FYI, that whole wedgie thing is actually brutal to read about, and it led to some extremely serious injuries for…
Steven Scott is CEO of VitalTech of Plano, TX.
Tell me about yourself and the company.
I’ve been doing healthcare for much longer than I like to think, probably about 30 or 35 years. That includes the areas of senior housing, long-term care facilities, large hospital groups, software analytics, and healthcare IT. I joined VitalTech three months ago. What brought me here was that services are getting more and more pushed out into the home setting and we have the ability to provide services there that are driven by information and data. Remote patient monitoring is just one aspect of that. Using the biometric information helping people make decisions and helping them age in place — those are the concepts that attracted me to VitalTech, which does that on the remote patient monitoring side.
Will we see new advancements in wearables, sensors, and in-room technologies that will support advancing that concept?
If you look back just two years ago at the things that were available versus what’s out there today, there have been pretty good leaps in technologies in both size and connectivity now that 5G is out there. The ability to leverage and move data around from the home, which is helping the hospital-at-home concept, and the types of monitoring that we know will be done in the hospital that are being pushed out in the home and the companies that are looking at leveraging the technology.
In a lot of aspects of our lives outside of healthcare, technologies are advancing rapidly. We’ll see more devices that have an even higher clinical capability, if that’s a way to describe it, as complexity in the types of patients that need to have that at home come online. Technology is rapidly advancing. What we saw two years ago versus what we see today to what we’ll see two years from now will grow prior in a capability perspective. Connectivity has had a big impact in that, too. We’re just now beginning to realize what 5G is to recognize and utilize it.
The remote care market includes platform vendors, telehealth services, behavioral health providers, remote patient monitoring, senior living support, and patient engagement. How do you see that market of providers and vendors either consolidating or changing over the next few years?
There will be some consolidation. Some of that will be driven by not just the people who are out there providing the services, but also in the payer world. UnitedHealthcare just announced a couple of weeks ago that they basically have a digital-first health plan as the first level of engagement with their patients. The premiums are paying for those digital cares services. Virtual care is here. Virtual care is being adopted, both on the payer and the provider side. When your benefits start to align, you receive those services at home, and you get your equipment through your payer, you’re going to see he adoption grow significantly.
Then for those people that provide services in and around that — as technology advances, as the investment community takes a look at that as owners, and vendors and physician groups and those things engage, you’ll see some consolidation. That’s a normal progression that we’ll see over the next three to five years.
How will the payment policies of insurers and employers as well as patient spending lag or lead adoption?
It’s a little bit of both as it shifts. A lot of that is driven by government programs. CMMI has had a lot of initiatives around that. The physician fee schedule, remote patient monitoring, care coordination, and chronic care management leverage those virtual care aspects. Those are now reimbursable and they are changing the codes along those lines, which influences the fee-for-service world or an ambulatory setting world. You see in the risk arrangement side of the world where people — whether they are managing a population, a disease state, or interacting with their high-utilization chronic care members — leveraging technology, remote patient monitoring, and care coordination services for the home setting and the managed care environment, and it’s HCBS type services are getting deployed and moving along that line.
The incentives are all being aligned from a reimbursement perspective, an outcomes perspective, and a care delivery and services perspective. This has been in motion for several years. It’s just starting to snowball. A lot of that was influenced by COVID, where we needed to manage chronic care patients or were dealing with a high-risk disease state where we couldn’t have them come to the office. When you couldn’t have them in the hospital and no one was showing up in the ER, you needed to be a more proactive. When you look at how telemedicine intervened, people realized that we also need to get the biometric data. We need to see what going on with the weight gain or the weight losses or the glucose monitoring.
Those types of things were highlighted during COVID. People were looking to provide those services. Commercial and government programs and large employer groups recognize the need to provide those services outside the hospital walls.
How will health systems participate in the hospital-at-home concept, which otherwise threatens their revenue?
Some of our largest clients are hospitals. It’s usually because hospitals are involved not just as the provider of services, but also on the payer side, whether that member or patient is most likely part of an ACO arrangement. They’re responsible not only for the inpatient stay, but what happens on the outpatient world also. Hospitals have grown in their physician practices and in their marketplace, staying engaged with the patient post-hospital, whether it’s a readmission prevention type of a thing or trying to improve an outcome. Staying engaged with the patient, not just a phone call, but staying engaged in the actual care and the care delivery, whether that’s remote patient monitoring or care navigation. Keeping them within the network, utilizing their provider groups or the groups that they’re aligned with. Hospitals are probably more active in that today than they have ever been.
