this article traces how the once-darling Babylon Health became an “unmitigated disaster”, for which the UK’s National Health Services (NHS) has paid a significant price.
Babylon used its vision for a privatized NHS with slashed wait times and AI-powered treatment to boost its public offering, via a special-purpose acquisition company, with a $4.2B valuation in June 2021. Many of its promises have been revealed to be overly ambitious, if not doomed from the start, with its AI-powered diagnostics and funding model proving especially flawed.
The Gist: There are myriad lessons from the demise of Babylon, a marquis example of a “digital-first” healthcare startup that burned through capital and crashed with the end of the era of cheap money:
virtual care isn’t a magic wand to reduce wait times, and healthcare startups (and their investors) should think as much about the path to profitability as they do about rapid growth.
While Babylon did have its finger on the pulse of promising technologies, it applied them irresponsibly: for patients, inaccurate AI diagnoses could be worse than no care at all.
Amid the current AI frenzy, healthcare would benefit from more “slow AI”, developed with clinical and scientific collaboration and rigorous academic study design and testing, over “fast AI”, with pressure to generate returns for private investors pushing entrepreneurs to rapidly develop and deploy technology.
The payer services market is expected to grow by double digits annually over the next several years, according to a new analysis.
These services, which include data analytics, digital health and care management, are in growing demand, according to analysts at Markets and Markets, which conducts market research. The report said the sector was worth about $69.9 billion in 2022. That’s expected to increase by an 11.1% compound annual growth rate, reaching $118.2 billion by 2027, according to the analysis.
The projected growth is backed by increasing health insurance enrollment, rising fraud, federal mandates and increasing rates of chronic illness. However, multiple factors could constrain the market, too, the analysts said: cultural and language barriers, the risk of data breaches and the high costs related to outsourcing this work.
In addition to supporting payers, the services provided in this space can help providers keep up with the evolving expectations of patients, Markets and Markets said in a press release.
“As the industry continues to evolve, providers will need to focus on leveraging technology, as well as improving customer service, to remain competitive,” according to the release. “In addition, they must ensure compliance with various healthcare regulations and be prepared to comply with the changing demands of the healthcare industry.”
The report analyzed these services in three categories—business process outsourcing (BPO), information technology outsourcing (ITO) and knowledge process outsourcing—as well as compared the likely performance of private and public payers. As of 2021, BPO services made up the largest share of the broader health payer services market, according to the analysts, as they can drive lower costs, boost efficiency and allow companies to focus on their core operations.
However, the analysts project that ITO services will see the highest growth over the next five years, driven by greater integration between healthcare and technology as well as the adoption of electronic health records.
Private payers also account for the largest share of this market and are expected to grow at a faster rate than their public payer counterparts due to increasing competition between insurers.
North American firms accounted for the largest market share in the payer services space, though the analysts expect that companies based in the Asia-Pacific market will grow the most over the next several years.
“Factors such as increasing adoption of advanced technologies, increasing pressure to reduce healthcare costs, growing prevalence of chronic disease, presence of large and growing patient population in this region, availability of skilled labor at low costs, high growth opportunities and growing focus of established players on emerging [Asia Pacific] countries are driving the market growth in this region,” they said in the report.
With input from stakeholders across the industry, Modern Healthcare outlines six challenges health care is likely to face in 2023—and what leaders can do about them.
1. Financial difficulties
In 2023, health systems will likely continue to face financial difficulties due to ongoing staffing problems, reduced patient volumes, and rising inflation.
According to Tina Wheeler, U.S. health care leader at Deloitte, hospitals can expect wage growth to continue to increase even as they try to contain labor costs. They can also expect expenses, including for supplies and pharmaceuticals, to remain elevated.
Health systems are also no longer able to rely on federal Covid-19 relief funding to offset some of these rising costs. Cuts to Medicare reimbursement rates could also negatively impact revenue.
“You’re going to have all these forces that are counterproductive that you’re going to have to navigate,” Wheeler said.
