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If you are looking for something new to watch, CBSViacom is launching its Paramount+ streaming service (an expanded version of CBS All Access). Axios' Sara Fischer has the details here.

Situational awareness: Jack Dorsey's Square, which provides financial tools to businesses, has acquired a majority stake in Jay-Z's Tidal music streaming service for $297 million, per the New York Times.

Today's Login is 1,378 words, a 5-minute read.

1 big thing: Virtual doctor visits take off amid pandemic

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Telemedicine and other health-related technologies have gotten huge boosts over the past year as COVID-19 upended how patients receive medical attention, Axios' Kim Hart reports.

Why it matters: Virtual doctor's appointments and therapy sessions will likely be the norm, even after more people are vaccinated.

The big picture: "Telehealth" and "e-health" tools have been available for over a decade, but patients and doctors alike were reluctant to give up in-person appointments.

  • That all changed when doctors offices and hospitals were forced to adapt to new technologies quickly to keep seeing patients amid COVID-19 lockdowns.

By the numbers: Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center CEO Michael Fisher said the hospital system went from 2,000 telehealth visits in all of 2019 to more than 5,000 a week in July 2020, per an interview with McKinsey.

  • Telehealth, Fisher said, could make up 30% of all healthcare visits in the future.
  • The number of telehealth medical claims increased 3,060% (or 31-fold) nationally from October 2019 to October 2020, according to FAIR Health's regional tracker.
  • "In Japan, fewer than 1,000 institutions offered remote care in 2018. By July 2020, more than 16,000 did," McKinsey notes.

It's been a boon for the tech companies that make the virtual doctor's visits possible.

  • Google-backed AmWell, a digital service that connects doctors with patients, went public in September, per Barron's.
  • MDLive, a large telehealth service, said virtual visits nearly doubled in the first half of 2020, and behavioral health visits increased 500%. Last week the company, valued around $1 billion, announced it will be acquired by Cigna subsidiary Evernorth.
  • Teladoc Health nearly doubled its revenue in 2020, while reporting nearly 3 million virtual visits (a 139% increase over 2019), per MobiHealthNews.
  • Digital pharmacies, chronic care platforms, test kit apps and portals where patients can track their health details have also proliferated.

Health-tech startups are seeing an influx of investor interest — in unexpected places.

  • In an analysis of more than 35,000 companies across 27 regions, venture capital firm Telstra Ventures found health tech startups saw the largest growth in year-over-year deal flow, with a 24% increase in 2020.

Context: A year ago regulators issued emergency waivers for patients to use telehealth services from home and allowed doctors to be paid for virtual visits. Some lawmakers want to make those changes permanent.

The other side: Like most uses of technology, digital healthcare tools are not evenly distributed or adopted.

  • Older patients are less comfortable using virtual tools to interact with doctors, and those with lower incomes are less likely to have access to reliable internet service to make virtual visits possible.
  • The use of video visits was lower among lower-income, Black and Hispanic, older and Spanish-speaking patients during COVID-19, largely due to clinic and practice factors, according to research in the American Journal of Managed Care.

Between the lines: Seeing a doctor via video is safer and quicker than in-person appointments, and it has allowed people to receive medical treatment during the global pandemic.

  • Still, speaking to a doctor over a video chat app can feel sterile and impersonal, and doctors can't physically examine you.
  • Some patients worry about privacy when it comes to discussing sensitive matters or mental health issues virtually.
2. Feds say extremists are using more encryption

Included in a new federal government report on possible extremist attacks on the Capitol is a warning that information on specific threats has become harder to come by in the wake of the Jan. 6 siege amid a shift toward encrypted communications programs.

Why it matters: The finding is likely to put the long-simmering debate over strong encryption back on the front burner.

What they're saying: "Our insight into specific threats is increasingly constrained by the expanding use of secure communications by [domestic violent extremists] following the arrest of individuals involved in the Capitol breach," the FBI and Homeland Security Department said in the report, which Axios covered on Wednesday.

Between the lines: While it is likely that more extremists are using encrypted communications, law enforcement could have political reasons for playing up the threat, given their longstanding desire to see tech companies forced to include backdoors allowing law enforcement access to encoded messages.

The other side: Security experts say backdoors in encryption technologies sooner or later escape the control of law enforcement and end up in the wrong hands, leaving everyone less secure.

