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Our Take: 14 health systems come together to create health data startup Truveta

Feb 22, 2021

Some of the nation’s largest health systems have joined forces to launch a new startup called Truveta.

Their goal is to build a new data platform that will use artificial intelligence and machine learning, along with pooled, de-identified patient data from the participating health systems, to “save lives with data” and “democratize care and advance health for all.”

Truveta’s founding health providers are:
  • AdventHealth
  • Advocate Aurora Health
  • Baptist Health of Northeast Florida
  • Bon Secours Mercy Health
  • CommonSpirit Health
  • Hawaii Pacific Health
  • Henry Ford Health System
  • Memorial Hermann Health System
  • Northwell Health
  • Novant Health
  • Providence
  • Sentara Healthcare
  • Tenet Health
  • Trinity Health
Collectively, these health systems cover more than 10% of the U.S. population, according to Trinity Health CEO Michael Slubowski, Becker’s Hospital Review reported. The providers serve “tens of millions” of patients in 40 states.
Truveta will be based in Seattle, with Terry Myerson, a former Microsoft engineer, as its CEO. Myerson will lead a team of data scientists in building the new platform, with an emphasis on security and protecting patient privacy.

“We know health data is unlike other data. It is the very definition of personal,” Myerson said. “While we embark on our pursuit to generate knowledge and insights to improve patient care around the world, we must do so with the utmost caution to protect the privacy of patients.”

In the news release announcing Truveta, the founding health systems pointed to the pandemic as an example of the need for this kind of collaboration among providers and other stakeholders in the country’s health care system, noting that — while remarkable progress has been made in the areas of diagnosing COVID-19 and developing vaccines for the disease — the pandemic must serve as “a catalyst for even more rapid progress.”

They noted that, had Truveta existed a year ago, physicians could have shared and learned more about the best methods of treating COVID-19; questions about how the disease affects specific populations could have been answered sooner; enrollment in clinical trials could have occurred more quickly, and with statistically representative populations; and vaccines could have been distributed more equitably.

According to the health systems, Truveta’s data platform will drive innovation in patient care and the development of new therapies by delivering insights “from billions of clinical data points with a single search.”

Trinity Health’s Slubowski went so far as to say that the platform could yield the cure for certain diseases.

“For the first time in the history of health, we have enough data at scale to dramatically advance innovation in health care with collective commitment to partner on ethical innovation,” he said.

Our Take: It’s encouraging to see these leaders within the health care community working together for the common good. It’ll be interesting to see if other health systems jump on board, like what happened after Civica Rx was launched.

One thing the Truveta press statement did not mention is that while this collaboration could indeed lead to better outcomes for a whole lot of people, it’s not a purely humanitarian effort. After all, somebody has to foot the bill for such an immense undertaking. The aggregated, de-identified data generated by the Truveta platform will be sold to other health systems, researchers, and others.

We can imagine that the fledgling organization will be taking every conceivable precaution as it builds this treasure trove of data, but given that we see news stories on what seems like a weekly basis about how this hospital or that payer has been hacked and patient data has been compromised, we’re a little apprehensive. Truveta might have some of the best minds in the IT industry developing its platform, but can they absolutely guarantee security? Yes, the data will be de-identified before it’s sold, but how will all of that data be protected before it’s de-identified?

The Truveda website says the organization “is pursuing the most stringent security certifications,” and that it “aspires to exceed state and federal guidelines.” It also states that Truveda “has engaged ethicists to the full extent to ensure compliance with ethical treatment and use of patient data.”

On the surface that all sounds fine, but if you examine it closely, it’s kind of vague. Granted, this is still in the early stages, and more details may be forthcoming.

So, how much will Truveta be charging for its data? Myerson, the former Microsoft engineer who’s in charge at Truveta, told The Wall Street Journal that pricing plans for the data are still being developed and that the fees could be based on who’s doing the buying.

