In response to the rapid pace of innovation in the health and life sciences arena, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is taking a proactive, risk-based approach to regulating digital health products. Software applications and other transformative technologies, such as artificial intelligence and 3D printing, are reshaping how medical devices are developed, and FDA is seeking to align its mission and regulatory obligations with those changes.

FDA’s digital health software precertification program is a prime example of this approach. Once fully implemented, this voluntary program should expedite the path to market for software as a medical device (SaMD), and promote greater transparency between FDA and regulated entities.

Under the program, FDA will conduct a holistic review of the company producing the SaMD, taking into account aspects such as management culture, quality systems and cybersecurity protocols, to ascertain whether the company has developed sufficient infrastructure to ensure that its products will comply with FDA requirements and function safely as intended. Companies that fulfill the requirements of the excellence appraisal and related reviews will receive precertification that may provide for faster premarket reviews and more flexible approaches to data submissions at the outset.

Continue Reading To Market, To Market: FDA’s Digital Health Precertification Program

As the telemedicine regulatory and reimbursement environment becomes more cohesive and providers and patients alike embrace technology, opportunities for telemedicine collaborations are likely to grow. Like any collaboration, finding the right partner is crucial for success, particularly at the highly-scrutinized intersection of healthcare and technology. This post explores the factors to address when evaluating service providers and vendors for your next telemedicine collaboration.

Service Provider Evaluation

  • Ask around “town” – What is the collaborator’s reputation? What independent feedback is provided in references?
  • Determine if the service provider’s stage in the organizational “life-cycle” and its affiliated relationships are the best fit for the strategic goals of your partnership (e.g. should you partner with an early-stage company or a longstanding organization?)
  • Assess the capabilities of potential collaboration partners for meeting your organization needs, and pressure test their ability to come up with back-up options, should the need arise throughout the course of the collaboration.
  • Determine whether collaborator has state specific and service specific policies and procedures governing the provision of telemedicine services, including: Continue Reading Vetting Relationships for Telemedicine Collaborations

Telemedicine collaborations, whether between technology companies and providers, health systems and patients, or other creative partnerships we have yet to see in the industry, can present numerous benefits to our healthcare delivery system and patient outcomes. However, such collaborations present a variety of regulatory, logistical and operational concerns that should be strategically addressed from the ideation stage of the collaboration onward.

Early-Stage Considerations

The strategy behind the collaboration should be developed with an eye towards the duration of the relationship and the development of mutually beneficial goals and objectives that are clear and measurable. Each party should be transparent about their capabilities and strategic vision at the outset of the collaboration talks to avoid any surprises or disappointments deeper in the future. Questions for potential collaboration partners include:

  • Is this an experimental partnership or a long-term plan?
  • What do I bring to the table? How can this partner supplement or support my capabilities?
  • How will this relationship be branded and marketed? Do I need greater visibility than my partner, or will we come together under a new brand?
  • Do we have the IT infrastructure and vendor relationships in place to execute this collaboration? If not, how will secure what we need?
  • Do we have the resources to meet the regulatory requirements of the partnership?
  • How will we measure the success or failure of the collaboration?

Considerations in the RFP Stage

After the initial strategy discussions have taken place, the proposal period raises its own series of considerations. After ensuring that the arrangement proposed can address the goals and objectives of the collaboration, regulatory and transactional issues take center stage. Rights and responsibilities of each party, reporting and compliance mechanisms, fees, credentialing, licensing and privacy compliance and liability issues, to name a few concerns, are addressed at this point in the process. Fees structures and compliance with the evolving federal and state laws regulating telemedicine providers are particularly complex issues that should be addressed at this point.

Questions to address regarding fees include:

Continue Reading Telemedicine Collaborations and Partnerships: Key Considerations for Success

In April 2019, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a white paper, “Proposed Regulatory Framework for Modifications to Artificial Intelligence/Machine Learning (AI/ML)-Based Software as a Medical Device,” announcing steps to consider a new regulatory framework to promote the development of safe and effective medical devices that use advanced AI algorithms. AI, and specifically ML, are “techniques used to design and train software algorithms to learn from and act on data.” FDA’s proposed approach would allow modifications to algorithms to be made from real-world learning and adaptation that accommodates the iterative nature of AI products while ensuring FDA’s standards for safety and effectiveness are maintained.

Under the existing framework, a premarket submission (i.e., a 510(k)) would be required if the AI/ML software modification significantly affects device performance or the device’s safety and effectiveness; the modification is to the device’s intended use; or the modification introduces a major change to the software as a medical device (SaMD) algorithm. In the case of a PMA-approved SaMD, a PMA supplement would be required for changes that affect safety or effectiveness. FDA noted that adaptive AI/ML technologies require a new total product lifecycle (TPLC) regulatory approach and focuses on three types of modifications to AI/ML-based SaMD:

Continue Reading Reviewing Key Principles from FDA’s Artificial Intelligence White Paper

During the second quarter of 2019, DOJ continued its focus on enforcement activity in telemedicine. As reported in prior editions of the Quarterly Roundup, telemedicine is an expanding field, causing DOJ to pay particular attention to the industry.

