|THIS WEEK IN HEALTHCARE
What happened in healthcare this week—and what we think about it.
- Best Buy partners with Atrium Health on hospital-at-home. On Tuesday, electronics retailer Best Buy announced a three-year deal with Charlotte, NC-based Atrium Health, now part of the larger Advocate Health, to set up the technological components required for hospital-level care in patients’ homes, and to provide remote monitoring. Atrium will purchase the remote monitoring devices from Best Buy and commission its Geek Squad teams to handle installation and retrieval, while the data will be transmitted through Best Buy subsidiary Current Health’s virtual and home-based care hub. (Best Buy acquired Current Health in 2021.) Atrium reports it has cared for over 6,300 patients in its hospital-at-home program since enrolling in the Medicare waiver program in December 2020, and hopes to provide the service to around 100 patients per day under this new arrangement.
The Gist: Following its Current Health acquisition, Best Buy has been establishing partnerships with health systems around remote monitoring. Leveraging its consumer-friendly Geek Squad workforce as a trusted, capable “last mile” solution to bring health technology into patients’ homes, it believes working with health systems on hospital-at-home is a logical next step. If partnerships like this prove successful, Best Buy could funnel more business into its Current Health arm, while diversifying its overall revenue stream from big-box electronics retailer to enabler of home healthcare solutions.
- WW buys telehealth company Sequence to enter prescription weight-loss market. The company formerly known as Weight Watchers announced on Monday that it will purchase Sequence, a subscription-based telehealth platform company. It’s a bid to enter the growing market for prescription obesity and diabetes drugs like Ozempic and Wegovy, which target GLP-1 receptors to suppress appetite. The $106M acquisition will allow WW to promote Sequence’s telehealth services to its 3.5M subscribers and incorporate the prescriptions into its broader nutrition- and exercise-based wellness programs.
The Gist: We’re in the early days of a Wild West-style gold rush for this new generation of weight-loss drugs, driven by the prevalence of the conditions they treat, their need to be taken in perpetuity, and the current price tag they fetch (around $1,000 per-patient, per-month). With mounting evidence that lifestyle and dietary modifications may be ineffective in treating most patients with obesity, WW’s legacy model faces an existential threat, as more patients gravitate to these new medication-based treatments. A host of companies is looking to provide access to these drugs via telemedicine, but questions remain about both short-term and long-term side effects, which may be more difficult to track in absence of an ongoing patient relationship. Moreover, the national cost implications of widely available and affordable GLP-1 agonists are staggering, as over 40 percent of Americans are obese. But if these drugs do provide a long-term solution, they could ultimately prove cost-effective if they reduce the cost burden of obesity.
- Transcarent to acquire provider business from 98point6. On Monday, Palo Alto, CA-based startup Transcarent, which provides concierge, virtual-first health benefit services to employers, shared that it will purchase the clinician arm of Seattle, WA-based startup 98point6, which is re-focusing its business on software services sold to third-party providers. In a deal worth up to $100M, Transcarent—founded by Livongo founder Glen Tullman—will acquire 98point6’s network of almost 100 clinicians, its self-insured employer business, and access to its proprietary, AI-powered software that interfaces with patients to improve physician productivity.
The Gist: Amid a recently bleak investment landscape for digital health, these two buzzy startups are responding by making strategic bets in opposite directions to stay ahead of the curve. Transcarent is taking on provider assets to offer a more comprehensive benefits package to employers, while 98point6 is going “asset-light” to focus on a high-margin, software-specific platform play. Given the drop in value of many pandemic-era digital start-ups, these moves to hone value propositions seem like smart bets.
Plus—what we’ve been reading.
- We’ve become even less prepared for the next pandemic. Published this week in the Washington Post, this sobering article surveys the dismantling of our nation’s patchwork public health infrastructure, driven by a backlash to COVID pandemic restrictions. Positioning themselves as defenders of freedom, a coalition of conservative and libertarian activists, legislators, and judges have neutered many of the nation’s public health authorities. State health officials and governors in over half the country are now unable to issue mask mandates or order school closures without the permission of their state legislatures. While the implications for a hypothetical “next COVID” are dire, we’re already seeing the consequences today: officials in Columbus, OH can no longer, for example, quarantine a child with measles, or shut down a restaurant experiencing a hepatitis A outbreak.
The Gist: The anti-public health backlash in the wake of COVID has now been codified, with far reaching consequences for future disease outbreaks. COVID protections for hospital-based healthcare providers are winding down, even in states like California which quickly embraced masking. But now in over half the country, many reasonable responses to unknown future health threats won’t even be on the table, or will involve debate and legislative action, wasting precious response time.