Telehealth News Recap - Aug 2023

It can be tough to keep up with the latest news in the virtual care space. Wheel's Virtual Care News is a monthly newsletter for stakeholders in the digital health industry. As a subscriber, you'll receive timely information on trending news, regulatory updates, engaging conversations, and key innovations emerging in the space.

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This month’s Virtual Care News features an article with healthcare lessons from past recessions, insights on retail clinics across the country, and how telemedicine can help with the specialist shortage. We’re also including a look at Best Buy’s strategy for partnerships, trends in the weight loss space, details on the sweeping changes to Medicare, and the announcement from the White House about mental health coverage. At the end, we’ve included innovations, funding updates, and some fresh Wheel news.

Here’s to keeping cool this August! 😅

Trends & Insights

Industry Voices—What the healthcare industry can learn from past recessions

Healthcare spending has grown at an average rate of 8.7% per year since 1960, even during economic recessions. Today, as we face rising labor costs, declining patient volumes, and budget cuts, we’re also facing an aging population, increased chronic diseases, and the rise of value-based care. This article provides loads of interesting data and recommends focusing on efficiency, innovation, and collaboration to help your organization weather the recession.

Fierce Health >

30% of rural hospitals are at risk for closing

More than 600 rural U.S. hospitals — which is more than 30% of the country’s rural hospitals — are at risk of closing due to their financial instability, according to a new report. The report argues that the dire financial situation among the nation’s rural hospitals stems from two main issues: low financial reserves and inadequate payments from private health plans.

Med City News >

Hospital system and university are stripping workers of their Wegovy coverage

Recent increases in weight-loss medication could indicate a crackdown on insurance coverage for GLP-1s. Ascension, which operates hospitals in 19 states and employs nearly 140,000 people, said they would no longer cover popular GLP-1 medication, Wegovy, but did not say why. The University of Texas also announced they would no longer pay for Wegovy or Saxenda, stating the prescriptions' costs skyrocketed to $5 million a month in May from about $1.5 million a month a year and a half ago. The hope in offering coverage is that it would save money for employers and improve worker productivity. "These savings are not being realized due to the excessive cost the drug manufacturer charges for the weight loss medication," UT said.

Business Insider >

Nationwide map of retail clinic hot spots

Retail clinics — located inside retail or convenience stores and offering basic health services like vaccinations and minor injury care — offer an easy-to-access alternative to emergency rooms, urgent care clinics, and primary care providers. "Over the last five years, the use of retail clinics has grown 200% — considerably more than urgent care centers, which grew 70%," per the Definitive Healthcare report we shared in June. "Meanwhile, emergency room usage declined by 1% over the same time period, and claims filed by primary care offices declined 13%." Clinics are mostly located in urban areas, especially in the Midwest and Southeast.

Axios >

First Opinions & Engaging Conversations

Why telemedicine must play a central role in solving the specialist shortage

PThe CEO of Summus Global, Julian Flannery, discusses how virtual specialty care can help overcome patient access challenges and how employer-sponsored telehealth is one key component. When it comes to specialty care, patients face a serious access problem, where it can take weeks or months to see someone – and there is no guarantee on that specialist being the right physician or having the expertise required for their condition and medical history. Flannery says that looking forward, virtual specialty care can address patient questions and care across the continuum of conditions longitudinally – from allergies to migraines and more complex conditions, like ALS and cancer – across all health journeys. Some of the benefits of virtual specialty care include:

  • Support access across geographic boundaries.
  • Accelerate access to leading physicians.
  • Create quality healthcare experiences with specialists.
  • Deliver demonstrable outcomes and impact on medical costs.

Healthcare IT News >

Best Buy Health on forming partnerships and its place in healthcare

Diana Gelston, Chief Commercial Officer at Best Buy Health, sat down with MobiHealthNews to discuss how acquisitions and collaborations shape the company's healthcare offerings. ”We really focus on three areas: the area of wellness at home, then aging at home, and then care at home.” When asked what Best Buy looks for in partnerships and where she envisions going next, she said, “As we think about expanding our partnerships with health systems particularly, we look to ones that are on the leading edge, but also who need help in expanding their reach of care into areas that may be a challenge. And we want to make sure that there's health equity across whatever we offer, that the entire population that we can serve is being addressed through our solutions, and enabling solutions that we bring to the table.”

Mobi Health News >

Policy & Regulatory Updates

Sweeping changes to Medicare Advantage and how payers should respond

The Medicare Advantage program is undergoing its biggest shift in over two decades. Disruptive trends include changing demographics (average member age is skewing older), regulatory environment (the most sweeping changes since 2003 will go into effect over the next three years), and new member preferences. “Members’ preferences for engagement with MA plans are fundamentally changing—in line with the seamless, omnichannel, and customer-centric experiences they now routinely enjoy with B2C companies such as retailers and technology providers.”

