Thursday Miscellany

Photo by Juliane Liebermann on Unsplash

The National Law Review shares its notes on the third and final day of this week’s virtual JPMorgan healthcare conference. Here’s an interesting tidbit

TalkSpace, a pure-play virtual behavioral health platform that is subscription based and offers text-based asynchronous (i.e., not “live”) therapy, has shown immense growth during 2020 and has demonstrated that increased access and lower costs for behavioral health services can drive better outcomes. You may have seen the company’s advertising recently that features Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps or actress Demi Lovato. The company connects directly with consumers and through health plans and employee benefit plans to over 46,000 members. It has a network of over 2,650 providers and has 39 million commercial covered lives. Perhaps the most critical aspect of its offering is the ease of use. Connecting with a therapist or psychiatrist can take days, weeks or months to set up in a traditional in-person setting.

With TalkSpace, members are typically matched through an algorithm with, and then connected to, a provider on the same day, dramatically reducing the time between the decision to seek care and the provision of actual care. The patient can change therapists as needed within the platform or consult with a psychiatrist, and patient progress is measured through machine learning/artificial intelligence with feedback to the therapists. Therapists also are mentored during the onboarding process and then as they work for TalkSpace. Therapists agree to respond to patients’ texts within a specified time period and post their working and non-working hours. TalkSpace is growing nationally and works with both employers directly, with consumers/patients directly and with insurers. Public reports estimate TalkSpace’s estimated 2021 net revenue at $125 million, up approximately 69% from 2020 estimated net revenue.

STAT News adds another twist —

Buoyed by the pandemic, 2020 was undoubtedly the year that telehealth turned the corner to mainstream. But for savvy investors, the big question isn’t what’s hot now — it’s what’s the future holds. 

“If it’s straight telehealth, we’re not interested,” Lynne Chou O’Keefe, founder and managing partner of Define Ventures, said on a panel Wednesday on digital health business opportunities at the all-virtual Consumer Electronics Show. “To me, telehealth is a pipe… It’s about the use case and what are we trying to solve.” 

She pointed to her firm’s investment in MedArrive as an example of a company with a telehealth component that’s got the right idea. MedArrive, which launched out of stealth mode this fall, plans to send paramedics and EMTs to deliver home-based care under the supervision of remote physicians who are “piped” in. 

“I think we believe in hybrid models.  You know, there are going to be areas where virtual and virtual only will be enough. And I think there are others where we’re going to have a mixed model — to the home as an example.”

The federal government’s Pandemic Response Accountability Committee (“PRAC”) has issued a “report examines COVID-19 testing efforts for six federal health care programs [including the FEHBP] during the first seven months following the declaration of a public health emergency in the United States.” The FEHBP section runs from pages 24 to 28 of the report.

The Centers for Disease Control issued a report yesterday titled “COVID-19 Trends Among Persons Aged 0–24 Years — United States, March 1–December 12, 2020.” Bloomberg sums up the CDC report as follows:

The return to in-person classes in nearly two-thirds of the U.S. hasn’t led to a rash of community outbreaks, federal scientists said in a study of 2.87 million cases among those under age 24.

Disease rates in counties where in-person learning is available for school-aged children and adolescents is similar to areas where classes are entirely online, according to a report by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It concludes [K-12] schools should be the last to close, and the first to re-open.

Meanwhile, young adults ages 18 to 24, who led the country in infections during the summer and fall, may have contributed more to community transmission, the agency said in its Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

Also the Department of Health and Human Services announced today that “it will publish Practice Guidelines for the Administration of Buprenorphine for Treating Opioid Use Disorder*, to expand access to medication-assisted treatment (MAT) by exempting physicians from certain certification requirements needed to prescribe buprenorphine for opioid use disorder (OUD) treatment.” The HHS news release explains

More than 83,000 drug overdose deaths occurred in the United States in the 12 months ending in June 2020, the highest number of overdose deaths ever recorded in a 12-month period, and an increase of over 21% compared to the previous year, according to recent provisional data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The increase in overdose deaths highlights the need for treatment services to be more accessible for people most at risk of overdose and today’s action will expand access to and availability of treatment for opioid use disorder.

“The medical evidence is clear: access to medication-assisted treatment, including buprenorphine that can be prescribed in office-based settings, is the gold standard for treating individuals suffering from opioid use disorder,” said Adm. Brett P. Giroir, MD, assistant secretary for health. “Removing some of the certification requirements for an  X-waiver for physicians is a step toward providing more people struggling with this chronic disease access to medication assisted treatment.”

Without MAT, the chances of relapse for a person who suffers from OUD are significant; studies have shown that outcomes for people with OUD are much better with MAT.

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