A Mobile-First Solution for
VoCare´s decision to roll into one a plethora of functions and vitals checks stems from a desire to address a very real problem. A growing segment of the U.S. population, including patients at risk of or living with heart disease, have more than one chronic condition, yet the current crop of clinical-grade wireless ECG devices tend to focus on monitoring the heart only.
By Gergana Koleva
VoCare´s Vitals360, a multi-functional portable medical device that adapts to both the hospital and the home, wants to be the Route66 of cardiac care management: it streamlines data flow between patients and their physicians and aspires to be the world´s most efficient tool in the mobile care toolbox.
“There are currently no other connected, professional-grade, mobile multi-diagnostic devices that can offer the ´doctor’s office in your pocket´ versatility of the Vitals360. We are carving out new market space in the sector.”
One may think this statement by Steven Peabody, the CEO of Indianapolis-based VoCare, is on the bold side, but the company´s star product has earned its bragging rights. The smartphone-sized Vitals360, born out of a research project four years ago and slated for a market launch in the U.S. this year, is the closest to a magic wand as far as remote monitoring devices go. It has three modes of operation, depending on the context in which it is being used: single test mode for spot-checking a single patient in the clinical setting, point-of-care mode for caring and inputting data for multiple patients, and remote patient monitoring mode for daily following of high-risk patients.
Within each mode, it enables the user to collect six different vitals: ECG, blood pressure, pulse oximetry, glucose level, temperature, and weight through a Bluetooth weight scale. All of these can be performed by using built-in sensors, test strips, and infrared signal processing; the ECG measurement itself is taken by placing both index fingers on sensors strips on the sides of the screen.
“I describe this device as being a cell phone on steroids. It plays a significant role in improving access to care,” says Deon Vigilance, VoCare´s physician director and chief of cardiothoracic surgery at Mercy Health System. He brings up a fact often sidelined by technology-driven startups striving to innovate on features with sometimes only a marginal relevancy to health service users: that access to care is one of the key social determinants of health.
Indeed, VoCare´s decision to roll into one a plethora of functions and vitals checks stems from a desire to address a very real problem. A growing segment of the U.S. population, including patients at risk of or living with heart disease, have more than one chronic condition, yet the current crop of clinical-grade wireless ECG devices tend to focus on monitoring the heart only.
“I made it my mission to create a better solution, looking at my own experience of caring for my mother, who lives on the other side of the country and whose health needs constant monitoring, and the real dynamics of today’s struggles of aging families,” says Peabody. “We also listened closely to the needs of health care providers and came up with a device that solves a problem that both patients and providers have.”
All-in-one, take-me-anywhere medical device
Cardiac patients are also consumers that have experience with highly intuitive smartphones and other consumer-friendly electronic devices. Therefore, the cardiac monitoring trend will be towards smaller, portable and easy-to-use devices that don’t require a suitcase to store and transport.
Steven Peabody, VoCare CEO
The device maker is changing the game for remote ECG and multi-vitals monitoring innovators in other important ways, too. Despite all the disruption in the space, portable medical devices are still almost exclusively focused on clinical accuracy and secure management of patient data – but VoCare goes beyond that. By enabling GPS location and a time stamp to be automatically attached to all biometric data collected with the Vitals360, it tacitly responds to payer concerns regarding billing fraud as well as to provider interest in collecting real-time, real-world data to better measure health outcomes.
Such transparency is all too rare in the medical world and, perhaps precisely because of that, it can help providers who partner with VoCare not only meet quality measures as determined by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Merit-Based Incentive Payment System and Alternative Payment Models, but also negotiate more favourable payer contracts and attract more referrals. As a case in point, the startup recently sealed a five-year agreement with the Harris Healthcare Group and its electronic medical records platform Gateway Electronic Medical Management System (GEMMS). In 2017, Harris announced that over 800 cardiologists had selected GEMMS for its top-notch architecture allowing patient appointment tracking, claims processing, and electronic payments, and it is expected that the VoCare partnership will strengthen both companies´ focus on complementary parts of the patient journey.
Thanks to its patient monitoring and data collection superpowers, VoCare has also entered into a distribution agreement with Sinocare, a Chinese publicly traded company with a U.S. presence. The deal will allow VoCare to take advantage of Sinocare´s global distribution network in exchange for incorporating its FDA-approved, high-end glucose meter and test strips into its offering.
Addressing broader concerns
I describe this device as being a cell phone on steroids. It plays a significant role in improving access to care.
Deon Vigilance, VoCare Physician Director and Chief of Cardiac Surgery at Mercy Health System
Technology-wise, the Vitals360 is essentially a medical smartphone built on the Android platform, which acts as its own standalone wireless hub and does not require an external device to transmit clinical information. The biometric data it captures is automatically uploaded over any 4G cellular, wireless, or Bluetooth-enabled connection to a HIPAA-compliant Vitals360 cloud, which can be accessed directly by patients and providers or synched into organizations´ patient management portals.
“Technology is playing a major role in the current medical revolution and most patients would rather receive their medical care in the privacy of their home and at a time that is most convenient for their schedule. With that in mind, the Vital360 was designed around a new patient-focused care model,” says Vigilance. He emphasizes that the device´s technological prowess is agnostic to health conditions and allows for accurate monitoring of indicators relevant to all major chronic diseases, including some of the costliest and most debilitating ones: congestive heart failure, arrhythmias, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, hypertension and diabetes.
On the VoCare website, this patient-focused approach is evident in the effort the company has put into demonstrating to current and potential users how to make the most of its device. In a 5-minute video, it lays out all the steps required for each of the six biometric measurements and even sprinkles a dash of humor at the end.
“To test the temperature, I´ll put it against my hand as if I did it to my forehead it would be very hard for me to videotape this,” the anonymous voiceover explains.
How it works
Behind all the impressive features and bells and whistles of VoCare´s medical “smartphone on steroids” is a simple but powerful idea: to help accelerate clinical workflows, lower healthcare costs, improve health outcomes, and simplify self-care management. And although cardiac monitoring is only one feature among the bundle of services it offers to both patients and physicians, Peabody has a subtle message for the community of practitioners and innovators in the ECG niche:
“Our critical insight is that cardiac patients are also consumers that have experience with highly intuitive smartphones and other consumer-friendly electronic devices. Therefore, the cardiac monitoring trend will be towards smaller, portable and easy-to-use devices that don’t require a suitcase to store and transport.”