies, a key aspect of precision medicine.
Scripps Research Integrates Mobile Health Technology into All-of-Us Program
A critical aspect of the NIH’s research is determining how people’s behavior combined with their genetics may predispose them to certain diseases. Nonprofit research institution Scripps Research is working with the NIH’s All of Us Research Program to enroll and collect biological samples from one million US residents.
In addition, Scripps is fitting study participants with wearable mobile health devices to capture data on their habits and lifestyles.
“Until now, the treatment and prevention of disease has been based on a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach, with most therapeutics tailored for the ‘average patient’. However, advances in genomic sequencing, mobile health technologies, and increasingly sophisticated informatics are ushering in a new era of precision medicine. This new approach takes into account differences in people’s genes, environment, and lifestyles giving medical professionals resources to design targeted treatments and prevention strategies for the individual,” Scripps states on its website.
Can wearable fitness devices and related data contribute to research on genetics and healthcare outcomes? Scripps aims to find out. It has fitted 10,000 people in the All-of-Us program with Fitbit devices (Fitbit Charge 4 tracker or Fitbit Versa 3 smartwatch) at no cost. Since February, Scripps has distributed 10,000 Fitbit wearable devices through the All-of-Us program.
“By sharing information about their health, habits, and environment, participants will help researchers understand why people get sick or stay healthy,” the Scripps website adds.
The Scripps researchers plan to analyze how the people use the wearable devices. They are also accumulating data about participants’ physical activity, heart rate, sleep, and other health metrics and outcomes “as part of the broader All of Us program,” a Scripps news release explained.
“This is the first time All of Us is distributing devices to participants. Our goal is to better understand how participants engage during research studies in order to continually improve user experience and participation. We also expect to learn more about how wearable data may inform the personalization of healthcare,” said Julia Moore Vogel, PhD, Director of The Participant Center at the All of Us Research Program at Scripps Research, in the news release.
All-of-Us Program Records ‘Significant Progress in Participant Diversity’
As of June, the NIH has enrolled 386,000 participants into the All-of-Us program, with 278,000 consenting to all of the program’s steps. Eighty percent of biological samples in the collection are from people in communities that have been under-represented in previous biomedical research an NIH new release noted. According to the NIH, that gives the All-of-Us research program “the most diverse dataset.”
What will all this research ultimately bring to clinical laboratories? Who knows? Nevertheless, if federal institutions like the NIH and non-profit research companies like Scripps believe precision medicine is worth investing in, then the All-of-Us program is worth watching.
A diverse database of a million genetic sequences combined with lifestyle and behavioral data may lead to new and improved personalized diagnostics and drug therapies.
Mobile, wearable, mHealth monitoring devices are a key element of many employer fitness programs and clinical laboratories can play an important role in their success
For years Dark Daily has encouraged clinical laboratories to get involved in corporate wellness programs as a way to support their local communities and increase revenues. Now, leveraging the popularity of mobile health (mHealth) wearable devices, UnitedHealthcare (UHC) has found a new way to incentivize employees participating in the insurer’s Motion walking program. UHC is offering free Apple Watches to employees willing to meet or exceed certain fitness goals.
This is the latest wrinkle in a well-established trend of incentivizing
beneficiaries to meet healthcare goals, such as stopping smoking, losing
weight, reducing cholesterol, and lowering blood pressure.
It’s an intriguing gamble by UHC and presents another opportunity for medical laboratories that are equipped to monitor and validate participants’ progress and physical conditions.
How to Get a Free Apple
Watch and FIT at the Same Time
CNBC reported that UHC’s Motion program participants number in the hundreds of thousands. And, according to a UHC news release, they can earn cash rewards up to $1,000 per year. The idea is that participants pay off the cost of their “free” Apple Watch one day at a time by achieving activity goals set in UHC’s FIT tracking method. Those goals include:
500 steps in seven minutes; six times a day, at least one hour apart;
3,000 steps in 30 minutes; and,
10,000 steps in one day.
Though hundreds of thousands of beneficiaries are eligible to participate in UHC’s Motion program through their employers, only 45% of those eligible have enrolled in Motion, Fox Business reported.
UHC hopes the offer of a free Apple Watch (which has
applications to track minutes of exercise, a heart rate monitor, and more) will
encourage people to sign up and then progress toward the Motion program’s FIT
As people meet these goals, they earn $4/day toward the cost
of the Apple Watch. Participants, who do not take enough steps in a six-month period
could be required to repay a percentage of the cost of the smartwatch.
Motion participants who already own an Apple Watch can still
earn up to $1,000 per year in cash rewards for achieving the FIT goals.
Impact of mHealth
Programs/Technology Not Clear
Chronic diseases, including diabetes and heart disease, annually cost the US healthcare system $190 billion and employers $126 billion in lost productivity, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
However, some researchers say it’s too early for mHealth
wearables, medication apps, physician virtual engagement, and other digital tools
(many launched within the past five to seven years) to effect key indicators,
such as obesity, life expectancy, and smoking cessation.
“Some of the benefits of these new tools won’t be realized for a long time. It’s really hard to tease out the impact of digital health. Maybe we’re helping people, but we’re not detecting it,” James Murphy, MD, Associate Professor, University of California San Diego Health and radiation oncologist, told CNBC.