In addition, Erik Swanson, SVP of data and analytics at Kaufman Hall, said the continued shift to outpatient care will likely affect hospitals’ profit margins.
“The reality is … those sites of care in many cases tend to be lower-cost ways of delivering care, so ultimately it could be beneficial to health systems as a whole, but only for those systems that are able to offer those services and have that footprint,” he said.
2. Health system mergers
Although hospital transactions have slowed in the last few years, market watchers say mergers are expected to rebound as health systems aim to spread their growing expenses over larger organizations and increase their bargaining leverage with insurers.
“There is going to be some organizational soul-searching for some health systems that might force them to affiliate, even though they prefer not to,” said Patrick Cross, a partner at Faegre Drinker Biddle & Reath. “Health systems are soliciting partners, not because they are on the verge of bankruptcy, but because they are looking at their crystal ball and not seeing an easy road ahead.”
Financial challenges may also lead more physician practices to join health systems, private-equity groups, larger practices, or insurance companies.
“Many independent physicians are really struggling with their ability to maintain their independence,” said Joshua Kaye, chair of U.S. health care practice at DLA Piper. “There will be a fair amount of deal activity. The question will be more about the size and specialty of the practices that will be part of the next consolidation wave.”
3. Recruiting and retaining staff
According to data from Fitch Ratings, health care job openings reached an all-time high of 9.2% in September 2022—more than double the average rate of 4.2% between 2010 and 2019. With this trend likely to continue, organizations will need to find effective ways to recruit and retain workers.
Currently, some organizations are upgrading their processes and technology to hire people more quickly. They are also creating service-level agreements between recruiting and hiring teams to ensure interviews are scheduled within 48 hours or decisions are made within 24 hours.
Eric Burch, executive principal of operations and workforce services at Vizient, also predicted that there will be a continued need for contract labors, so health systems will need to consider travel nurses in their staffing plans.
“It’s really important to approach contract labor vendors as a strategic partner,” Burch said. “So when you need the staff, it’s a partnership and they’re able to help you get to your goals, versus suddenly reaching out to them and they don’t know your needs when you’re in crisis.”
When it comes to retention, Tochi Iroku-Malize, president of the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP), said health systems are adequately compensated for their work and have enough staff to alleviate potential burnout.
AAFP also supports legislation to streamline prior authorization in the Medicare Advantage program and avoid additional cuts to Medicare payments, which will help physicians provide care to patients with less stress.
4. Payer-provider contract disputes
A potential recession, along with the ensuing job cuts that typically follow, would limit insurers’ commercial business, which is their most profitable product line. Instead, many people who lose their jobs will likely sign up for Medicaid plans, which is much less profitable.
Because of increased labor, supply, and infrastructure costs, Brad Ellis, senior director at Fitch Ratings, said providers could pressure insurers into increasing the amount they pay for services. This will lead insurers to passing these increased costs onto members’ premiums.
Currently, Ellis said insurers are keeping an eye on how legislators finalize rules to implement the No Surprise Act’s independent resolution process. Regulators will also begin issuing fines for payers who are not in compliance with the law’s price transparency requirement.
5. Investment in digital health
Much like 2022, investment in digital health is likely to remain strong but subdued in 2023.
“You’ll continue to see layoffs, and startup funding is going to be hard to come by,” said Russell Glass, CEO of Headspace Health.
However, investors and health care leaders say they expect a strong market for digital health technology, such as tools for revenue cycle management and hospital-at-home programs.
According to Julian Pham, founding and managing partner at Third Culture Capital, he expects corporations such as CVS Health to continue to invest in health tech companies and for there to be more digital health mergers and acquisitions overall.
In addition, he predicted that investors, pharmaceutical companies, and insurers will show more interest in digital therapeutics, which are software applications prescribed by clinicians.
“As a physician, I’ve always dreamed of a future where I could prescribe an app,” Pham said. “Is it the right time? Time will tell. A lot needs to happen in digital therapeutics and it’s going to be hard.”
