Hastening the demise of independent physician practice

https://mailchi.mp/bfba3731d0e6/the-weekly-gist-july-2-2021?e=d1e747d2d8

Physician Practice Sales to Private Equity Doubled in 3 Years

A new report from consulting firm Avalere Health and the nonprofit Physicians Advocacy Institute finds that the pandemic accelerated the rise in physician employment, with nearly 70 percent of doctors now employed by a hospital, insurer or investor-owned entity.

Researchers evaluated shifts to employment in the two-year period between January 2019 and January 2021, finding that 48,400 additional doctors left independent practice to join a health system or other company, with the majority of the change occurring during the pandemic. While 38 percent chose employment by a hospital or health system, the majority of newly employed doctors are now employed by a “corporate entity”, including insurers, disruptors and investor-owned companies.

(Researchers said they were unable to accurately break down corporate employers by entity, and that the study likely undercounts the number of physician practices owned by private equity firms, given the lack of transparency in that segment.) Growth rates in the corporate sector dwarfed health system employment, increasing a whopping 38 percent over the past two years, in comparison to a 5 percent increase for hospitals.

We expect this pace will continue throughout this year and beyond, as practices seek ongoing stability and look to manage the exit of retiring partners, enticed by the outsized offers put on the table by investors and payers.

Private equity accelerates its push into physician practice

https://mailchi.mp/bfba3731d0e6/the-weekly-gist-july-2-2021?e=d1e747d2d8

As we reported recently, healthcare M&A hit record highs in the first quarter of 2021—with deal activity in the physician practice space surging 87 percent. The graphic above highlights private equity firms’ increasing investment in the sector over the last five years. Both the number and size of PE-backed healthcare deals have increased substantially from 2015 to 2020, up 39 and 45 percent respectively.

In 2020, physician practices and services comprised nearly a fifth of all transactions, with PE firms driving the majority. One in five physician transactions involved primary care practices—a signal that investors are banking on profits to be made in the shift to value-based care models. 

Meanwhile, PE firms are still rolling up high-margin specialty practices, with ophthalmology, orthopedics, dermatology, and anesthesiology groups all receiving significant funding in 2020. PE investment in physician practices will likely continue to accelerate, as investors view healthcare as a promising place to deploy readily available capital.

But we remain convinced that private equity investors have little interest in being long-term owners of practices, and will ultimately look for an exit by selling “rolled-up” physician entities to health systems or insurers.

Rational Exuberance for Medicare Advantage Market Disrupters

Insurers Running Medicare Advantage Plans Overbill Taxpayers By Billions As  Feds Struggle To Stop It | Kaiser Health News

Medicare Advantage (MA) focused companies, like Oak Street
Health (14x revenues), Cano Health (11x revenues), and Iora
Health (announced sale to One Medical at 7x revenues), reflect
valuation multiples that appear irrational to many market observers. Multiples may be
exuberant, but they are not necessarily irrational.


One reason for high valuations across the healthcare sector is the large pools of capital
from institutional public investors, retail investors and private equity that are seeking
returns higher than the low single digit bond yields currently available. Private equity
alone has hundreds of billions in investable funds seeking opportunities in healthcare.
As a result of this abundance of capital chasing deals, there is a premium attached to the
scarcity of available companies with proven business models and strong growth
prospects.


Valuations of companies that rely on Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement have
traditionally been discounted for the risk associated with a change in government
reimbursement policy
. This “bop the mole” risk reflects the market’s assessment that
when a particular healthcare sector becomes “too profitable,” the risk increases that CMS
will adjust policy and reimbursement rates in that sector to drive down profitability.


However, there appears to be consensus among both political parties that MA is the right
policy to help manage the rise in overall Medicare costs and, thus, incentives for MA
growth can be expected to continue.
This factor combined with strong demographic
growth in the overall senior population means investors apply premiums to companies in
the MA space compared to traditional providers.


Large pools of available capital, scarcity value, lower perceived sector risk and overall
growth in the senior population are all factors that drive higher valuations for the MA
disrupters.
However, these factors pale in comparison the underlying economic driver
for these companies. Taking full risk for MA enrollees and dramatically reducing hospital
utilization, while improving health status, is core to their business model.
These
companies target and often achieve reduced hospital utilization by 30% or more for their
assigned MA enrollees.