Nevertheless, it behooves medical laboratories to develop
procedures for analyzing and reporting data that could impact people who use
wearable mHealth devices to participate in employer wellness programs.
For example, labs could contact insurance companies with
information about biomarkers that provide views into an individual’s progress
toward personal health goals.
Data-driven recommendations from medical laboratories about
tests for chronic conditions such as heart disease and diabetes will likely be
welcomed by payers.
Should this milestone be an indicator that more patients are willing to use telehealth to interact with providers, then clinical laboratories and pathology groups will need to respond with new ways to collect specimens and report results
Telehealth is gaining momentum at Kaiser Permanente (KP). Public statements by Kaiser administrators indicate that the number of virtual visits (AKA, telemedicine) with providers now is about equal to face-to-face visits with providers. This trend has many implications for clinical laboratories, both in how patient samples are collected from patients using virtual provider visits and how the medical laboratory test results are reported.
That this is happening at KP is not a surprise. The health system is well-known as a successful healthcare innovator. So, when its Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Bernard Tyson publically announced that the organization’s annual number of virtual visits with healthcare providers had surpassed the number of conventional in-person appointments, he got the members’ attention, as well as, the focus of former US Senator Bill Frist, MD, who moderated the event.
So, there’s a bit of disagreement on the current numbers. Nevertheless, the announcement that consumer demand for virtual visits was increasing sparked excitement among the meeting attendees and telemedicine evangelists.
“It’s astounding,” declared Senator Frist, “because it represents what we all want to do, which is innovate and push ahead,” noted an article in The Tennessean.
Is this a wake-up call for the healthcare industry? Should clinical laboratories start making plans for virtual patients?
Of virtual office visits, Pearl noted in the interview with MedCity News, “Why wouldn’t you want, if the medical conditions are appropriate, to have your care delivered from the convenience of your home, or wherever you might be, at no cost to you, and to have it done immediately without any delays in care?”
Pearl added that one-third of patients in primary care provider virtual visits are able to connect with specialists during those sessions.
“It’s better quality, greater convenience, and certainly better outcomes as care begins immediately,” he noted.
Kaiser Permanente ‘Reimagines’ Medical Care
The virtual visit milestone is an impactful one at Kaiser Permanente, an Oakland, Calif.-based nonprofit healthcare organization that includes Kaiser Foundation hospitals, Permanente Medical Groups, and the Kaiser Foundation Health Plan. It suggests that the KP has successfully integrated health information technology (HIT) with clinical workflows. And that the growing trend in virtual encounters indicates patients are becoming comfortable accessing physicians and clinicians in this manner.
As Tyson stated during the Nashville meeting, it is about “reimagining medical care.”
Bernard Tyson (right), Chairman and CEO of Kaiser Permanente, speaking with former Senator Bill Frist, MD (left), at the Nashville Health Care Council meeting where he announced that the non-profit provider’s number of virtual visits with patients had surpassed its face-to-face appointments. (Photo Credit: Nashville Health Care Council.)
What does “reimagining” mean to the bottom line? He shared these numbers with the audience, according to the Modern Healthcare report:
25% of the system’s $3.8 billion in capital spending goes to IT;
7-million people are Kaiser Permanente members;
95% of members have a capitated plan, which means they pay Kaiser Permanente a monthly fee for healthcare services, including the virtual visits.
Consumers Want Virtual Health, but Providers Lag Behind Demand
Most Americans are intrigued with telehealth services. However, not everyone is participating in them. That’s according to an Advisory Board Company Survey that found 77% of 5,000 respondents were interested in seeing a doctor virtually and 19% have already done so.
Healthcare systems such as Kaiser Permanente and Cleveland Clinic are embracing telehealth, which Dark Daily covered in a previous e-briefing. However, the healthcare industry overall has a long way to go “to meet consumer interest in virtual care,” noted an Advisory Board news release about the survey.
“Direct-to-consumer virtual specialty and chronic care are largely untapped frontiers,” noted Emily Zuehlke, a consultant with The Advisory Board Company (NASDAQ:ABCO). “As consumers increasingly shop for convenient affordable healthcare—and as payers’ interest in low-cost access continues to grow—this survey suggests that consumers are likely to reward those who offer virtual visits for specialty and chronic care,” she stated.
Telehealth Could Increase Healthcare Costs
Does telehealth reduce healthcare spending? A study published in Health Affairs suggests that might not be the case. The researchers found that telemedicine could actually increase costs, since it drives more people to use healthcare.
“A key attraction of this type of telehealth for health plans and employers is the potential savings involved in replacing physician office and emergency department visits with less expensive virtual visits. However, increased convenience may tap into unmet demand for healthcare, and new utilization may increase overall healthcare spending,” the study authors wrote in the Health Affairs article.
Clinical Laboratories Can Support Virtual Healthcare
Clinical laboratories must juggle supporting consumer demand for convenience, while also ensuring health quality expectations and requirements. How can pathologists and medical laboratory leaders integrate their labs with the patient’s virtual healthcare experience, while also aiming for better and more efficient care? One way would be to explore innovative ways to contact patients about the need to collect specimens subsequent to virtual visits. Of course, the procedures themselves must be done in-person. Nevertheless, medical laboratories could find ways to digitally complement—through communications, test results sharing, and education—patients’ use of virtual visits.