Payers can take steps now to mount a strategic, agile response as the changes unfold, including pursuing underserved populations, actively engaging the evolving marketing and sales ecosystem, and prioritizing investment in the Stars program. Through all of these efforts, the report suggests that delivering consumer-centric experiences is key. They give these four recommendations:

  • Serve members with efficiency.
  • Deliver seamless shopping, enrollment, and onboarding experiences.
  • Know each member and personalize engagement.
  • Convene and enable a redefined care-delivery landscape.

McKinsey & Company >

Biden announced new action to guarantee access to mental health care

President Joe Biden unveiled a proposed rule to ensure mental health benefits on private insurance plans more closely mirror physical health benefits. The rule would call on insurers to evaluate coverage based on several benchmarks, including the plan’s provider network, how much plans pay for out-of-network coverage, and how often prior authorization is required and approved under existing plans. The proposed rule would close a loophole that exempted federally provided health insurance plans from complying with the MHPAEA, a move that the administration estimates would require more than 200 additional health plans to improve mental health care for 90,000 consumers.


Growth & Innovation

GoodRx launches solution to help consumers manage their prescriptions

About half of all Americans don’t take their prescriptions as prescribed. Common barriers to medication adherence include cost and not understanding medications. Medicine Cabinet, a new solution by GoodRx, aims to address these barriers. Medicine Cabinet gives users reminders to take their medications and refill prescriptions and recommends pharmacies based on prescription costs. It also has a rewards system for using GoodRx coupons and picking up prescriptions on time which can be redeemed for discounts on prescriptions or digital gift cards from different retailers, like Starbucks.

MedCity News>

AI Chatbot has helped doctors treat 3 million people, now partnering with Cedars-Sinai

Digital health startup, K Health, is scaling its artificial intelligence technology in hospitals, starting with new strategic investor Cedars-Sinai. Founder, Allon Bloch, says K Health is creating an antidote to “Dr. Google” that ingests your symptoms and medical history via an AI-powered chatbot, sifts through the data of millions of patients, and suggests a medical condition based on how you compare to other people like you. The AI tool is not designed to diagnose but rather to decrease the time it takes to gather information about a condition and the patient. K Health licensed an anonymized data set of over 400 million medical charts, 500 million prescriptions, and over a billion lab results over 20 years to build the language model. A retrospective study of K Health patient visits found that the human doctors and nurses agreed with one of the AI-recommended diagnoses 84.2% of the time. Accuracy seems to be mostly impacted by the availability of data.

Forbes >

Industry Roundup

Funding updates and innovative collaborations from the last month.

Hippocratic AI raises $15 million.

CVS partners with GoodRx to expand low-cost drug access.

United Healthcare will offer telehealth at no out-of-pocket cost.

RapidAI snags $75M for its vascular care triage and decision support. solutions

Halodoc scores 100 million in Astra led Series D funding.

Wheel News

Wheel is an official telehealth provider of Amazon Clinic, delivering consumer-centric care nationwide

We’re excited to share that Wheel’s clinicians are now available on Amazon Clinic’s marketplace nationwide, 24/7. In addition to message-based care, we’re proud to expand our offering to include video visits for Amazon Clinic customers in all 50 states and DC. As reported in Fierce Healthcare and CNBC, healthcare customers will now see the Wheel brand front and center in Amazon Clinic’s marketplace for the first time. "While we’re still a white-labeled B2B service, Amazon’s marketplace provides us with the opportunity to provide customers with insight into why some of the biggest and most innovative brands — including Amazon — choose to work with Wheel,” said Michelle Davey, CEO.

Full Post on LinkedIn >

Wheel Welcomes New CFO Kristina Omari

We’re thrilled to officially welcome Kristina Omari as Chief Finance Officer. With over three decades of finance experience including both healthcare and marketplace domain expertise, Kristina is the ideal person to lead Wheel’s financial strategy. Her impressive list of companies includes Fitbit, Lyft, Adobe, Hewlett-Packard, PaineWebber, and Lehman Brothers. Most recently, Kristina was Executive Vice President of Finance at Everly Health, an Austin-based healthcare company that aims to provide modern diagnostics-driven care.

"I was drawn to Wheel because of the company’s massive opportunity to tap into the generational shift in consumer expectations in healthcare and to empower customer-driven organizations to deliver virtual care at scale,” said Omari. “The momentum behind Wheel and the companies we partner with is impressive!” - Kristina Omari

Lessons on healthcare consumerization from banking and transportation

For over a decade, voices across the healthcare industry have predicted that consumerization will transform our healthcare system. Yet it still takes an average of 26 days to see a physician. In this article, we look at trends we’ve seen in the consumerization of the financial and transportation industries to uncover answers and predict what changes we'll need to see in healthcare for consumer-centric care to be fully realized.

Wheel Blog >

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