The insurance and ride-sharing giants are launching a nation-wide program.

By Clifton Leaf and Sy Mukherjee
May 11, 2017

Greetings, readers. This is Sy.

As we explored in our recent Fortune feature on the digital health revolution, one way that technology is transforming medicine is via telehealth. Being able to check in with a doctor on your smartphone or a special kiosk at work eliminates a whole lot of hassle and excess costs.

But the reality is that, sometimes, you do have to go to a physical hospital, including in non-emergency situations. And that’s a major challenge for millions of Americans who don’t have their own cars or easy public transport options to take them to a medical provider. In fact, transportation barriers are the main reason behind missed or delayed appointments for an estimated 3.6 million people, according to the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association (BCBSA).

Now, the insurance federation is launching a national effort with ride-sharing giant Lyft to tackle this very problem—while also gleaning insights into how social factors affect people’s health. Under the collaboration, people with certain Blue Cross and Blue Shield (BCBS) companies’ plans (the firms cover some 106 million Americans) will be able to get a ride to the hospital at zero cost to them.

“A strategic alliance with Lyft will allow us to positively impact and improve Americans’ health nationwide,” said Dr. Trent Haywood, BCBSA chief medical officer and president of the BCBS Institute, in a statement. “Many Americans live in areas where medical care is beyond the reach of walking, biking or public transportation. As a result, they struggle to access critical health care services, even when they have health insurance. We are committed to addressing issues like transportation that are inextricably linked to health outcomes, yet can’t be tackled through health care resources alone.”

The medical transportation service will be rolled out over the next several months and incorporate Lyft’s platform into a new BCBS service delivery model.

Read on for the day’s news.

Sy Mukherjee
@the_sy_guy
sayak.mukherjee@fortune.com

DIGITAL HEALTH

Microsoft HealthVault Insights is integrating Validic into its platform. Health care data connectivity firm Validic has partnered up with Microsoft HealthVault Insights, the tech giant’s patient engagement research project, the company announced Wednesday. “We are working to bring together critical data sources with machine learning to deliver personalized, actionable insights to both patients and clinicians. Validic provides a core data channel for HealthVault Insights – enabling device data connectivity to hundreds of devices,” said Heather Jordan Cartwright, General Manager for Artificial Intelligence and Research at Microsoft, in a statement. HealthVault insights is attempting to use artificial intelligence and machine learning to make health care recommendations to patients based on their electronic health records and Microsoft’s analytics about the most effect medical and wellness trends.

Guardant Health raises $360 million to sequence one million patients’ cancers. Liquid biopsy firm Guardant Health, which is trying to replace painful and expensive biopsies with a simple blood test that can detect cancer, raised a whopping $360 million in a funding round led by a SoftBank subsidiary and joined by firms like Sequoia Capital and Khosla Ventures. The company will partly use the money to sequence one million patients’ cancer genomes over the next five years. As Guardant president and COO AmirAli Talasaz tells Fortune, this ambitious effort is significant, not just for deploying Guardant’s technology on a massive scale, but in order to collect a lot more data about various cancers. Guardant has now raised $550 million.


INDICATIONS

Merck stakes its claim in the cancer immunotherapy spree. U.S. pharma giant Merck on Wednesday scored a massive regulatory win as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved its star cancer immunotherapy drug Keytruda, in combination with chemotherapy, as a “first-line” option for advanced lung cancer patients. That means that Keytruda plus chemo can now be prescribed to these patients even if they’ve never been treated with anything else. What’s more, this combo can be used on any advanced lung cancer patient, even if they don’t have high levels of the specific protein that Keytruda targets (that’s been a condition of other Keytruda approvals). The approval puts Merck well ahead of rivals like Bristol-Myers Squibb and Roche in the gigantic lung cancer space and is expected to blow up sales of Keytruda. (Reuters)

Can a poop pill prevent a stroke? My colleague Laura Entis has a fascinating Q&A with Dr. Mark Kahn, one of the researchers behind a new study examining the effect of the “microbiome”—the various organisms that reside in the body—on the brain. The research (conducted in mice) found a connection between certain bacteria and brain lesions that indicate a disorder that’s linked to strokes and seizures. A lot more research is needed in the field; but the scientists are trying to figure out whether or not flushing out certain bacteria from the gut with antibiotics and then re-seeding it with a fecal pill transplant can treat a variety of disorders. Check out the full interview (including the fascinating bit about how our microbiomes can change based on where we live.) (Fortune)


THE BIG PICTURE

Bain & Co releases massive report on how doctors view health care. Bain & Company is out with a wide-ranging health care survey today tracking how physicians and medical practitioners feel about the many changes affecting the sector. The 2017 “US Front Line of Healthcare Survey” finds that more than 60% of doctors think it will actually become more difficult to deliver high-quality care over the next two years thanks to a combination of administrative headaches, regulatory changes, and shifting reimbursement models. Check out the full report here.


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