In 2019, the average Medicare days per 1,000 in the U.S. was 1,190. With about
$14,700 per Medicare discharge and a 4.5 ALOS, the average cost per Medicare day is
approximately $3,200. At the U.S. average 1,190 Medicare hospital days per thousand,
if MA hospital utilization is decreased by 25%, the net hospital revenue per 1,000 MA

enrollees is reduced by about $960,000. If one of the MA disrupters has, for example, 50,000 MA lives in a market, the
decrease in hospital revenues for that MA population would be about $48 million. This does not include the associated
physician fees and other costs in the care continuum. That same $48 million + in the coffers of the risk-taking MA
disrupters allows them deliver comprehensive array of supportive services including addressing social determinants of health. These services then further reduce utilization and improves overall health status, creating a virtuous circle. This is very profitable.


MA is only the beginning. When successful MA businesses expand beyond MA, and they will, disruption across the
healthcare economy will be profound and painful for the incumbents. The market is rationally exuberant about that
prospect.

4 of the biggest healthcare trends CVS Health says to watch in 2021

COVID-19 accelerated a number of trends already brewing in the healthcare industry, and that’s not likely to change this year, according to a new report from CVS Health.

The healthcare giant released its annual Health Trends Report on Tuesday, and the analysis projects several industry trends that are likely to define 2021 in healthcare, ranging from technology to behavioral health to affordability.

“We are facing a challenging time, but also one of great hope and promise,” CVS CEO Karen Lynch said in the report. “As the pandemic eventually passes, its lessons will serve to make our health system more agile and more responsive to the needs of consumers.”

Here’s a look at four of CVS’ predictions:

1. A looming mental health crisis

Behavioral health needs were a significant challenge in healthcare prior to COVID-19, but the number of people reporting declining mental health jumped under the pandemic.

Cara McNulty, president of Aetna Behavioral Health, said in a video attached to the report that it will be critical to “continue the conversation around mental health and well-being” as we emerge from the pandemic and to reduce stigma so people who need help seek it out.

“We’re normalizing that it’s important to take care of our mental well-being,” she said.

Data released in December by GoodRx found that prescription fills for depression and anxiety medications hit an all-time high in 2020. GoodRx researchers polled 1,000 people with behavioral health conditions on how they were navigating the pandemic, and 63% said their depression and/or anxiety symptoms worsened.

McNulty said symptoms to look for when assessing whether someone is struggling with declining mental health include whether they’re withdrawn or agitated or if there’s a notable difference in their self-care routine.

2. Pharmacists take center stage

CVS dubbed 2021 “the year of the pharmacist” in its report.

The company expects pharmacists to be a key player in a number of areas, especially in vaccine distribution as that process inches toward broader access. They also offer a key touchpoint to counsel patients about their care and direct them to appropriate services, CVS said.

CVS executives said in the report that they see a significant opportunity for pharmacists to have a positive impact on the social determinants of health. 

“We’ve found people are not only open and willing to share social needs with their pharmacists but in many cases, they listen to and act on the advice and recommendations of pharmacists,” Peter Simmons, vice president of transformation, pharmacy delivery and innovation at CVS Health, said in the report.

3. Finding ways to mitigate the cost of high-price therapies

Revolutionary drugs and therapies are coming to market with eye-popping price tags; it’s not uncommon to see new pharmaceuticals priced at $1 million or more. For pharmacy benefit managers, this poses a major cost challenge.

To address those prices, CVS expects value-based contracting to take off in a big way. And drugmakers are comfortable with the idea, according to the report. Novartis, for example, is offering insurers a five-year payment plan for its $2 million gene therapy Zolgensma, with refunds available if the drug doesn’t achieve desired results.

CVS said the potential for these therapies is clear, but many payers want to see some type of results before they fork over hundreds of thousands.

“Though the drug may promise to cure these patients for life, these are early days in their use,” said Joanne Armstrong, M.D., enterprise head of women’s health and genomics at CVS Health, in the report. “What we’re saying is, show us the clinical value proposition first.”

CVS said it’s also offering a stop-loss program for gene therapy to self-funded employers contracted with Aetna and/or Caremark to assist them in capping the expenses associated with these drugs.

