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UnitedHealth Group collaborates to deploy 3,000 emergency ventilators

The ventilators allow "patients who wouldn't otherwise have the opportunity to survive, to survive," says Dr. Stephen Richardson.

Susan Morse, Managing Editor

UnitedHealth Group has collaborated with Boston Scientific, Medtronic and the University of Minnesota to deploy 3,000 newly invented "light" ventilators to address the limited stock of critical breathing support equipment in response to COVID-19.

The collaboration went from concept stage to manufacturing in less than 30 days, with the first 500 products ready to ship this week, UHG said.

UnitedHealth Group is working with Medtronic and the University of Minnesota to determine initial destinations, while Boston Scientific is manufacturing and shipping the product.

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The devices are authorized by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

The emergency ventilator alternative device uses an electrically powered robotic arm to mechanically compress an off-the-shelf adult resuscitation bag, the sort often used by paramedics to help a patient breathe. This design provides oxygen assistance and enables healthcare workers to shift from manually operating the resuscitation bag.

The device can also be configured with airflow accessories in multiple ways to best accommodate on-the-ground needs at different clinical facilities.

The University of Minnesota Medical School and Earl E. Bakken Medical Devices Center initially conceived the idea of the light ventilator, called the Coventor.  Boston Scientific, Medtronic and UnitedHealth Group provided technical, clinical, regulatory and manufacturing expertise to refine how the device works and bring it to market at scale.

WHY THIS MATTERS

The devices are intended to address a clinical gap for patients who need a higher level of respiratory support but who don't have immediate access to traditional ventilators where there is a shortage.

They will also provide healthcare workers with an additional tool to care for high volumes of patients who require emergency breathing support.

Although the pandemic has peaked in some major cities, the need will persist throughout the country and across the world during this outbreak and the potential next one to come.

The devices will be shipped to geographies where ventilators are urgently needed, and any remaining devices will be offered as a donation to the U.S. Strategic National Stockpile.

THE LARGER TREND

This collaboration is among several announced by UnitedHealth Group to combat COVID-19.

Others include: investing nearly $70 million to help at-risk populations and protect the healthcare workforce; pioneering self-administered swab procedures to expand COVID-19 testing; accelerating payments to providers throughout the crisis, with an initial tranche of nearly $2 billion; waiving cost-sharing for COVID-19 testing and treatment for U.S. members of UnitedHealthcare plans; and simplifying access to care by reducing prior-authorization requirements.

UnitedHealth has also expanded access to telehealth and virtual visits and redeployed 5,000 Optum clinicians to expand telehealth capabilities.

It has provided a special enrollment period for fully-insured customers to allow employees who did not opt in for coverage during the regular enrollment period to secure coverage.

And it also converted company cafeterias to provide more than 75,000 meals a week for people in need and to keep the cafe team at work.

ON THE RECORD

"We are grateful for collaborations with distinguished experts in academia, across healthcare and in other industries to offer innovative solutions like this light ventilator," said Ken Ehlert, chief scientific officer, UnitedHealth Group. "Unique partnerships will be critical as we work together to confront COVID-19 in the months ahead."

"We are appreciative of the support locally and nationally in getting the Coventor to the field," said Dr. Stephen Richardson, cardiac anesthesiology fellow at the University of Minnesota Medical School. "We developed the Coventor to be useful in those clinical settings where traditional ventilators are not available. This allows patients who wouldn't otherwise have the opportunity to survive, to survive. Making the emergency ventilator alternative devices as fast as possible, pushing it to people everywhere -- that's what this is all about."

Twitter: @SusanJMorse
Email the writer: susan.morse@himssmedia.com