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Epic hits a crossroads, judge rules on UnitedHealth’s Change bid, & Meta faces health data pressure

This post originally appeared on StatNews.

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Epic faces a critical crossroads 

Epic’s pulling ahead of competitors: The EHR vendor’s contracts now cover the medical  data of more than 77% of the U.S. population. That runaway success has made Epic — and the ever growing list of tools it sells or builds for its clients — the easy choice for countless hospitals.  But as federal health data sharing rules take full effect in January, the software giant’s grip on health systems and the technologies they adopt could loosen.

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Casey and I spoke to dozens of researchers, developers, and health system execs about the company, its outsized influence on data sharing, and its business tactics. We found that while Epic commands intense loyalty and even fear from customers and business partners, its tightly controlled and highly customized software is increasingly clashing with demands for a more open market for health technologies.  One health tech exec  told STAT that the technical barriers to try to launch a new tool within Epic’s EHR were so complex, “the juice just wasn’t worth the squeeze.”

As the new data sharing rules loom large, Epic finds itself at a crossroads: Will it erect new barriers in a more open data environment? Or will it make meaningful changes that make it possible for more researchers and developers to deploy their own apps and predictive tools? Read more in our special report.

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Judge greenlights UHGh’s bid for Change

Late yesterday, a federal judge shot down the Justice Department’s legal challenge to UnitedHealth Group’s $13 billion acquisition of Change Healthcare, the top provider of tech used to review health insurance claims. The DOJ had argued the deal would stifle competition by allowing United to use rivals’ information to gain an unfair advantage. Our colleague Tara reports that the judge stipulated that UnitedHealth must divest Change’s claims editing subsidiary, ClaimsXten, to TPG Capital. 

Meta takes heat from Washington on health data

The social media giant is facing increasing pressure from lawmakers to clarify its access to sensitive medical data, following a Markup investigation revealing that one of its tracking tools was gathering data from hospital websites about patients’ doctors’ appointments, prescriptions, and health status. Last week, Sen. Jon Ossoff (D-Ga.) demanded that the Facebook and Instagram parent company hand over a  “comprehensive and precise” description of the data it gathers. Meanwhile, more than two dozen hospitals have removed the tracker from their websites. Read more. 

More on telehealth prescribing’s potential implosion

Elsewhere in Washington, the Drug Enforcement Administration’s taking a closer look at Done, a telehealth prescription company and competitor to Cerebral, which faces its own slate of federal and state investigations, the Wall Street Journal reports. The companies have come under fire for potentially irresponsible prescribing practices, especially for controlled stimulants including Adderall.

Mental health tech’s reality check

Enthusiasm for virtual mental health services may be waning as employers and insurers reassess budgets in the face of economic uncertainty. Mental health company execs and benefits consultants tell Mario that while customers say they’re still committed to providing better access to mental health care, sales aren’t coming as easily as they were earlier in the pandemic. “We’ve been in this reactionary mode in 2020 and 2021,” said Erin Boyd, chief growth officer in charge of enterprise sales for telemental health company Talkspace. “And now that the waters have calmed, we’re back to a normal sell cycle.” Talkspace has been sounding the alarm about a potential slowdown since its August earnings call. Mario has more.

Deals and partnerships:

  • Disease modeling company CytoReason has a new $110 million deal with Pfizer including a $20 million investment to use AI for drug discovery and development.
  • Reproductive biotech startup Gameto scored $17 million from Insight Partners. 
  • AI and precision medicine company Tempus is working with clinical trials organization the Children’s Oncology Group to offer genomic sequencing for 300 patients a year.
  • Health data companies Graphite Health and Datavant are partnering to give Graphite’s data platform access to Datavant’s de-identification software.

What we’re reading

    • Apple is the quiet power behind the App AssociationBloomberg
    • Telehealth abortion is expanding in some states, The Verge

This post originally appeared on StatNews.