In April 2019, DOJ indicted the owner and operator of 1stCare MD and ProfitsCentric with one count of conspiracy to pay and receive kickbacks. The defendant’s arrest and federal indictment is part of a nationwide law enforcement action, as reported in the Q1 2019 Quarterly Roundup, that targeted 24 defendants involved in alleged extensive healthcare fraud schemes focused on telemedicine and durable medical equipment (DME) marketing. These schemes allegedly resulted in losses amounting to more than $1.2 billion. The indictment alleges that from 2016 to 2019 the defendant defrauded HHS in its administration and oversight of Medicare by conspiring with others by paying and receiving kickbacks and bribes in exchange for doctors’ orders for DME for Medicare beneficiaries. Prosecutors also alleged that the defendants, 1stCare MD and ProfitsCentric, through their network of doctors, generated thousands of doctors’ orders for DME absent a pre-existing doctor-patient relationship and a physical examination, and that the orders were based solely on a short telephone conversation. The indictment alleges that these activities resulted in the submission of approximately $40 million in fraudulent Medicare claims for DME.

Further, in July 2019, DOJ indicted a New York-based anesthesiologist for her alleged role in a $7 million telemedicine conspiracy to fraudulently bill Medicare, Medicare Part D plans and private insurance plans, resulting in more than $3 million in payments on those claims.[51] According to DOJ, the indictment resulted from investigative work by the Criminal Division’s Medicare Fraud Strike Force, a joint initiative of DOJ and HHS. Eastern District of New York prosecutors charged the anesthesiologist with one count of conspiring to commit healthcare fraud by misusing telemedicine channels under agreements with unidentified companies to prescribe DME and drugs to more than 3,000 Medicare beneficiaries. The indictment alleges that, from January 2015 to May 2018, the anesthesiologist and other providers allegedly received kickback payments from unidentified companies for improper telemedicine encounters. The indictment alleges that the anesthesiologist “prescribed and ordered DME and prescription drugs for beneficiaries who were not examined or evaluated by a licensed physician.” The prosecutors alleged that the prescriptions flowing from the alleged telemedicine encounters were for DME and drugs that were neither medically necessary nor the result of genuine physician-patient relationships.

PRACTICE NOTE: Given DOJ’s recent criminal enforcement related to telemedicine, telemedicine companies should closely review their compliance with the federal and state laws that may be implicated through a telemedicine practice. Further, DOJ’s focus on individual accountability is particularly important with respect to telemedicine, given its interest in pursuing criminal actions against physicians.

This blog post was originally published in McDermott’s Health Care Enforcement Quarterly Roundup | Q2 2019. Click here to view the full report. 

As part of the 21st Century Cures Act, Congress gave the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) the authority to establish a Breakthrough Devices Program intended to expedite the development and prioritize the review of certain medical devices that provide for more effective treatment or diagnosis of life-threatening or irreversibly debilitating disease or conditions. In December 2018, FDA issued a guidance document describing policies FDA intends to use to implement the Program.

There are two criteria for inclusion in the Breakthrough Device Program:

  1. The device must provide for a more effective treatment or diagnosis of a life-threatening or irreversibly debilitating human disease or condition; and
  2. The device must (i) represent breakthrough technology, (ii) have no approved or cleared alternatives, (iii) offer significant advantages over existing approved or cleared alternatives, or (iv) demonstrate that its availability is in the best interest of patients.

Continue Reading FDA’s Breakthrough Device Program: Opportunities and Challenges for Device Developers

Certain long-standing laws, such as the civil monetary penalty provision prohibiting patient inducements, have hampered providers’ ability to fully leverage remote patient monitoring and other telehealth tools. Many stakeholders are hoping that developments in the Regulatory Sprint to Coordinated Care will begin the rulemaking process to enable greater access to digital health and virtual care products.

The US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) launched the Regulatory Sprint to Coordinated Care in 2018 with the goal of reducing regulatory burden and incentivizing coordinated care. As part of this initiative, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and other agencies are scrutinizing a variety of long-standing regulatory requirements and prohibitions to determine whether they unnecessarily hinder the innovative arrangements policy-makers are otherwise hoping to see develop. While regulations such as the civil monetary penalty prohibition on patient inducements have significant benefits for reducing fraud and abuse, they can also make it difficult for health systems to deploy digital tools that help patients track, monitor and share health data with their providers.

For example, Medicare reimbursement of digital health and virtual care products, while expanded in 2018, is still limited. This means that if a provider wants to use un-reimbursed technology, the provider must either charge the patient separately for the non-reimbursable service or provide the service to the patient for free. The former option is tricky—it can result in surprise charges for patients, and digital health services can be part of a care service plan and difficult to break out separately as a standalone billable service. As a result, many providers would prefer to offer virtual care services to the patient for free, but doing so immediately implicates the civil monetary penalties prohibition. Substantial time, effort and cost is required to evaluate the facts and circumstances, understand the available regulatory guidance and case law, and determine whether the provision of the service—which results in no increase in revenue—could result in governmental scrutiny

This is just one example of how certain long-standing regulations have become a barrier to broad adoption of digital health. If HHS chooses to update these regulations or issue additional guidance, the Regulatory Sprint to Coordinated Care could bring digital health technologies such as telehealth and virtual care products off the sidelines and into the race.

