Creating a High-Quality Patient Experience in the Virtual Health Revolution

The following is a guest article by Dr. Bob Monteverdi – Global Healthcare Solutions Leader at Lenovo Health.

The Virtual Health Revolution is Here

A virtual health revolution is occurring. Before Covid-19 few of us interacted with our healthcare providers in any way other than face-to-face. Now, a video conference call with a doctor is not only common, it is increasingly preferred by patients because it is safe, convenient and effective. Virtual health is a lot more than e-visits by outpatient with doctors, it can include hospitalized patients’ digital conference with their care team or daily remote monitoring of patients’ conditions while at home, thus broadening reach and patient access.

In many ways more virtual health options is really good news for patients. Even before the global pandemic, most of us didn’t want to spend any more time in hospitals or clinics than was necessary. At the same time, patients crave more face time with caregivers to better understand their circumstances and treatment options.

However, virtual health is a completely new experience for most patients and can be a cause of concern. Few of us like change, especially when it comes to something as personal and important as our health. But smarter technology combined with a good virtual bedside manner will make the transition easier and lead to better experiences and outcomes.

For example, with remote patient monitoring combined with an artificial intelligence (AI) assistant patients are better able to manage conditions and get support when and where they want it – everywhere all the time. This is particularly important for patients with chronic diseases, the leading healthcare expenditure in the United States and many other countries.

But what is the experience for patients using virtual health solutions for remote monitoring and support? And what can be done to make sure it is a very positive experience?

A virtual care platform can provide daily support and tracking of chronic conditions. For example, with a diabetes patient it would include a reminder through their smart device to check their blood glucose levels with a connected glucometer. After the reading is a done, a short conversation with an AI assistant follows. The conversation may sound something like this:

“Hello Cynthia, your blood sugar is a little high this morning, what have you eaten in the last 24 hours?”

“Have you taken your medication? At what time?”

“What exercise activity have you had in the last 24 hours?”

“Today, we recommend you eliminate juice and high-calorie snacks, as well as take a 45-minute walk to burn 100 calories.”

“Please, take a reading and check in again at 6pm. See you then!”

This kind of daily support for patients with chronic diseases is extremely beneficial. It harbors the potential to improve conditions, for example lower blood-sugar levels among diabetics, as well as lower hospital re-admittance. At the same time, a virtual health solution like this may also help achieve something that is often prescribed but infrequently achieved – the formation of positive habits. Daily reminders, along with metrics, help patients adhere to care plans that include exercise, medication and diet.

Virtual solutions have a role to play in hospitals too. The global pandemic has isolated hospitalized patients, causing further strain on their emotional health and critical shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE) to maintain quarantine standards.

A virtual rounding solution in which clinicians can interact remotely with patients in their hospital beds through an audio/video conference system while they call in from down the hall, or an outside clinic, or their home is now more prevalent during Covid-19. This solution will continue to become increasingly standard as care teams and patients grow accustomed to the convenience of the experience and its benefits.

The benefits to virtually engaging physicians are numerous and practical. A physician ‘making rounds’ virtually from her office not only limits the possibility of spreading diseases and infection, it also reduces the use of the PPE needed to support the interactions with infected patients. At the same time, the physician is able to see more patients more easily and efficiently as they are just a call away, another benefit given ongoing caregiver shortages.

This means patients can really have more facetime with their providers and their teams. Pre-Covid, getting a primary care physician, a specialist, and even the patient’s family members together with the patient for a bedside consultation could be a significant challenge, if not impossible in some cases. But not when the hospital bed is equipped to accommodate virtual visits.

The Experience Has to Live Up to the Promise

These virtual health solutions may seem simple enough, but a lot of intelligence and hard work goes into making complex solutions easy to use. And that’s the point. Patients are consumers, if their experience is not improving, they will find other solutions. Conversely, if the technology is frictionless and shows clear benefits, patients will first tolerate and then advocate the change they are part of.

But what makes for a good patient experience in virtual health?

First and foremost, there must be minimal requirements on the patients to learn new technology, procedures, or vocabulary. No assembly can be required. Ideally, a solution is delivered to the patient’s home or bedside and is setup by the healthcare system. The only thing the patient does is tap the screen or speak with a voice-activated interface to have their regular check ins with their care team.

The interface should be as normal and natural as a real-life office visit as possible. This is not a high hurdle during a straightforward video call. But in the use of daily automated monitoring, this can be achieved by a health system programing the AI assistant with their physicians’ preferred questions and feedback. There is no single correct way to discuss diabetes or congestive heart failure with a patient, but properly training the AI can replicate the protocol a patient is already experiencing with their physician and health system. Ultimately, a patient should not feel they lost anything during a virtual interaction with their care, but rather gained more interaction with the caregivers.

A patient’s virtual experience can actually be better than the real-life counterpart. Given the amount of data collected and metrics offered in virtual health, the ability to gamify the patient experience and reward positive behavior is increasing. This could prove particularly motivating for the younger generations that grew up and have had habits shaped during the digital age – “I’d love to eat that cookie, but then I’ll miss my calorie target for today!”

As positive as the experience can be, technology is not replacing humans in healthcare, only augmenting their ability to do more for the patient. Perhaps the most important suggestion in making a better patient experience in virtual health is never to discount the human interface. A proper explanation upfront to the patient and their family members about the applications and benefits of a virtual health platform can be very helpful for managing expectations and improving the experience. Additionally, discussions during office visits about how the platform is affecting patient behavior and outcomes is highly recommended.

Patients want to be and feel empowered. This means access to more information and conversations with their care teams. All of this is made more possible with virtual health solutions. Welcome to the virtual healthcare revolution, how are you being served?

About Lenovo Health

Lenovo is a trusted provider of healthcare technology with a 20+ year history of world-class innovation, industry leading partnerships, and more than a decade of proven healthcare experience. Lenovo Health powers tailored care delivery in 160 countries and 1,600+ healthcare organizations worldwide.  Lenovo Health is a proud sponsor of Healthcare Scene.

Lenovo Health’s vast computing portfolio supports the administrative, clinical, and remote care needs of healthcare facilities with cloud, security, and mobility solutions and accessories that streamline workflow and bring data closer to the patient and clinician.

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