6. Health equity efforts
This year, CMS will continue rolling out new health equity initiatives and quality measurements for providers and insurers who serve marketplace, Medicare, and Medicaid beneficiaries. Some new quality measures include maternal health, opioid related adverse events, and social need/risk factor screenings.
CMS, the Joint Commission, and the National Committee for Quality Assurance are also partnering together to establish standards for health equity and data collection.
In addition, HHS is slated to restore a rule under the Affordable Care Act that prohibits discrimination based on a person’s gender identity or sexual orientation. According to experts, this rule may conflict with recently passed state laws that ban gender-affirming care for minors.
“It’s something that’s going to bear out in the courts and will likely lack clarity. We’ll see differences in what different courts decide,” said Lindsey Dawson, associate director of HIV policy and director of LGBTQ health policy at the Kaiser Family Foundation. “The Supreme Court acknowledged that there was this tension. So it’s an important place to watch and understand better moving forward.”
There is no shortage of challenges to confront in healthcare today, from workforce shortages and burnout to innovation and health equity (and so much more). We’re committed to giving industry leaders a platform for sharing best practices and exchanging ideas that can improve care, operations and patient outcomes.
Check out this podcast interview with Ketul J. Patel, CEO at Virginia Mason Franciscan Health and division president, Pacific Northwest at CommonSpirit Health, for his insights on where healthcare is headed in the future.
In this episode, we are joined by Ketul J. Patel, Division President, Pacific Northwest; Chief Executive Officer, CommonSpirit Health; Virginia Mason Franciscan Health, to discuss his background & what led him to executive healthcare leadership, challenges surrounding workforce shortages, the importance of having a strong workplace culture, and more.
We expect 2023 to be a pivotal year for the industry, as the accelerated acceptance of virtual care and demographic trends, such as an aging population, increasing chronic illnesses and healthcare worker shortages, sustain demand for medtech-enabled solutions.
The combination of rapid developments in novel healthcare technology and heightened demand for integrated tech-enabled care has continued to fuel innovation in the medtech industry. At the same time, medtech innovators – whether in digital health, wearables and AI-driven offerings in healthcare, or diagnostics, telemedicine and health IT solutions – continue to face a patchwork of laws, rules and norms across the world. Life sciences and healthcare innovators and regulators are also looking to medtech to increase access to care and health equity. Here are ten global medtech themes we are tracking in the coming year:
Focus on digital tuck-in acquisitions in medtech M&A
Despite continued uncertainty in the overall financial market, medtech M&A activity continued at a steady pace in 2022. This year witnessed a rise in tuck-in acquisitions of smaller companies that can be easily integrated into buyers’ existing infrastructure and product offerings, as opposed to significantly sized takeovers of businesses that aren’t squarely aligned with buyers’ existing businesses lines. Medtech acquirers have been particularly focused on developing their digital capabilities to innovate and reach customers in new ways. As digitization continues to transform the industry, we expect acquirers to continue to prioritize the value of digital and data assets as they evaluate potential targets.
Continued interest by private equity and other financial sponsors
Private equity firms, healthcare-focused funds and other financial sponsors have continued to display a strong appetite for investing in Medtech companies, with top targets in subsectors such as diagnostics and healthcare IT solutions. Later-stage medtech companies in particular are gaining a larger share of venture capital funding, as later-stage investments allow financial sponsors to focus on businesses with higher yields, as well as less time to market and capital reimbursement. Demographic trends, including an aging population and the increasing prevalence of chronic diseases, coupled with healthcare technology advancements have created robust demand for medtech-enabled solutions. Additionally, medtech offerings have broad applications that can extend beyond stakeholders in a specific therapy area, product category or care setting, offering the ability to satisfy unmet needs with large patient bases.
