Digital health news update: the consumerization of healthcare and Amazon's PBM plunge

May 22, 2017 Matthew Arnold

  • Might Amazon do to PBMs what it’s done to retailers? The ecommerce goliath is reportedly making hires with a view toward getting into the pharmacy game – a move that could shake up the payer pecking order and give pharmas a formidable negotiating partner on pricing. Some experts think that despite Amazon’s brand value, reach and scale, it will have trouble displacing incumbents like ExpressScripts and CVS. Others think Amazon could bring just the jolt of pricing transparency the PBM market needs. In any case, it’s another side effect of high-deductible plans pushing more of the cost burden onto consumers, and few companies understand how to engage consumers better than Amazon.
     
  • The WannaCry ransomware attack that shut down the IT systems of many hospitals worldwide, including much of the NHS, is a sign of the vulnerability of hospitals and health systems to disruption by hackers – and calls into question any notion of medical privacy.
     
  • For all the furor over pricing in the US, Edelman’s Trust Barometer study found that perceptions of the industry have improved over the past year – well, to ‘Meh,’ from ‘Better than Ebola,” more or less. Fifty-one percent of those surveyed said they trust the industry, though an overwhelming number say pharma puts profits ahead of patient health.
     
  • Why the improvement? Edelman’s Kym White cites innovation as a major factor. Here’s one ripped-from-the-headlines example: the World Health Organization is weighing deploying an experimental Ebola vaccine developed by Merck in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where an outbreak of the hemorrhagic fever has flared in recent days.
     
  • Verily hired former FDA Commissioner Robert Califf to serve in an as-yet undefined role. It’s a win for the Google life sciences spinoff, which has suffered a brain drain in recent months, amid reports of internal strife. Califf, meanwhile, had some interesting things to say about the need for the industry to define ethical off-label promotion in the wake of legal decisions circumscribing the FDA’s role in policing it.
     
  • Here’s a look at how one AI company (that is not Watson) is using deep learning to aid in lung cancer diagnosis in China. For all the justified skepticism of AI, David Shaywitz says the technologies appear at last to be poised to live up to the hype, and that HCPs will need to make nice with the likes of Watson.
     
  • A small study looking at the use of texts to promote adherence found very high engagement for a fully-automated, two-way text messaging adherence service from Epharmix which went beyond rote reminders to ask why patients had missed a dose.
     
  • Digital ID consortia that give physicians easy access to pharma sites in exchange for more granular tracking are gaining steam – and the concept is being tested with renewed energy by less-regulated industries, as well.
     
  • Researchers using wearable biosensors were able to predict with 79%-80% accuracy whether patients with autism were going to “aggress to someone else or to themselves” within the next minute, based on movement data. 
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