March 4, 2019
Vituro Voice with CEO Clete Walker: 2018 Wrap Up, 2019 Unwrap
As high-intensity focused ultrasound (HIFU) enters its third full year, 2018 was a big transitional year, not only for us but for the industry. We’re seeing more demand and more doctors interested in offering the procedure as part of their comprehensive programs. HIFU is the least invasive procedure with the lowest chance of side effects and gives patients an opportunity to cure their cancer without sacrificing their quality of life.
From an internal perspective, 2018 for Vituro Health was a year of gaining a better understanding of our existing partnerships, extending HIFU’s place in the community and improving our communication within our practices. This also included an evaluation of the services we provide to ensure that our partners and patients receive the best service in the industry. We entered 2019 with a very positive outlook towards the future of HIFU and the lives it will change.
In 2018, Vituro saw the addition of two new partnerships in Arizona and Arkansas. In adding these new sites, we found physicians that are champions of HIFU and make HIFU a central procedure to their prostate cancer treatments. Vituro is looking to add a minimum of four-to-five new groups to our network in 2019, as-well-as strengthening our existing partnerships. One of our key goals is continuing to find physicians who share our common sensibility and passion to change how prostate cancer is treated, to become the center of exceptional medicine.
“Vituro will continue to be bullish to ensure that patients have the options they deserve.”
Vituro’s other paramount mission is in community awareness and raising money to hopefully one day eradicate prostate cancer. Vituro Health was a national sponsor for Zero Prostate Cancer and was the presenting sponsor for the Zero Prostate Cancer Run-Birmingham in 2017. As a founding board member of the Mike Slive Foundation in 2017, we knew it was essential to create the “I’m with Mike 5K” which began in 2018 in the memory of Mike Slive, a former commissioner of the Southeastern Conference, Conference USA and a prostate cancer survivor. As a presenting sponsor of these races, we were happy to have a portion of the proceeds be used by the Urology Centers of Alabama Foundation to provide free PSA testing in the Black Belt of Alabama. Also, The Mike Slive Foundation for prostate cancer is raising money for the UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center and others to do research for prostate cancer. Mike Slive was a phenomenal man and his organization gives us a vehicle to spend our charitable time helping support a great cause.
In 2018, we were very excited to partner with Pack Health, an investor-backed start-up in the Birmingham community that offers health coaching for certain diseases. Vituro Health with Pack Health and Urology Centers of Alabama developed the first program for Prostate Cancer Health Coaching for men that are newly diagnosed with prostate cancer or on active surveillance. One of the primary services by Pack Health is supportive coaching. A coach is assigned to new patients for 180 days primarily to answer questions and help them navigate prostate cancer. Vituro invested in the program and funded the first 50 patients at no cost to the individual. Our goal with Pack Health is to get 50 new patients into the program and gather data over the 180 days to understand what the patients are asking. By doing so, we can show the value to our partners and continue to fund it going forward which will provide assistance to more patients.
We are proud our award for Excellence in Healthcare-Oncology given by the Smart Health Conference in April of 2018. We strive to stay on the forefront of new technologies that treat or assist prostate cancer patients.
A new five-year multi-center study of SonaCare Medical’s Sonablate technology was published this year further validating the benefits of HIFU. The study of over 600 patients found that failure free survival with HIFU is equivalent to that of surgery, but with a far greater quality of life post-procedure with less side effects.
One transition that affected Vituro and the industry was the decrease in amount of Medicare coverage for our patients from 2018 to 2019. Due to billing errors, Medicare used faulty data and dropped the reimbursement by 46%. The decrease in coverage hit the industry in a sense by devaluing the procedure and increasing the amount patients will pay out of their pockets. While we believe the lower reimbursement is a mistake, we will continue to work with the manufacturer and CMS to increase the coverage for 2020. We also still have our IRA (Insurance Reimbursement Assistance) program and are seeing favorable reimbursement from most commercial insurers.
While the industry has seen some change, Vituro remains committed to being on the cutting edge surrounding prostate cancer by listening to our doctors and finding new beneficial technology. One innovation we’re evaluating is Exact Imaging’s ExactVu™. This technology allows a patient to be diagnosed, analyzed and receive HIFU treatment without having an MRI. This could be transformational for treatment and many of our doctors are evaluating this technology today.
The Future for Vituro and HIFU
The need for HIFU treatment as a comprehensive offering to patients is important. Vituro will continue to be bullish to ensure that patients have the options they deserve. The quality of life provided by HIFU after prostate cancer is still unmatched by any other procedure. We want patients to be cured, but we want patients to have a good quality of life after treatment and HIFU provides a safe alternative to the common treatments that men have been using for decades. As long as that is still true, we are going to keep fighting.