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Our Take: Collaborations among health systems aim to improve efficiency, equity, experiences, and innovation

Jan 24, 2022

While 2021 may have ended with a rash of mergers and acquisitions, alliances of a different sort have peppered the health care landscape since the start of the new year. Several of these partnerships are technology-focused, with the industry continuing its shift toward greater interoperability.

Among the latest announcements, Kaiser Permanente has joined Graphite Health, the member-led entity that Intermountain Healthcare, Presbyterian Healthcare Services, and SSM Health launched last fall to “transform” digital health care.

The nascent nonprofit is creating a standardized, interoperable data platform and app marketplace to facilitate the distribution of digital health solutions for its member health systems.

In a press statement announcing Kaiser Permanente as its fourth organizing member, Graphite Health noted that the company is modeled on Civica Rx, the nonprofit generic drug company founded by seven health systems — including Intermountain Healthcare and SSM Health — and three philanthropic organizations in 2018 to address prescription drug costs and shortages. Civica Rx now has more than 50 health systems on its membership roster.

“Graphite Health is tackling some of the most pressing issues in health care today, making it easier to adopt digital health tools with a focus on trust and transparency,” said Greg Adams, Kaiser Permanente’s CEO. “By joining Graphite Health now, we are excited to help shape the future of digital health transformation, and to improve patient and member experience at Kaiser Permanente and beyond.”

In a separate collaborative effort, Microsoft is teaming up with several large health systems and other well-known organizations to form the Artificial Intelligence Industry Innovation Coalition, or AI3C.

“The goal of the newly created AI3C is to establish a pragmatic coalition with public and private organizations to advance health by identifying and addressing significant societal and industry barriers,” Patty Obermaier, vice president of U.S. Health and Life Sciences at Microsoft, said in a news release.

Other AI3C members include the Brookings Institution, Cleveland Clinic, Duke Health, Intermountain Healthcare, Novant Health, innovation platform Plug and Play, Providence, University of California – San Diego, and University of Virginia. All members have an equal voice in how the coalition operates and is governed.

To achieve its objectives of accelerating AI innovation and adoption, AI3C will focus on providing “a comprehensive program for responsible AI education and upskilling.”

The coalition said it would also provide recommendations on topics such as responsible AI innovation, health equity, and workforce transformation to reduce clinical fatigue.

Meanwhile, Avaneer Health, a collaboration forged between Aetna, PNC Bank, IBM, Anthem, and Health Care Service Corp. (HCSC) in 2019 to develop a blockchain health care network, will use $50 million in new seed funding to expand its team and technology as it prepares to launch its nationwide network, solutions, and marketplace.

When it launched as a stand-alone business last June, the network’s founding members were Aetna, Anthem, Cleveland Clinic, HCSC, the PNC Financial Services Group, and Sentara Healthcare.

In a press release announcing the latest funding, Tim Skeen, chief information officer of Sentara Healthcare and co-chair of Avaneer Health’s board of directors, said, “To achieve truly frictionless and seamless care, health care needs greater transparency and ease of navigation for all parties involved, particularly as we move toward greater adoption of value-based care.”

Stuart Hanson, the founding CEO of Avaneer Health, said, “Addressing administrative costs and creating a positive consumer experience requires connectivity and the type of data fluidity we have come to expect in other industries. We are very excited to jumpstart our network to enable health care organizations to work together with a foundation of trust to solve the ‘last mile’ problem in health care.”

Earlier this month, the Healthcare Anchor Network (HAN), a collaboration among health systems to encourage community-focused purchasing and investment, announced that it had become an independent 501(c)3 nonprofit organization.

HAN launched in 2017 with Advocate Aurora Health, CommonSpirit Health, Henry Ford Health System, Kaiser Permanente, ProMedica, Providence St. Joseph Health, Rush University Medical Center, RWJBarnabas Health, Trinity Health, and UMass Memorial Health Care as its founding members. Today, more than 65 health systems are HAN members.

“As a new organization, we look forward to deepening our network activities and sector impact to reach a critical mass of health systems adopting the anchor mission as an institutional priority to improve community health and well-being,” said David Zuckerman, HAN’s president.

