#41 - Spooky Thermometers and Disappearing Medical Records 

Private equity loves dermatology, a thermometer tells companies you’re sick, and more 

Things That Happened

Sharing illness. The NY Times reported this week that Kinsa, a wifi-enabled personal thermometer, sells aggregated location data that helps advertisers target places with higher levels of fever for ads for items like household disinfectants and medicines. In reality, the anonymized data isn’t putting anyone at risk, but it’s a strong reminder that privacy conscious consumers must have their guard up at every turn. And companies must remember that privacy is a trade-off: is it worth sharing my data with advertisers to be able to automatically track my temperature on my phone, or would I be okay with a traditional thermometer instead? 

Express shifts. Express Scripts will be opening their network to mail-order pharmacies. While the company has largely fulfilled mail-order business using its own pharmacies, it will now allow external mail order pharmacies to fill prescriptions (if they’ll agree to Express Scripts’ contract terms, of course). This could be signaling a shift in the Express Scripts business model following the successful merger with Cigna, or it could be nothing. We’ll have to wait and see. 

Generic support. Civica Rx, the non-profit generic drugmaker created by a consortium of health systems, seems to be the darling of Capitol Hill according to STAT

Buy one, get one doctor visit. Walmart, Doctor on Demand, and RB (Reckitt Benckiser) announced a collaborative program this week that offers a free telehealth visit with Doctor on Demand when purchasing some RB products (e.g. Mucinex) at Walmart. If you’re taking this as a signal of Walmart’s increasing healthcare ambitions, keep looking. This seems to be coming from Walmart’s merchandising department and not from its health transformation team. It’s a safe bet RB and Doctor on Demand got together and approached Walmart on this, rather than Walmart initiating the program as part of their larger healthcare strategy. 

Bezos’ choice. Amazon has started selling an exclusive brand of home health devices called Choice. The devices, which include a blood pressure monitor and blood glucose meter, are produced by Arcadia Group, who have a similar arrangement with Walmart for their ReliOn brand. See the full Amazon lineup

Thin-Skinned Doctors. Dr. Sailesh Konda’s paper on the corporatization of dermatology, specifically the rapid influx of private equity ownership into the specialty, was removed from the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology following an outcry from dermatologists. It would seem much of the outcry came from those who have had their practices purchased by private equity firms. 

Whether new capital interest in medicine is an inherently bad thing is a much larger conversation. One thing that is certain from this episode: medical journals and associations are a reflection of their members’ interests, and so these journals may not be a reliable source of analysis and information, especially on the business side of things. 

Tesla gets healthy. Elon Musk revealed that his company operates its own medical clinic for employees. Is this a sign that Tesla is exploring the possibility of getting into clinical healthcare? No. And the same can be said of Apple’s AC Wellness and Amazon’s employee clinics. 

Things To Read

It can be challenging to get your medical records from your provider. This has now been verified by a study at Yale where researchers contacted hospitals, acting as the legal caregiver for a patient, and inquired about the process of getting copies of medical records. Only 53% of hospitals forms’ indicated patients could actually get their complete records, and many of the hospitals set policies that violate HIPAA. Kaiser Health News summarized the study

It’s like David and Goliath, but David has a $3 billion slingshot. Peter Loftus profiled John Arnold, the Houston hedge fund billionaire who has given up trading futures and now focuses on applying cash to fix America’s pharmaceutical cost explosion. He’s helped fund Civica Rx, as well as research into drug effectiveness, and groups that lobby in Washington on behalf of patients unable to afford their drugs. 

Continuing her blog series investigating the state of healthcare, Union Square Ventures associate Naomi Shah this time addresses business model innovation. For those well-versed in healthcare there’s likely no new information here, but Shah’s categorization schema is interesting, as is getting to see the world of healthcare through the eyes of venture capital. 

Pharmacists should be more tightly integrated into medical care. Sachin Jain lays out his case for relying more on pharmacists both as a point of contact with patients, and as a member of the care team determining treatment plans and medication decisions. While his argument is rooted in the shortage of primary care physicians, it’d be sensible to integrate pharmacists even with an abundance of physicians as so much of managing chronic care is based on pharmaceuticals - it doesn’t make sense to have the pharmacist external to the medical decision making process. 

Another way digital health is different from mainstream tech. Joseph Smith, a digital health CEO, writes about how his company recently completed a 30-month randomized controlled trial showing the efficacy of their virtual rehabilitation assistant. It’s an interesting look into the significant trade-offs made by going down the path of performing a clinical trial, and why it’s an increasingly necessary step for digital health firms. 


Thanks for reading The Healthcare Handout, a weekly update on tech and business in healthcare from Isaac Krasny. Criticize, praise, hire, or otherwise get in touch with Isaac via isaac@healthcarehandout.com, or on twitter @isaackrasny

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