Just last week it was revealed that Apple had acquired asthma management focused company Tueo Health in a low-key swoop late last year. As a preface to the full acquisition of Tueo, Apple had nabbed the patent for their passive monitoring bed-based sensor system. The Tueo website appears to have been archived, reportedly since the end of 2018, in addition to their CEO Dr Bronwyn Harris listing Apple as her employer for the past year.
From the information that remains on the company, it appears that Tueo was developing a solution to support caregivers of children with Asthma to manage the condition using sensors and a companion app with telehealth elements for asthma education and support.
Apple and other big tech players are making serious waves.The Tueo acquisition builds on the Apple acquisition of Finnish company Beddit in 2017 and clearly signals Apple’s commitment to building out their remote monitoring offerings and evolving their sleep health insight capabilities.
Beyond pediatric cohorts and asthma, there is a clear opportunity to support caregivers and HCPs in passively monitoring patients with various conditions associated with sleep disturbances - from those with epilepsy to geriatric populations with Dementia.
One learning that immediately stands out immediately is don’t be fooled by monumental investment rounds as a proxy for the potential of a solution. Since its founding in 2015 Tueo had only disclosed a modest $1.1M in Seed funding from early stage investor Launchpad Digital Health.
In terms of industry implications it’s clear Apple is becoming more aggressive in building out their suite of solutions to support care at home and remote monitoring - signalled most notably by their FDA clearance letters for both the EKG and irregular heart rhythm. Additionally the Tueo acquisition may also signal a threat, or opportunity to partner, for some of the traditional players in pharma and life sciences who are engaged in their own chronic disease and respiratory digital monitoring efforts.
Pharmacy Benefits Manager Express Scripts will launch a digital health formulary next year to give payers and their members a resource for choosing ‘certified’ mHealth and telehealth services. The formulary will initially focus on mHealth products for diabetes, cardiovascular and pulmonary care and behavioral health, and will be expanded to encompass other chronic and complex conditions. It does not guarantee coverage by a health plan.
It is finally time for payers to make commitments to deliver digital tools to better manage their patients, and this formulary could guide payers to bulk up health plans with tools that give them the highest return on investment possible. A PBMs involvement in this vein is a good sign as they are the price negotiators in the US market. The digital assets in the formulary will also be ‘certified’ (at this point, one can make an educated guess to assume Express Scripts will only place solutions that have a proven therapeutic value, effective usability, and stringent security and privacy standards on this formulary.
While lots of payers (private) are already offering wearables and other ‘wellness’ solutions to their members, a digital formulary from a brand like Express Scripts will give them access and insights into a variety of clinically validated, and ?cost-effective digital assets to go beyond just fitness and wellness akin to what a drug formulary offers at the moment. However, let’s not get ahead of ourselves - we don’t know if this formulary will have an extensive menu, or if this implies payers will cover most or all of the featured tools. 2020 will tell. But we can safely assume more PBMs will follow suit.
In April 2019, FBI agents raided the UBiome (producer of consumer health tests) offices in SF as part of an investigation into the way in which the company was billing customers and their insurers for their various consumer health tests. It is reported that in the months leading up to the raid, numerous customers complained that they had been overcharged or billed multiple times for UBiome tests. Following the raid, UBiome stated that they have temporarily ‘suspended’ the sale of their products SmartGut and SmartJane.
UBiome is one of the numerous direct to consumer healthcare companies that has gained popularity in recent years, tapping into the growing public interest in gut health. They have raised over $100M in venture funding, with an $83M Series C in September 2018.
In light of the recent Theranos scandal, public trust in consumer diagnostics has been significantly challenged. As an industry, we are beginning to question the validity of solutions, demanding evidence to back up claims. This is a significant blow for direct to consumer healthcare companies, and will mean that others trying to gain traction in this space will need to demonstrate their capabilities in a transparent, effective way to gain the trust and support of potential customers.
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