4. Getting into the community to address diabetes

Diabetes risk is higher among vulnerable populations, such as Black patients, and addressing it will require local and community-based solutions, CVS executives said in the report. Groups at the highest risk for the disease are less likely to live in areas with easy access to a supermarket, for example, which boosts their risk of unhealthy eating, according to the report.

The two key hurdles to addressing this issue are access and affordability. The rise in retail clinics and ambulatory care centers can get at the access issue, as they can offer a way to better meet patients where they are.

At CVS’ MinuteClinics, patients can walk in and receive a number of services to assist them in managing diabetes, including screenings, consultations with providers and connections to diabetes educators who can assist with lifestyle changes.

Retail locations can also assist with medication costs, creating a one-stop-shop experience that’s easier for many diabetes patients to slot into their daily lives, CVS said.

“Diabetes is a case study in how a more connected experience can translate to simpler, affordable and more accessible care for underserved communities,” said Dan Finke, executive vice president of CVS Health and president of its healthcare benefits division.

Haven, the Amazon-Berkshire-JPMorgan venture to disrupt health care, is disbanding after 3 years

https://www.cnbc.com/2021/01/04/haven-the-amazon-berkshire-jpmorgan-venture-to-disrupt-healthcare-is-disbanding-after-3-years.html

Haven, the Amazon-Berkshire-JPMorgan venture to disrupt health care, is disbanding  after 3 years

KEY POINTS

  • Haven began informing employees Monday that it will shut down by the end of next month, according to people with direct knowledge of the matter.
  • Many of the Boston-based firm’s 57 workers are expected to be placed at Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway or JPMorgan Chase as the firms each individually push forward in their efforts, the people said.
  • One key issue facing Haven was that each of the three founding companies executed their own projects separately with their own employees, obviating the need for the joint venture to begin with, according to the people, who declined to be identified speaking about the matter.

Haven, the joint venture formed by three of America’s most powerful companies to lower costs and improve outcomes in health care, is disbanding after three years, CNBC has learned exclusively.

The company began informing employees Monday that it will shut down by the end of next month, according to people with direct knowledge of the matter.

Many of the Boston-based firm’s 57 workers are expected to be placed at AmazonBerkshire Hathaway or JPMorgan Chase as the firms each individually push forward in their efforts, and the three companies are still expected to collaborate informally on health-care projects, the people said.

The announcement three years ago that the CEOs of Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway and JPMorgan Chase had teamed up to tackle one of the biggest problems facing corporate America – high and rising costs for employee health care  – sent shock waves throughout the world of medicine. Shares of health-care companies tumbled on fears about how the combined might of leaders in technology and finance could wring costs out of the system.

The move to shutter Haven may be a sign of how difficult it is to radically improve American health care, a complicated and entrenched system of doctors, insurers, drugmakers and middlemen that costs the country $3.5 trillion every year. Last year, Berkshire CEO Warren Buffett seemed to indicate as much, saying that were was no guarantee that Haven would succeed in improving health care.

Shares of UnitedHealth GroupHumana and CVS Health each climbed more than 2% after the Haven news broke.

One key issue facing Haven was that while the firm came up with ideas, each of the three founding companies executed their own projects separately with their own employees, obviating the need for the joint venture to begin with, according to the people, who declined to be identified speaking about the matter.

Coming just three years after the initial rush of fanfare about the possibilities for what Haven could accomplish, its closure is a disappointment to some. But insiders claim that it will allow the founding companies to implement ideas from the project on their own, tailoring them to the specific needs of their employees, who are mostly concentrated in different cities.

The move comes after Haven’s CEO, Dr. Atul Gawande, stepped down from day-to-day management of the nonprofit in May, a change that sparked a search for his successor.

Brooke Thurston, a spokeswoman for Haven, confirmed the company’s plans to close and gave this statement:

The Haven team made good progress exploring a wide range of healthcare solutions, as well as piloting new ways to make primary care easier to access, insurance benefits simpler to understand and easier to use, and prescription drugs more affordable,” Thurston said in an email.

Moving forward, Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway, and JPMorgan Chase & Co. will leverage these insights and continue to collaborate informally to design programs tailored to address the specific needs of our individual employee populations and locations,” she said.

After decades as a hospital operator, Tenet shifts its focus to surgery centers

The company’s surgery centers far outnumber its hospital portfolio, and its ambulatory earnings will account for nearly half of overall earnings next year.