Strategic medtech collaborations as the new norm
Strategic medtech collaborations and partnerships have become the new norm in our increasingly connected digital healthcare ecosystem. In response to heightened consumer demand for tech-enabled care, pharmaceutical and medtech companies are collaborating to use digital technologies to engage with consumers, unlocking a vast range of treatments such as personalized medicine. Additionally, as the market rapidly evolves towards data-driven healthcare, we expect medtech companies to continue to work collaboratively to address existing barriers to data sharing and promote interoperability of healthcare data.
Continued scrutiny by antitrust and competition authorities
As expected, global antitrust and competition authorities continued to focus on the tech, life sciences and medtech sectors in 2022. The US, UK and EU authorities have stepped up efforts to investigate and challenge conduct by large pharma and technology companies pursuing mergers and acquisitions. We expect these authorities to assess similar concerns in the digital health context in an effort to account for the value of combined datasets and the interoperability of various offerings that could be derived from digital health mergers and acquisitions. Furthermore, geopolitical tensions have resulted in new and expanded foreign investment regimes to improve the resilience of domestic healthcare systems. Notably this year, the UK government implemented the National Security and Investment Act that allows it to restrict transactions that may threaten national security, including in the AI and data infrastructure sectors. Sensitive data continues to be a recurring theme for foreign investment review for Committee on Foreign Investment in the US and that of the EU as well.
Growing importance of data privacy and security
Increasing regulatory attention to sensitive health data and the escalating rise of ransomware attacks has made data privacy and security more important than ever for medtech innovators. The Federal Trade Commission has issued several statements about its willingness to “fully” enforce the law against the illegal use and sharing of highly sensitive data. Additionally, several state privacy laws coming into effect in 2023 create new categories of sensitive personal data, including health data, and impose novel obligations on innovators to obtain data-related consents. As ransomware continues to pose security-related threats, the US Department of Health and Human Services renewed calls for all covered entities and business associates to prioritize cybersecurity. New standards, such as cybersecurity label rating programs for connected devices, aim to address security risks. In the EU, medtech providers will need to consider how the launch of the European Health Data Space and newly proposed data regulation, such as the Data Act and AI Act, could impact their data use and sharing practices.
More active engagement with FDA/EMA/MHRA
We expect companies active in the medtech sector, particularly those that make use of AI and other advanced technologies, to continue their conversations with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (“FDA”), the European Medicines Agency (“EMA”), the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (“MHRA”) and other regulators as such companies grow their medtech business lines and establish their associated regulatory compliance infrastructure. Given the unique regulatory issues arising from the implementation of digital health technologies, we expect the FDA, EMA and MHRA to provide additional guidance on AI/ML-based software-as-a-medical device and the remote management of clinical trials. 2022 saw stakeholders in the life sciences and medtech industries collaborate with regulatory authorities to push forward the acceptance of digital endpoints that rely on sensor-generated data collected outside of a clinical setting. As the industry shifts to decentralized clinical trials, we expect both innovators and regulators to work together to evaluate the associated clinical, privacy and safety risks in the development and use of such digital endpoints.
Increasing medtech localization in the Asia Pacific region
2022 saw multinational companies (“MNCs”), including American pharma/device makers make an active effort to expand their medtech business lines in the Asia Pacific region. At the same time, government authorities in the region have been increasingly focused on incentivizing local innovation, approving government grants and prohibiting the importation of non-approved medical equipment. In light of MNCs’ market share of the medical device market in the Asia Pacific region, especially in China, we expect the emergence of the domestic medtech industry to prompt discussions among MNCs, local innovators and government authorities over the long-term development of the global market for medical technology.
Long-term adoption of telehealth and remote patient monitoring technologies
The Covid-19 pandemic saw the rise of telehealth and remote patient monitoring technologies as key modes of healthcare delivery. The telehealth industry remains focused on enabling remote consultations and long-term patient management for patients with chronic conditions. Looking forward, we expect to see increased innovation in non-invasive technologies that can provide early diagnostics and ongoing disease management in a low-friction manner. At the same time, we anticipate telehealth companies to face increasing scrutiny from regulatory authorities around the world for fraud and abuse by patients and providers. Consumer and patient data privacy and security in connection with telehealth and remote patient monitoring continue to remain top of mind for regulators as well.
