COVID-19 One Year Later: What’s Next for Virtual Care?

by Daphne Allen

“Chronic patients often need assistance beyond their doctors’ facilities,” Matt Mikula, virtual care global solution manager for Lenovo, tells MD+DI. “We believe virtual care makes an impact.” To help provide remote patient care and telehealth during the COVID-19 pandemic, the company announced a device-agnostic platform that helps healthcare systems branch into virtual care, Mikula explained. That virtual care solution by Lenovo has already helped one large healthcare institution reduce patient readmission by 18 percent, the company reported.

Now, moving forward, for virtual care to fully serve chronically ill patients beyond the pandemic, care providers also need a platform able to leverage more medical devices and relieve them of the burden of having to manage the complexities of hardware logistics, he said.

“Providers want to provide care, seamlessly, and extend care into home environments, yet with the data flowing directly into their patients’ health records,” Mikula explained.

Lenovo initially announced the virtual care solution in July 2020. The solution combined Lenovo hardware with biometric devices such as blood pressure cuffs and glucose monitors along with AI-powered software to remotely monitor, guide, and educate patients with various chronic health conditions.

Developed in partnership with Vianova Health, the solution was designed to incorporate medical devices inside a fully tested patient “kit” and serve as a digital assistant to guide patients through individualized, daily care plans featuring patient education, behavior modification, and family engagement. Providers prescribe the use of the service and pre-configure the kit, allowing patients to plug it in at home and immediately start following their care plans, Lenovo reported in a news release.

Chronic health conditions initially targeted for the solution included diabetes, COPD, congestive heart failure (CHF), and hypertension. “These make up 80% to 90% of all healthcare spend,” Mikula said.

Lenovo started looking into the healthcare market before COVID-19 hit, Mikula said. “We saw a dramatic need to help address chronic conditions and the root starts in the home where patients need more assistance,” he said. When reviewing the healthcare market, the Lenovo team “found that a variety of smaller, progressive software companies had gotten involved in telehealth. However, software companies have difficulties addressing the complexities of hardware,” he explained.

In addition, Mikula described that providers had challenges figuring out how to use connected medical devices as part of their care programs. Many devices were not FDA approved and there was so much data they didn’t know how to adequately capture and analyze it to use in timely patient feedback. 

Lenovo Health works with more than 1600 healthcare organizations across North America, and Mikula said that “no one was asking us for only e-visits or a single-treatment solution. They are looking to leverage best-in-class devices and treatment-agnostic solutions.

“Medical device companies should see the new opportunity in front of them,” he continued. “From a medical device manufacturer’s perspective, for the first time ever they have a way of getting their product more broadly into patients’ hands for reimbursable procedures…with a push from the medical community to adopt integrated biometric monitoring.”

He said that medical device manufacturers “need interfaces to allow for connectivity, aligned with data integration or interfacing with HL7 or FHIR platforms. It is an entirely new landscape for them versus in-office-only biometric devices.

“We are taking it one step further than an individual medical device manufacturer could do,” he continued. “We are working with our partner and device companies to leverage those interfaces, standardize on a single platform, and then layer on top to pass the data and extend care assistance into a provider’s patient education program. We are trying to enable a provider’s ability to perform analytics and edge computing and adapt solutions further into their space.

“A cornerstone of a comprehensive virtual care solution is to enable providers with the ability to use all the newly available data and integrate it into the patient record. Providers govern their own virtual care data workflow, be it to consolidate daily data or directly integrate all information available with the patient record,” Mikula said.

For medical device companies, Lenovo offers a way for medical device use and data collection to extend into home settings, he said. “If you are a medical device company looking to be the best you can be, you can now look for these alternative markets. It is an unprecedented time—we are seeing a lot of pull now, thanks to virtual care. We can help you with the platform.”

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