Tenet Health got its start as a major hospital operator in the U.S. and can trace its hospital business roots as far back as 1969. But it may be time to think of the Dallas-based company as an ambulatory surgery center operator, first, and a hospital chain, second.

Following its latest acquisition, Tenet’s ASC footprint will be nearly five times larger by the number of facilities than its hospital portfolio, and its ambulatory earnings will account for nearly half of the company’s overall earnings next year, executives recently said. That’s a significant leap from about six years ago when ambulatory represented just 4% of the company’s earnings.

“From a stock perspective, I think they’re going to get more credit now for that ownership of the surgery center business than ever just because of the size contribution,” Brian Tanquilut, an analyst with Jefferies, said.

Still he noted they will likely retain their image as a hospital provider first given that half its business (and earnings) are subject to the dynamics of the hospital space.

Tenet will now operate up to 310 ASCs in 33 states following its $1.1 billion cash deal to buy up to 45 centers from SurgCenter Development.

Tenet has billed its purchase from SurgCenter Development as a transformative deal, crowning itself the leading musculoskeletal surgical platform.

SurgCenter Development is one of the larger ASC operators in the country. The Towson, Maryland-based firm has developed more than 200 centers since the company was officially established in 2002. SCD’s business model calls for its physician partners to maintain majority ownership while SCD provides consulting and capital.

In fact, Tenet will pull ahead of the pack and will operate the most ASCs compared to its competitors, according to various public data.

Amsurg, an ASC operator under private equity-owned Envision, controls more than 250 surgery centers, according to its website, followed by Optum’s 230 centers under its Surgical Care Affiliates brand.

OwnerNumber of ASCs (fully or partially owned)
Tenet Health310
Amsurg (Envision) 250
Surgical Care Affiliates (Optum) 230
SurgCenter Development122
HCA121
Surgery Partners111
Total Medicare-certified ASCs in U.S.5,700

Still, those large players only control a sliver of the overall market. There are more than 5,700 Medicare-certified ASCs operating in the U.S., according to MedPac’s latest March report.

The market is so fragmented because, historically, a handful of doctors could come together and open up a small surgery center with a few operating rooms, Todd Johnson, a partner at Bain and Company, said. Johnson noted there are not that many deals like this out there, which is why it’s significant that Tenet was able to gobble up 45 centers in one swoop.

“We’re a long way from this being a market where any individual operator’s got 30% of market share. There’s just so many of these out there,” Johnson said.

What’s so attractive?

Regulatory and reimbursement changes and patient preference continues to fuel certain procedure migration away from hospitals.

“For payers, typically, the surgery rates are 30 to 40% less than the same procedure that’s done in a hospital outpatient department. So, payers certainly value the economic value proposition of ASCs,” Johnson said.

Just recently, regulators cleared the way for more procedures to be done in ASCs. CMS is eliminating the list of procedures that must be performed in a hospital, drawing ire from the hospital lobby. The inpatient-only list will be completely phased out by 2024, creating even more growth potential for surgery centers. Come Jan. 1, total hip replacements will be covered if performed in an ASC, a huge win for ASC operators.

It’s why hospital operators like Tenet have been keen to expand their surgery center footprint. The centers attract relatively healthy patients for quick procedures — eating into hospitals’ revenue and margin.

“This further move only solidifies the fact that they are trying to diversify their revenue streams, and, frankly move into a more attractive economic profile of procedure types — not trauma and COVID but rather scheduled surgeries they can run in and out like a factory but with really good clinical outcomes,” Johnson said.

To this point, Tenet leaders said the new SurgCenter Development centers generate higher margins and have minimal debt.

Patients also tend to prefer ASCs, Johnson said. Plus, as a lower cost option it can be persuasive for patients, especially those with high-deductible health plans.

Long-term strategy

Tenet has continued to bet on the shift from inpatient to outpatient services following its purchase of USPI in 2015.

The purchase set Tenet up to be a serious competitor in the space, establishing a portfolio of 244 surgery centers when the deal was announced. It illustrated Tenet’s intent to build a broader portfolio.

At the same time, it has whittled down its hospital portfolio, divesting in markets where it isn’t the No. 1 or No. 2 player as it seeks to hone its most competitive segments and markets.