Women’s health and privacy concerns for medtech
We expect to see increased consumer health tech adoption for reproductive care, especially in light of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade. Following the Dobbs decision, a number of states introduced or passed legislation that prohibits or restricts access to reproductive health services beyond abortion. In response, women’s health-focused companies are expanding their virtual fertility and pregnancy, telemedicine and other services to patients. At the same time, such companies need to assess the legal risks stemming from the collection and storage of their customers’ personal health information, which could then be used as evidence to prosecute customers for obtaining illegal reproductive health services. We expect companies active in this space to take steps to navigate the patchwork of data privacy and security laws across jurisdictions while establishing clear digital health governance mechanisms to safeguard their customers’ data privacy and security.
Addressing inequities in the implementation of digital healthcare technologies
Medtech innovators and regulators have been increasingly focused on addressing inequities in the healthcare system and the data used to train AI and ML-based digital healthcare technologies. In 2022, a number of medtech companies collaborated to provide technologies that result in improved patient outcomes across all populations, as well as boost participation of diverse populations in clinical trials. In parallel, we are seeing increased interest from regulators to reduce bias in digital health technologies and the accompanying datasets, as evidenced by the EU’s proposed AI Act and the UK’s health data strategy. In the US, which currently lacks comprehensive government regulation of AI in healthcare, there have been increasing calls for institutional commitments in the area of algorithmovigilance. Because of the inaccurate conclusions that may result from biased technologies and data, MedTech companies must prioritize health equity in the implementation of digital healthcare technologies so that everyone can benefit from the latest scientific advances.
In conclusion, the medtech industry has remained resilient amidst the challenging macroeconomic environment. We expect 2023 to be a pivotal year for the industry, as the accelerated acceptance of virtual care and demographic trends, such as an aging population, increasing chronic illnesses and healthcare worker shortages, sustain demand for medtech-enabled solutions. At the same time, the rapidly changing legal and regulatory landscape will continue to be a key issue for medtech innovators moving forward. Adopting a global, forward-thinking regulatory compliance strategy can help MedTech companies stay competitive and ultimately, achieve better outcomes for patients.
Telemedicine is supposed to make consumers’ lives easier, right? One of us had the opposite experience when managing a sick kid this week. My 14-year-old has been sick with a bad respiratory illness for over a week. We saw her pediatrician in-person, testing negative for COVID (multiple times), flu, and strep. Over the week, her symptoms worsened, and rather than haul her back to the doctor, we decided to give our health plan’s telemedicine service a try. To the plan’s credit, the video visit was easy to schedule, and we were connected to a doctor within minutes. He agreed that symptoms and timeline warranted an antibiotic, and said he was sending the prescription to our pharmacy as we wrapped up the call.
Here’s where the challenges began. We went to our usual CVS a few hours later, and they had no record of the prescription. (Note to telemedicine users: write down the name of your provider. The pharmacy asked to search for the script by the doctor’s name, which I didn’t remember—and holding up the line of a dozen other customers to fumble with the app seemed like the wrong call.)
We left and contacted the telemedicine service to see if the prescription had been transmitted, and after a half hour on hold, were finally transferred to pharmacy support. It turns out that the telemedicine service transmits their prescriptions via “e-fax”, so it was difficult to confirm if the pharmacy had received it. Not to be confused with e-prescribing, e-fax is literally an emailed image of a prescription, with none of the safeguards and communication capabilities of true electronic prescribing.
The helpful service representative kindly offered to call the pharmacy and placed us on hold—only to get a message that the pharmacy was closed for lunch and not accepting calls! Several hours later, which included being on hold for 75 minutes (!!!) with our CVS, my daughter finally got her medication.
Despite the slick app and teleconferencing system, the operations behind the virtual visit still relied on the very analog processes of phone trees and faxes—which created a level of irritation that rivaled trying to land Taylor Swift tickets for the same kid. It was a stark reminder of how far healthcare has to go to deliver a truly digital, consumer-centered experience.
