Revisiting last week’s Teladoc antibiotic prescription study

By: Jonah Comstock | Jun 3, 2015        

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JONAH_COMSTOCK_HEADSHOTLast week, JAMA Internal Medicine published a two-page research letter by the Rand Corporation that played into a national conversation about the efficacy of telemedicine — specifically Teladoc, a company which is both about to IPO and embroiled in a potentially precedent-setting legal battle with its home state of Texas over whether the Texas Medical Board has the right to regulate the practice of telemedicine. (An early injunction by the court last week favored Teladoc.)

So it’s perhaps no surprise that different people have read the Rand Corporation’s findings in different ways.

While MobiHealthNews headlined our version of the story with the finding that telemedicine and in-person doctors prescribed antibiotics at roughly the same rate, other publications like Modern Healthcare focused on another finding in the study: that telemedicine doctors were more likely to prescribe broad-spectrum antibiotics. Still others, like mHealthNews, chose to lead with the relevant question: “Are doctors overprescribing via telehealth?”

Though at first glance the headlines might seem to disagree (some say the same amount of antibiotics are being prescribed, some say more) in fact none of them is wrong. So what does the study really say? Keep reading>>

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Google researchers working on estimating calories from photo of food

By: Aditi Pai | Jun 3, 2015        

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Meal Snap app

Meal Snap app

Google has unveiled a new project, called Im2Calories, which will use deep learning algorithms to estimate how many calories are in food, based on a photo of the meal, according to a report from Popular Science.

The algorithm will estimate calories in a meal, which could be, for example, eggs, pancakes, and bacon, based on the size of the individual items compared to the size of the plate. Pictures do not have to be high resolution for the system to work either — a shot from a smartphone would work as well.

Google Research Scientist Kevin Murphy, who discussed this project at an event in Boston last week explained that the algorithm is not very accurate, but the more pictures people take, the more it will improve.

“To me it’s obvious that people really want this and this is really useful,” he said at the event. “Ok fine, maybe we get the calories off by 20 percent. It doesn’t matter. We’re going to average over a week or a month or a year. And now we can start to potentially join information from multiple people and start to do population level statistics. I have colleagues in epidemiology and public health, and they really want this stuff.”

Murphy added that in the future they want to use this technology to do scene analysis and offer users a traffic scene analysis and a prediction of where the most likely parking spot is.

Other companies have incorporated photo taking into nutrition tracking offerings in recent years. A similar tool, called Meal Snap, which MobiHealthNews included in a roundup last year, aimed to calculate what’s in food and how many calories it has, based on food photos. This app is no longer available in the US Apple App Store.

Another app, called Eat It Tweet It, integrates with Twitter and offers users a portal to tweet exclusively about their diet. The app includes preset hashtags and a camera feature to take a picture of the meal. A study of the app showed that young adults found it useful for tracking food consumption, though that study didn’t look at weight loss outcomes.

And The Eatery, an app developed by Massive Health, which Jawbone acquired in February 2013, also used a smartphone camera as the input mechanism, but rather than calculating the nutritional value with an algorithm, it crowdsourced the food rating from other Eatery users who rated how healthy the meals were on a sliding scale.

Medtronic to focus on smaller acquisitions, expand diabetes business

By: Jonah Comstock | Jun 3, 2015        

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Medtronic's Guardian Mobile CGM app, yet to be released in the US.

Medtronic’s Guardian Mobile CGM app, yet to be released in the US.

Despite speculations to the contrary from analysts last year, it looks like Medtronic will continue to acquire early-stage health companies even after its Covidien acquisition. On a fourth quarter earnings call, Medtronic CEO Omar Ishrak told analysts that the company would use new cash from the Covidien deal to invest in early technologies in new areas for the company.

“Using extra access we have to that cash, we’ve stated that we’re going to look at early technologies, in the US primarily, where there may be opportunities which we haven’t been able to participate in to the degree that we’d like to, to create a long-term technology pipeline of early stage technologies that we think can make a difference,” Ishrak said during the Q&A.

When Medtronic acquired Covidien last year, Glenn Novarro, a financial analyst with RBC Capital Markets who follows the companies closely said it would likely lead to a slowdown in smaller medtech acquisitions, such as those that both Medtronic and Covidien had been involved in shortly before the acquisition.

Last Spring MobiHealthNews exclusively reported that Medtronic had acquired peel-and-stick wearable heart monitor company Corventis for about $150 million. A few weeks before that MobiHealthNews also broke the news that Covidien had snapped up wearable medical device maker Zephyr Technologies for an undisclosed sum. And in 2013 Medtronic acquired home health monitoring company Cardiocom, too. But in the recent call, Ishrak said Medtronic would follow Covidien’s lead in continuing to acquire small companies. Keep reading>>

PillPack raises $50M for online medication mailing service

By: Aditi Pai | Jun 3, 2015        

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PillPackManchester, New Hampshire-based virtual pharmacy PillPack has raised $50 million in a round led by CRV with participation from Accel Partners, Atlas Venture, Menlo Ventures, and SherpaVentures. This brings the company’s total funding to $62 million dollars to date.

Existing investors include High Line Venture Partners, QueensBridge Venture Partners, and Founder Collective.

“In the last two years, we’ve built and launched a better, simpler pharmacy experience that folks absolutely love,” PillPack CEO TJ Parker said in a statement. “With this funding, we’re excited to expand our physical footprint across the country, enabling both increased capacity as well as opportunities for an even more delightful experience for our customers.”

PillPack offers online and by-mail pharmacy services, which previously cost the user $20 per month, but are now free (other than the user’s copay). After a doctor eprescribes or faxes in a prescription, PillPack sends a customer all of his or her medications for the next 14 days, prepackaged by dose.

Using web tools, customers can monitor their shipments and add over the counter medications and vitamins to their orders. PillPack will also send the user a message asking if they need to update medications before each shipment so they can make any necessary changes. Users can see how much their meds cost, and how much their insurance contributes. PillPack customers also have 24-7 access to their pharmacist by phone if they have any concerns with their medication. And the service accepts most drug insurance plans, including many Medicare plans.

Since the company launched in February 2014, PillPack has shipped more than 1 million dose packs. At the time of the company’s commercial launch, they also announced that they had raised $4 million. The company raised another $8.8 million in October 2014. PillPack is currently available in 47 states.

Startup Health adds 12 more companies to its portfolio

By: Aditi Pai | Jun 2, 2015        

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Money TreeNew York City-based accelerator Startup Health has added 12 more companies to its program. It now has 102 startups in its portfolio.

Startups that have participated in the accelerator have raised a total of $200 million so far. That’s up from $190 million in January 2015. Startup Health said that 44 percent of its companies were founded by physicians or other practitioners, and 33 percent were founded by women. The portfolio also consists of 17 percent international companies.

Here are the 12 startups that Startup Health added to its portfolio:

Deerfield Beach, Florida-based BioClaim connects providers’ front desks to the payor in near-real time and is integrated into EMRs to protect patients and hospitals from medical identity theft.

Walnut Creek, California-based BreathResearch is developing a headset that will test and track cardiorespiratory fitness without the need for large and expensive cardiopulminary equipment.

Los Alamos, New Mexico-based Dotri developed a platform that uses mobile sensors to record electromyography (EMG) biofeedback and track the details and results of remote physical therapy sessions.  Keep reading>>