Just last year, it announced plans to largely exit the Memphis, Tennessee, market with the sale of a number of assets including two hospitals, urgent care centers and the associated physician practices.

In 2018, Tenet shed all of its operations in the U.K. and eight hospitals across the U.S. 

That long-term strategy was made clearer last week when Tenet announced its sale of its urgent care business to FastMed. By selling off its 87 CareSpot and MedPost centers, Tenet said it will allow the company to further focus on its surgery center business.

Tenet has been keen to tout its position of musculosketel procedures — a high growth area compared to other procedure types such as gastroenterology. A 2019 report from Bain and Company expects that orthopaedic and spine procedure volumes will increase the fastest over the next few years.

With the SCD centers in the mix, CEO Ron Rittenmeyer said, “this transaction ensures Tenet will essentially double down and further deepen our concentration in these high growth areas of the future.”

Warren Buffett: An appreciation

https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/strategy-and-corporate-finance/our-insights/warren-buffett-an-appreciation?cid=other-eml-alt-mip-mck&hlkid=500c2a923cdd4ff19d66acac00e2a9fa&hctky=9502524&hdpid=e758f2ed-7de7-4263-9faa-7daf7b3bdaa7

Celebrating Warren Buffett on his 90th birthday | McKinsey

As Warren Buffett turns 90, the story of one of America’s most influential and wealthy business leaders is a study in the logic and discipline of understanding future value.

Patience, caution, and consistency. In volatile times such as these, it may be difficult for executives to keep those attributes in mind when making decisions. But there are immense advantages to doing so. For proof, just look at the steady genius of now-nonagenarian Warren Buffett. The legendary investor and Berkshire Hathaway founder and CEO has earned millions of dollars for investors over several decades (exhibit). But very few of Buffett’s investment decisions have been reactionary; instead, his choices and communications have been—and remain—grounded in logic and value.

Buffett learned his craft from “the father of value investing,” Columbia University professor and British economist Benjamin Graham. Perhaps as a result, Buffett typically doesn’t invest in opportunities in which he can’t reasonably estimate future value—there are no social-media companies, for instance, or cryptocurrency ventures in his portfolio. Instead, he banks on businesses that have steady cash flows and will generate high returns and low risk. And he lets those businesses stick to their knitting. Ever since Buffett bought See’s Candy Shops in 1972, for instance, the company has generated an ROI of more than 160 percent per year —and not because of significant changes to operations, target customer base, or product mix. The company didn’t stop doing what it did well just so it could grow faster. Instead, it sends excess cash flows back to the parent company for reinvestment—which points to a lesson for many listed companies: it’s OK to grow in line with your product markets if you aren’t confident that you can redeploy the cash flows you’re generating any better than your investor can.

As Peter Kunhardt, director of the HBO documentary Becoming Warren Buffett, said in a 2017 interview, Buffett understands that “you don’t have to trade things all the time; you can sit on things, too. You don’t have to make many decisions in life to make a lot of money.” And Buffett’s theory (roughly paraphrased) that the quality of a company’s senior leadership can signal whether the business would be a good investment or not has been proved time and time again. “See how [managers] treat themselves versus how they treat the shareholders .…The poor managers also turn out to be the ones that really don’t think that much about the shareholders. The two often go hand in hand,” Buffett explains.

Every few years or so, critics will poke holes in Buffett’s approach to investing. It’s outdated, they say, not proactive enough in a world in which digital business and economic uncertainty reign. For instance, during the 2008 credit crisis, pundits suggested that his portfolio moves were mistimed, he held on to some assets for far too long, and he released others too early, not getting enough in return. And it’s true that Buffett has made some mistakes; his decision making is not infallible. His approach to technology investments works for him, but that doesn’t mean other investors shouldn’t seize opportunities to back digital tools, platforms, and start-ups—particularly now that the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated global companies’ digital transformations.

Still, many of Buffett’s theories continue to win the day. A good number of the so-called inadvisable deals he pursued in the wake of the 2008 downturn ended paying off in the longer term. And press reports suggest that Berkshire Hathaway’s profits are rebounding in the midst of the current economic downturn prompted by the global pandemic.

At age 90, Buffett is still waging campaigns—for instance, speaking out against eliminating the estate tax and against the release of quarterly earnings guidance. Of the latter, he has said that it promotes an unhealthy focus on short-term profits at the expense of long-term performance.