Read more at McDermott’s Regulatory Sprint to Coordinated Care Resource Center

Digital health companies face a complicated regulatory landscape. While the opportunities for innovation and dynamic partnerships are abundant, so are the potential compliance pitfalls. In 2018 and in 2019, several digital health companies faced intense scrutiny—not only from regulatory agencies, but in some cases from their own investors. While the regulatory framework for digital technology in health care and life sciences will continue to evolve, digital health enterprises can take key steps now to mitigate risk, ensure compliance and position themselves for success.

  1. Be accurate about quality.

Ensuring that you have a high-quality product or service is only the first step; you should also be exactingly accurate in the way that you speak about your product’s quality or efficacy. Even if a product or service does not require US Food and Drug Administration clearance for making claims, you still may face substantial regulatory risk and liability if the product does not perform at the level described. As demonstrated in several recent public cases, an inaccurate statement of quality or efficacy can draw state and federal regulatory scrutiny, and carries consequences for selling your product in the marketplace and securing reimbursement.

Tech companies and non-traditional health industry players should take careful stock of the health sector’s unique requirements and liabilities in this area, as the risk is much higher in this arena than in other industries.

Continue Reading Three Tips for Tackling Risk in Digital Health

Investment in artificial intelligence (AI) and digital health technologies has increased exponentially over the last few years. In the United Kingdom, the excitement and interest in this space has been supported by NHS policies, including proposals in the NHS Long Term Plan, which set out ambitious aims for the acceleration and adoption of digital health and AI, particularly in primary care, outpatients and wearable devices.

Although these developments are encouraging to developers, there is still no clear framework for reimbursement or tariffs for digital health tools and AI.

At the same time, the plethora of new technologies has led to increased calls for regulation and oversight, particularly around data quality and evaluation. Many of these concerns may be addressed by the new Medical Device Regulation (MDR) and other regulatory developments. In fact, there is some risk that while regulatory landscape is moving quickly, the pricing environment is still a way behind.

In May 2020, the new MDR will change the law and process of certification for medical software. The new law includes significant changes for digital health technologies which are medical devices. In March 2019, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) also published a new evidence standards framework for digital health technologies. The Care Quality Commission (CQC) already regulates online provision of health care, and there are calls for wider and greater regulation. The government has also published a code on the use of data in AI.

Digital Health Technologies and the MDR

The new MDR will mean a significant change to the regulatory framework for medical devices in the European Union.

As with the previous law, the MDR regulates devices through a classification system.

The new regime introduces new rules for medical software that falls within the definition of device. This will mean significant changes for companies that develop or offer medical software solutions, especially if their current certification has been “up-classed” under the MDR.

Key Takeaways for Investors in Digital Health Tools

Companies and investors in digital health should:
Continue Reading Digital Health in the UK: The New Regulatory Environment Under the Medical Device Regulation

As part of its efforts to provide patient-centered care and reduce costs for Medicare beneficiaries, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS) have developed an Innovation Center model for ambulance care teams: Emergency Triage, Treat, and Transport (ET3). As part of this model, the agency has proposed two potential telehealth offerings: 1) An individual who calls 911 may be connected to a dispatch system that has incorporated a medical triage line to be screened for eligibility for medical triage services prior to ambulance initiation, and 2) telehealth assistance via audiovisual communications technologies with a qualified provider once the ambulance arrives.

Key participants in the ET3 model will be Medicare-enrolled ambulance service suppliers and hospital-owned ambulance providers. In addition, to advance regional alignment, local governments, their designees or other entities that operate or have authority over one or more 911 dispatches in geographic areas where ambulance suppliers and providers have been selected to participate in the ET3 model will have an opportunity to access cooperative agreement funding. As such, both state regulations and CMS regulations will apply to the use of telehealth offerings under ET3. This post explores early-stage questions of ET3 implementation and reimbursement, the intersection of state laws governing telehealth, and what potential participants and telehealth companies should know about the program.

How will CMS support the ET3 model implementation?

The key telehealth development for the ET3 program is that CMS expects to waive the telehealth geographic and originating site rules as necessary to implement the model, including waivers that will allow participants to facilitate telehealth at the scene of a 911 response. Additional information on these waivers is expected to accompany the ET3 Request for Applications (RFA), slated for release this summer. Overall, Medicare coverage requirements provide that the patient must be in an approved originating site at the time of the telehealth visit (e.g., hospital) and must be located within a rural area. CMS has waived these two requirements for other programs, such as the SUPPORT for Patients and Communities Act (the SUPPORT Act) in October 2018, which eliminated the originating site restriction for substance use disorder treatment, because doing so is necessary for these programs to succeed.

Continue Reading CMS Innovation Center Proposes Telehealth Solutions in ET3 Model