In its announcement, HAN acknowledged CommonSpirit Health, Intermountain Healthcare, Kaiser Permanente, ProMedica, SSM Health, and Trinity Health for providing seed funding to support the organization.

Our Take: “The future of health is boundless when we collaborate across industries, apply advanced technology, and ensure responsible innovation.”

That’s what Karl Hightower, chief data officer at Novant Health, said in the press release about the new Microsoft-led AI3C.

We concur with Mr. Hightower, and we take our hats off to the health systems and other organizations that are working together to deliver a brighter future for patients and providers.

If political gridlock is going to prevent any real reform in our health care system, then at least maybe by pooling their resources these industry leaders can make the system more efficient.

And who knows? Greater efficiency might be enough to drive down costs. At the very least, it’ll save lives.

What else you need to know
IBM will sell its Watson Health data and analytics business to investment firm Francisco Partners for an undisclosed amount, the company announced Friday. The two parties have signed a definitive agreement and expect the transaction to close during the second quarter, provided customary regulatory approvals are obtained. According to a press release, the existing management team will maintain similar roles in the new stand-alone company.

CMS’ vaccine mandate for health care workers can be enforced in all states, now that the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas has dismissed a separate lawsuit filed by Texas contesting the federal mandate. As reported last week, the Supreme Court voted earlier this month to permit the mandate to be enforced in the 24 states that had requested a legal stay last fall. As a result of the district court’s action, the preliminary injunction in Texas has been lifted.

“Pharma Bro” Martin Shkreli is banned from the pharmaceutical industry for life, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York ruled on Jan. 14. He must also pay back $64.6 million “in net profits from his wrongdoing,” according to the court order. The Federal Trade Commission and New York’s attorney general filed a lawsuit in January 2020 against Shkreli alleging that he and his former company, Turing Pharmaceuticals, which became Vyera Pharmaceuticals, illegally blocked other companies from developing generic versions of Daraprim (pyrimethamine) to maintain a monopoly over the drug. The attorneys general of six other states subsequently joined the lawsuit. Turing bought the U.S. marketing rights to Daraprim in 2015 and raised the price from $13.50 to $750 per pill. Vyera and its parent company, Phoenixus AG, agreed last month to a $40 million settlement in related litigation.

Mark Cuban Cost Plus Drug Company (MCCPDC) launched an online pharmacy Wednesday with an initial inventory of 100 drugs. Mark Cuban established the drug company a year ago to produce less expensive versions of high-cost generic drugs. The new online pharmacy does not accept insurance because MCCPDC does not partner with third-party PBMs; in October, the company launched its own PBM — which it says stands for “patient benefit manager” — to serve companies that provide prescription coverage in their employee benefit plans. In a news release, MCCPDC said its pharmacy prices reflect actual manufacturer prices plus a flat 15% margin and pharmacist fee, adding that the prices are “often less than what most insurance plans’ deductible and copay requirements would total.”

Belgian biopharmaceutical company UCB and Zogenix, a biopharmaceutical firm based in Emeryville, Calif., signed a definitive agreement for UCB to acquire Zogenix in a transaction valued at up to approximately $1.9 billion. The boards of both companies have approved the acquisition, which is subject to completion of a tender offer, regulatory approvals, and other customary closing conditions. The transaction is expected to close during the second quarter. With the acquisition, UCB will gain Zogenix’s Fintepla (fenfluramine), which the FDA approved in June 2020 as a treatment for seizures associated with a form of epilepsy known as Dravet syndrome. The FDA is also evaluating whether to approve the drug as a treatment for seizures associated with Lennox-Gastaut syndrome, another form of epilepsy.

Walgreens launched an interactive COVID-19 tracking tool to “identify the spread of current and emerging variants in near real-time,” the company announced Wednesday. The pharmacy chain said its Walgreens COVID-19 Index can track the spread of the omicron variant more quickly than other methods, within 24 to 48 hours. The tool uses proprietary data from PCR testing services administered by Walgreens at more than 5,000 of its locations and performed by Aegis Sciences Corp., Walgreens’ testing partner.

Trends in Health Service Use for Canadian Adults With Dementia and Parkinson Disease During the First Wave of the COVID-19 Pandemic. JAMA Health Forum, 1.21.22
Audio Interview: Crushing the Covid-19 Curve. NEJM, 1.20.22

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