“Clear communication of a company’s strategic goals—along with metrics that can be evaluated over time—will always be critical to shareholders. But this information … should be provided on a timeline deemed appropriate for the needs of each specific company and its investors, whether annual or otherwise,” he and Jamie Dimon wrote in the Wall Street Journal.

Yes, volatile times call for quick responses and fast action. But as Warren Buffett has shown, there are also significant advantages to keeping the long term in mind, as well. Specifically, there is value in consistency, caution, and patience and in simply trusting the math—in good times and bad.

 

 

Navigating a Post-Covid Path to the New Normal with Gist Healthcare CEO, Chas Roades

https://www.lrvhealth.com/podcast/?single_podcast=2203

Covid-19, Regulatory Changes and Election Implications: An Inside ...Chas Roades (@ChasRoades) | Twitter

Healthcare is Hard: A Podcast for Insiders; June 11, 2020

Over the course of nearly 20 years as Chief Research Officer at The Advisory Board Company, Chas Roades became a trusted advisor for CEOs, leadership teams and boards of directors at health systems across the country. When The Advisory Board was acquired by Optum in 2017, Chas left the company with Chief Medical Officer, Lisa Bielamowicz. Together they founded Gist Healthcare, where they play a similar role, but take an even deeper and more focused look at the issues health systems are facing.

As Chas explains, Gist Healthcare has members from Allentown, Pennsylvania to Beverly Hills, California and everywhere in between. Most of the organizations Gist works with are regional health systems in the $2 to $5 billion range, where Chas and his colleagues become adjunct members of the executive team and board. In this role, Chas is typically hopscotching the country for in-person meetings and strategy sessions, but Covid-19 has brought many changes.

“Almost overnight, Chas went from in-depth sessions about long-term five-year strategy, to discussions about how health systems will make it through the next six weeks and after that, adapt to the new normal. He spoke to Keith Figlioli about many of the issues impacting these discussions including:

  • Corporate Governance. The decisions health systems will be forced to make over the next two to five years are staggeringly big, according to Chas. As a result, Gist is spending a lot of time thinking about governance right now and how to help health systems supercharge governance processes to lay a foundation for the making these difficult choices.
  • Health Systems Acting Like Systems. As health systems struggle to maintain revenue and margins, they’ll be forced to streamline operations in a way that finally takes advantage of system value. As providers consolidated in recent years, they successfully met the goal of gaining size and negotiating leverage, but paid much less attention to the harder part – controlling cost and creating value. That’s about to change. It will be a lasting impact of Covid-19, and an opportunity for innovators.
  • The Telehealth Land Grab. Providers have quickly ramped-up telehealth services as a necessity to survive during lockdowns. But as telehealth plays a larger role in the new standard of care, payers will not sit idly by and are preparing to double-down on their own virtual care capabilities. They’re looking to take over the virtual space and own the digital front door in an effort to gain coveted customer loyalty. Chas talks about how it would be foolish for providers to expect that payers will continue reimburse at high rates or at parity for physical visits.
  • The Battleground Over Physicians. This is the other area to watch as payers and providers clash over the hearts and minds of consumers. The years-long trend of physician practices being acquired and rolled-up into larger organizations will significantly accelerate due to Covid-19. The financial pain the pandemic has caused will force some practices out of business and many others looking for an exit. And as health systems deal with their own financial hardships, payers with deep pockets are the more likely suitor.”

 

 

 

 

Amwell CEOs on the telehealth boom and why it will ‘democratize’ healthcare

https://www.fiercehealthcare.com/tech/amwell-ceos-telehealth-boom-will-democratize-healthcare?mkt_tok=eyJpIjoiWmpobE5XVmlaRGd6T0dFdyIsInQiOiJsQmxnbVNxNVlISVNkczJIZkJXb3ZFZG9tVlpMblZ1XC9oVVB6SlRINzNhOXE4MWQzNk1cL3JTaDlcL2l0MGdhSnk0NUtqY1RzdThCN1wvZ1ZoVUxqOHJwZFJcL1wvK3FtS0o5NFwvSHA0WHhTUnhVNnY3bk5RNmhRQTdxYzYwclhYN3JTRW8ifQ%3D%3D&mrkid=959610

Amwell CEOs on the telehealth boom and why it will 'democratize ...