In a press release, London-based telemedicine provider Babylon Health said it intends to divest Meritage Medical Network, its 1,800-physician independent practice association located in Northern and Central California. Babylon claims the sale will allow it to better focus on its core business model of digital-first, value-based care contracts. After going public last year at $4.2B, Babylon’s valuation has fallen over 95 percent.
The Gist: Yet another highly touted healthcare startup with digital-first “solutions” has announced a massive pullback in its care footprint. As we wrote about Bright Health last week, these companies have failed to meet investor demands, and mustnowshutter services or sell assets to buy time to prove their core business model can actually turn a profit.
In Babylon’s case, integrating established physician practices into a digital-first, value-based care model was always going to be costly, challenging and time-consuming—too slow to deliver the returns demanded by an increasingly difficult investor market.
Coming off a $1.2B net loss in 2021, Minneapolis-based insurtech Bright Health announced this week it will stop offering commercial and Medicare Advantage (MA) plans in all states except Florida and California, where it will solely offer MA plans. In its remaining markets, the company plans to focus on its care delivery and provider support business, NeueHealth. Bright has reportedly struggled to contain its medical spend, due to rapid growth and COVID-related costs; its claims processing backlog also earned a $1M fine from the Colorado Department of Insurance last April. Once valued at over $11B, Bright’s stock has lost 95 percent of its value since going public in June 2021.
The Gist: The largest digital health IPO to date is now rapidly shrinking, not even two years later—and Bright is not alone amongst its peers. After years of hype, most insurtechs still have minimal market share, and most have yet to turn a profit. With a market cap now under $1B—and dropping by the day—Bright could be an easy pickup for an established health plan interested in its consumer-centric technology, though given reports of dissatisfied beneficiaries, the value of that technology is still unclear.
COVID fueled a record year for digital healthcare venture funding in 2021, which included 85 digital health startups achieving “unicorn” status with $1B+ valuations. But 2022 has been marked by cooling expectations amid inflation concerns and recession fears.
In the graphic above, we’ve tracked the stock market performances of six recent healthcare IPOs across their opening, peak, and latest months. While not all of them are pure digital health plays, each of these companies promotes its digital solutions or tech-enabled patient platforms as key parts of their value propositions.
Since going public, each company has lost between 50 and 90 percent of its initial value, more than double the S&P 500’s roughly 20 percent drop from its January 2022 peak to today’s level. The bear market has influenced the venture funding world as well, as H1 2022 fundraising totals for digital health have dropped from last year’s record-setting pace, though they may still surpass 2020 levels by year end.
After the initial fervor, this market correction among “healthtech” companies is not surprising, and acquisitions—like Amazon’s purchase of One Medical—are likely to continue, as long as these market trends hold.
The questions every investor should now be asking: does this start-up have a viable path to profitability in the US healthcare market, and does it deliver meaningful value to consumers?
The digital platform is designed to provide consumers with a coordinated healthcare experience across care settings. It’s being sold to Aetna’s fully insured and self-insured plan sponsors, as well as CVS Caremark clients, and is due to go live next year. According to CVS Health, the new offering “enables consumers to choose care when and where they want,” whether that’s virtually, in a retail setting (including at a MinuteClinic or HealthHUB), or through at-home services.
Patients will have access to primary care, on-demand care, medication management, chronic condition management, and mental health services, as well as help in identifying other in-network care providers.
The Gist: CVS Health has been working to integrate its retail clinics, care delivery assets, and health insurance business. This new virtual-first care platform is aimed at coordinating care and experience across the portfolio, and streamlining how individuals access the range of services available to them.
CVS is not alone in focusing here: UnitedHealth Group, Cigna, and others have announced virtual-first health plans with a similar value proposition. Any payer or provider who aims to own the consumer relationship must field a similar digital care platform that streamlines and coordinates service offerings, lest they find themselves in a market where many patients turn first to CVS and other disruptors for their care needs.