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Amazon Prime for your prescriptions, virtual care during pregnancy, & AI for mental health

This post originally appeared on StatNews.

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Prime for your prescriptions

This morning, Amazon announced its latest play in the pharmacy business: a subscription service called RxPass. Customers with Prime memberships will be able to pay $5 a month to fill as many prescriptions as they need from a list of 50 generic drugs, including antibiotics and medications to treat high blood pressure and acid reflux. It’s not clear how much of an impact a service like RxPass could have on medication access, because many of the drugs in question are already low-cost, and the program doesn’t accept insurance.

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The effort builds on last November’s launch of Amazon Clinic, a new business line to compete with direct-to-consumer telehealth companies like Hims and Ro. That service allows patients to message with a third-party doctor and get prescriptions for common conditions like acne, allergies, and hair loss that can then be filled through Amazon Pharmacy.

Maternal health tech misses the people who need it the most

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I’ve been tracking health tech for underserved populations as part of a series I’m doing for a USC’s Center for Health Journalism fellowship for a few months, and I’m excited to share the latest piece in the project: a look at how remote patient monitoring and telehealth can help flag dangerous conditions like gestational hypertension and preeclampsia earlier — and how resistance from insurers and state Medicaid programs make it hard for patients to access these  services.

Kathryn Marko of the George Washington health system in D.C. told me that underserved maternal patients must overcome huge barriers getting to the dozen-or-so appointments they’re usually scheduled for — like finding transportation, child care, and coverage at work. Many of those patients live in medical deserts, meaning they must often travel great distances. She’s working with Babyscripts, a D.C. startup, to offer digital blood pressure cuffs and remote monitoring apps to those patients to reduce their burden.

These types of services give doctors more touchpoints with patients, not less, because they can take their own measurements whenever’s most convenient for them, Marko and other clinicians told me. Read the full story here.

Blending AI with human support: What are the limits in mental health?

There’s a fierce debate unfolding online about ChatGPT, GPT-3, and the role automation should have  — if any — in mental health care support. The discussion  revealed to me just how little experts agree about the technology’s costs and benefits, and how to experiment on it: While automation could potentially offset major mental health provider shortages by potentially making peer-to-peer support appear more empathetic, the concept just makes some people uncomfortable.

So I spoke to a few experts, including Rob Morris, whose Tweet thread describing an experiment on peer-to-peer support platform Koko sparked the initial outcry.  They told me we’re in the very early stages of exploring how AI can be responsibly used in mental health, and that there will likely be more experimentation in coming years. Read the whole story here.

Ro delves deeper into weight loss 

As direct-to-consumer telehealth companies attempt to differentiate themselves from competitors in an increasingly saturated market, worth noting is Ro’s entry into weight loss drugs — a field that’s effectively a ‘Wild West’ of online prescribers. The surging popularity for these weight loss drugs — which also treat diabetes — has led to nationwide shortages. 

Last week Ro announced plans to offer GLP-1 medications along with at-home diagnostic testing and personalized coaching as part of its obesity treatment, an effort to diversify beyond the ED, hair loss and fertility services it initially offered.

Also in direct-to-consumer virtual care, women’s health telehealth company Favor — formerly Pill Club — is returning to its previous name following a trademark lawsuit, the Wall Street Journal reports.

The latest launches and funding

  • Mental health support chatbot company Woebot Healthhas enrolled its first patient in a clinical trial evaluating a tool for postpartum depression. That tool, called WB001, received FDA breakthrough device designation in 2021.
  • Wolters Kluwer HealthandLaerdal Medical have a new virtual-reality product that simulates a hospital environment for nursing training.
  • Medical device cybersecurity company MedCrypthas raised a Series B funding round led by Dexcom Ventures, bringing total funding to $36.4 million. Johnson & Johnson Innovationshas also backed the company.
  • Medi-Cal members on Blue Shield of California Promise Health Planscan now access mental health support, chronic condition and disease prevention coaching, and smoking cessation services through an all called Wellvolution.
  • The HLTH Foundationhas formed a new Techquity for Health Coalition, which is running a survey on health tech equity and whose results will be announced at the ViVE conference in March.
  • Toby Cosgrove,who formerly led Cleveland Clinic, is joining virtual care technology companyMemora Health as a strategic advisor, along with UC Davis Health’s current CEO David Lubarsky.

This post originally appeared on StatNews.