Hospitals have some number of lives where they are in a risk-sharing arrangement. Even if it’s still a fee-for-service patient, there’s some kind of a shared savings program. It’s relatively low incremental cost to run a virtual care program that keeps that patient engaged, that keeps them utilizing within their network, that keeps the readmission rates lower. It’s the net sum impact of that, not the small incremental cost, that they are shifting their focus on. As those arrangements become larger and more lives are doing it, hospitals are reacting.
How much does the local mix of patient payers, such as Medicare Advantage, lead hospitals to decide how actively they want to be involved in remote care?
A lot of those Medicare lives are in some kind of an ACO arrangement on the fee-for-service side. Large employer groups in a regional market that has a large employer footprint or a heavily managed government program — whether it’s managed Medicaid or managed Medicare — are influential on that. The commercial is looking at that also and seeing the impacts and the outcome improvements to do that. They are all aligning together and the hospitals are right in the middle of all that.
What are Best Buy’s ambitions in healthcare?
They’ve been doing a lot of acquisition in and around the homecare-bound services side, whether that’s in the senior area or just the general population. People are more interested in monitoring their own health at home with the evolution of the Apple Watch, the Apple Health app, a multitude of apps and peripherals around the Fitbit and those types of things. They see an opportunity there, from being a vendor of the hardware, but also on the services side. They have bought services companies to be a player in that space. Just like Amazon, to some extent. Healthcare is such a huge segment of the general business world right now that they are looking to how they can participate and do that. Then just by size and leverage, they can bring some economies of scale that other vendors don’t have.
Does the ability to scale remote patient monitoring depend on AI that can monitor the data and then alert humans when interventions are needed?
The biggest part of remote monitoring is people who monitor themselves. I have an iPhone, I’m counting my steps, I’m capturing my heart rate, I can do my own EKG, and I’m looking to see if anything is wrong. That’s the largest portion of who’s doing it.
As you go up the complexity of the medical condition, when the payer gets involved and the provider gets involved, they are actively monitoring a condition. They are doing it with their own staff or using a third-party vendor, but as you move up the acuity chain, that’s where you start seeing the other service vendors actively involved in that case. Case management, care navigation, care coordination, or your doctor wants to know weekly what your average blood pressure has been for the last three days as he is working through your medication regime. That’s where service providers start to get involved. But the largest market and the largest number of people are just monitoring themselves.
I have an IPhone and I have to walk 10,000 steps. What does that mean? I get on my scale that I just bought at Best Buy and hooked it up on Bluetooth, so now I weigh myself every day. I’m entering my nutritional data. I’m putting the barcode in, or talking about how much I had and what I ate. I’m monitoring my sodium level. I just got diagnosed with cardiomyopathy, so I’m managing my own care. Then when that condition worsens to a point where the service providers, the doctor, is more involved, I need that help, and assistance evolves into that.
Maybe I wasn’t doing any of that. All of a sudden I had a sentinel event, and now I need to be involved in that and I need a service provider to step in and do it. There’s several different scenarios of how that plays out. But as we adopt more and more technology in the home, we monitor our home security. We know who when FedEx drops off the package. We have the Ring doorbell so we know when people are at the door. This monitoring your health and that evolution that adoption of technology getting out into our daily lives is growing.
What are the most valuable lessons you’ve learned from helping companies find a successful path?
There is so much opportunity in healthcare to make a positive impact, as a business, but also in making sure that a patient is taken care of correctly. Are they getting where or what they need on time? The information that they need? Then as a business, are you providing that service and is there value-add? The businesses that I’ve been involved with have been in the early development of the market, where people are trying to figure out what’s going on.
I was involved with one of the original hospitalist programs. The hospitalist has a huge amount of value, but people didn’t understand what they did. We got involved in a high-risk member management in another company when people weren’t really sure how to start providing services and finding these people in the home. Then here the same thing with remote monitoring – we are starting to leverage technology and gain information that can make a huge impact on the delivery of care. There is so much opportunity in that.
From a business perspective, where do you focus and how you make that impact? The performance of a business will come along at that point. One thing that attracted me here is that coming through COVID, people were realizing we have this technology and we can leverage it. We can improve a grandmother’s or a young child’s life by knowing this information upfront and getting it to the right service provider.
The business will follow in doing that. People see that. They see the value of it. They see not only from an outcomes perspective, but also from a business perspective and the ability to do that. That’s what’s exciting. That’s what I personally like doing. I think that’s one way you give back.