The COVID-19 pandemic has catapulted the telehealth industry forward by decades in a matter of months, according to Amwell’s Roy Schoenberg.

That not only benefits the Amwell’s business, but it’s a win for patients, said Schoenberg, who serves as the company’s president and co-CEO.

“We are going to see an enormous amount of change, nothing short of a revolution, going forward,” he told Fierce Healthcare.

Roy and his brother Ido Schoenberg have been telehealth advocates for more than a decade since launching Amwell, formerly American Well, in 2006. The Boston-based telehealth company works with more than 240 health systems comprised of 2,000 hospitals and 55 health plan partners with over 36,000 employers, reaching over 150 million lives.

Like other virtual care companies, Amwell has seen skyrocketing demand for its services during the COVID-19 pandemic as stay-at-home orders and social distancing guidelines prevented many patients from visiting doctors in person. Shares in public digital health companies like Teladoc and Livongo have grown by double digits during the health crisis.

The momentum around telehealth also has attracted investors. The company recently raised $194 million in a series C funding round.

Amwell also is gearing up to go public later this year, according to CNBC’s Christina Farr and Ari Levy. The company confidentially filed for an IPO earlier this week and has hired Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley to lead the deal, Farr and Levy reported last week, citing people who asked not to be named because the plans have not been announced.

The company declined to comment on the CNBC report.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic began, Amwell was providing an average of 5,000 telehealth visits a day. That has jumped to 45,000 to 50,000 virtual visits a day due to the coronavirus, said Ido Schoenberg, who serves as chairman and co-CEO. 

“We saw 30 times, 40 times higher volumes and we have clients that had 2% to 3% of their patient volume online that now have 75% of visits online,” he said. “It’s truly incredible. The number of active providers on our platform grew seven times over in two months.”

As visits surged, technology companies struggled to keep up with demand, and patients reported long wait times for virtual visits on some platforms.

Roy Schoenberg acknowledged Amwell also faced challenges rapidly scaling its technology and services almost overnight as it was “thrown into the center stage of trying to save the world.”

The company leverages automation for processes such as onboarding physicians, credentialing, licensing, and working with health plans and that capability proved critical to scaling its services, the executives said.

“We needed to allow 40,000 to 50,000 physicians to come on to our system and begin to use it. If this was a manual process, it would have been broken,” Roy Schoenberg said.

Regulatory barriers to telehealth also quickly fell away, at least temporarily. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and commercial health plans have expanded access to telehealth by offering payment parity for many telehealth services for the first time.

While questions remain about what regulatory flexibilities will remain in place to support the ongoing demand for telehealth, Amwell executives believe virtual care has proven its value to providers, payers and patients.

CMS will likely tighten up some of the relaxed requirements around telehealth which is a “fiscally responsible approach,” Roy Schoenberg said.

“At the end of the day, even though the government tends to be a little bit slow, it gravitates to where the value is. How long will it take for the payment structure to retract and then expand, that’s anyone’s guess. We have an election year coming in. Who knows what that is going to do? There may be some changes, but I think overall, the genie is out of the bottle, the toothpaste is out of the tube, or whatever phrase you want to use,” he said.

The executives never doubted that telehealth would, at some point, reach the mainstream. Now that it’s happened, health systems and patients have become advocates for the technology and that will also put pressure on CMS and commercial payers to continue to support it, they said.

The executives now see an opportunity for Amwell to use its platform to expand the reach of healthcare to more patients. There is a growing industry of telehealth providers, device makers, and technology-enabled disease management companies that will enable digital home healthcare services, they said.

“What we built is something way bigger than a video conference between doctor and patient, which you can easily do using Zoom or FaceTime,” Ido Schoenberg said.

Digital connectivity will enable providers to gather health data on patients from wearables and devices to better understand gaps in care, get an overall picture of patients’ health and then provide more effective interventions, all without patients leaving their living rooms. The combination of telehealth and remote devices will enable elderly, frail patients to receive care at home, where they want to be, rather than being moved to a skilled nursing facility, they said.

“It’s about the ability to democratize healthcare and make great care available to many more people that today don’t always have access to it,” Ido Schoenberg said.

Roy Schoenberg added, “These are the opportunities opening fast and furious in front of us and the promise is to make healthcare less painful as an individual experience. That’s the value proposition.”