According to Becker’s Hospital Review, Myerson said Truveta’s goal “is to make this data available to everyone who wants to do ethical research. That could be a student, a life sciences firm looking to staff a clinical trial faster and with more representative populations, etc., but all guided by the ethics of Trinity, Providence, Northwell, and all these organizations that have come together to ensure this data is being used for good.”

That sounds commendable. Truly. But how are they going to be able to determine that a random student has honorable intentions, or even that the individual claiming to be a student really is a student? Does it matter? We don’t know.

All in all, we think this is a tremendously positive step forward at the industry level, and we’d love to see the collaboration grow to include health plans and possibly even life sciences companies — as long as the emphasis continues to be on patient privacy, security, and, perhaps most of all, ethics.

What else you need to know
Sharecare is going public, with Anthem’s help. The digital health startup was founded in 2010 by Dr. Mehmet Oz and Jeff Arnold (founder of WebMD) “to help people consolidate and manage various components of their health in one place” — namely, on their smartphone. Sharecare recently announced that it had entered into a definitive merger agreement with Falcon Capital Acquisition Corp., a blank check company led by Alan Mnuchin. The merger is expected to close in the second quarter, and the resulting entity, Sharecare Inc., will be listed on the Nasdaq. It’s expected to have an initial enterprise value of $3.9 billion. Anthem has pledged to invest at least $25 million in Sharecare before the transaction closes but could invest up to twice that amount, according to a Form 8-K that Falcon Capital filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Arnold will continue to lead Sharecare as CEO and chairman.

Humana is launching a new tech-enabled platform designed to assist select Medicare Advantage (MA) members in managing their chronic conditions and support providers with enhanced data analytics. The platform, called Humana Care Support, will help these members “improve their physical, social, and behavioral health while aging in place,” the company said in a news release. “Our Humana Care Support pilot will be instrumental in using best practices in coordinated home health, care management visits, and virtual visits to help our members improve their health,” said William Fleming, the segment president of clinical and pharmacy solutions at Humana. Initially, the pilot will focus on members in Kentucky, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia who have multiple chronic conditions in addition to complex congestive heart failure and diabetes. Humana plans to expand the program to MA members in other states this year.

CVS Health’s Aetna will return to the Affordable Care Act (ACA) exchanges in 2022, CEO Karen Lynch said on an earnings call last Tuesday. Lynch, who just succeeded former CEO Larry Merlo at the start of the month, said, “There is evidence of market stabilization and remedies to earlier issues.” The fate of the ACA seems more certain under the Biden administration, as Joe Biden campaigned on expanding the health care law rather than replacing it. Aetna left the exchanges four years ago; its return next year will usher in new co-branded CVS-Aetna products.

Amazon, Google, Airbnb, and other companies with technical and logistical expertise are reaching out to the Biden administration with offers of help to get more Americans vaccinated against COVID-19, whether it’s by offering assistance with vaccine distribution, setting up temporary vaccination sites, or donations to support vaccine education — and the administration appears to be open to the possibilities, according to Politico. At this point, though, it’s not certain whether the companies can provide the kind of assistance the federal government needs right now. The biggest issue is lack of vaccine, and that isn’t something that even a distribution megaforce like Amazon can overcome.

Google will open a new office near Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., to facilitate the company’s ongoing collaboration with the renowned health system, the two organizations announced Thursday. They began a 10-year strategic partnership in September 2019, combining their respective capabilities and expertise “to improve the health of people — and entire communities — through the transformative impact of understanding insights at scale.” So far, they have worked on moving Mayo Clinic’s patient data to the cloud, co-developed new artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning tools, launched ongoing AI-related projects in a number of clinical areas, and teamed up to “respond and adapt to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Chiquita Brooks-LaSure is President Biden’s nominee to head CMS. Brooks-LaSure has considerable experience in health policy at the federal level, including serving at CMS and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) during the Obama administration, where she worked to implement the Affordable Care Act’s coverage and insurance reform policy provisions. She also recently led the Biden administration’s transition “landing team” for HHS. Her nomination requires Senate confirmation.

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