3. Startup's maps predict COVID hotspots

Image: Fludemic

By combining a range of private and public information, a small startup says it is able to predict COVID-19 hot spots at the neighborhood level a week out — with 92% accuracy.

Driving the news: The startup, Data Driven Health, made a version of its flu and COVID-prediction model freely available Wednesday, offering data down to the neighborhood level.

Why it matters: Assuming the company's Fludemic model proves consistently accurate, governments and health systems could use such data to set policy and allocate resources, while individuals could use it to evaluate the personal risk of planned outings.

How it works: Fludemic takes in a range of data daily using a mix of clinical data, socioeconomic indicators and factors such as mask-wearing policy and mobility trends.

Yes, but: While the model is said to be 92% accurate at detecting hot spots, it is somewhat less accurate when looking at sparsely populated areas or predicting death rates.

Between the lines: The company began working on a flu prediction model last year, but quickly shifted gears to COVID-19 once the pandemic began.

  • While the neighborhood-level data is being made publicly available, Data Driven Health has a premium product aimed at governments and health systems that uses more data types and offers predictions down to the block level.

The big picture: Others have used a mix of tech and data to map disease. Google, for example, had a flu tracker that aimed to predict flu trends using search queries. That effort shut down in 2015 amid criticism. More recently, smart thermometer maker Kinsa has spotted flu outbreaks.

What's next: Longer-term, the company hopes to be able to update its models even more frequently as well as to address other types of health conditions.

  • "We want individuals to be able to see what's happening in their communities in real time or near real time," CEO Jack Rush told Axios.
4. Sidewalk robots get legal rights as "pedestrians"

"We’ve got about 1,000 of them running around out there," Ryan Tuohy of Starship tells Axios. Photo: Courtesy of Starship Technologies

As small robots proliferate on sidewalks and city streets, so does legislation that grants them generous access rights and even classifies them, in the case of Pennsylvania, as "pedestrians," as Axios Cities' Jennifer Kingson reports.

Why it matters: Fears of a dystopian urban world where people dodge heavy, fast-moving droids are colliding with the aims of robot developers large and small — including Amazon and FedEx — to deploy delivery fleets.

  • "The sidewalk is the new hot debated space that the aerial drones were maybe three or five years ago," says Greg Lynn, CEO of Piaggio Fast Forward, which makes a suitcase-sized $3,250 robot called gita that follows its owner around.

Driving the news: States like Pennsylvania, Virginia, Idaho, Florida and Wisconsin have passed what are considered to be liberal rules permitting robots to operate on sidewalks — prompting pushback from cities like Pittsburgh that fear mishaps.

  • In Pennsylvania, robot "pedestrians" can weigh up to 550 pounds and drive up to 12 mph.
  • "Opposition has largely come from pedestrian and accessibility advocates, as well as labor unions like the Teamsters," per the Pittsburgh City Paper.
  • The laws are a boon to Amazon's Scout delivery robot and FedEx's Roxo, which are being tested in urban and suburban settings.

The other side: Some technology evangelists think these laws are a spectacularly bad idea.

  • The National Association of City Transportation Officials — NACTO — says the robots "should be severely restricted if not banned outright."
  • "Uncoordinated autonomous delivery services could flood sidewalks with bots, making walking increasingly difficult and unpleasant," NACTO says in a report.
  • San Francisco did ban sidewalk robots in 2017, but has made at least one exception — for a test of a Postmates bot called Serve.
5. Take note

On Tap

  • T-Mobile says it will unveil its next "un-carrier" move this morning.

Trading Places


  • If you don't have time to read the Election Integrity Partnership's 283-page report on misinformation in the 2020 election, Casey Newton has a good summary, along with a critique of YouTube's role. (Platformer)
  • Apple is offering a new tool to help you copy your iCloud photos to Google Photos. Both companies face antitrust scrutiny, so interoperability is on the rise and lock-ins are (for now) on the wane. (MacRumors)
  • In a move sure to put a dent in my wallet, Bloomberg reports that Nintendo is due to come out with a new high-end Switch with a larger OLED display. (Bloomberg)
  • For all its struggles with English-language misinformation, a new report says Facebook is doing even worse en Español. (The Guardian)
  • ZenCity, a company that tracks citizen sentiment on social media for local governments, is acquiring civic polling firm Elucd. (Axios)
6. After you Login

Check out this octopus who stole an underwater camera and won a photography contest.