Intel Tries Its Hand at Home Health Care Market

Posted by: Cliff Edwards on November 10, 2008

Remember all the fanfare three years ago when Intel CEO Paul Otellini suggested digital health might be one of the chipmaker’s best big growth opportunities? You’re forgiven if you don’t, since very little news has trickled out of Intel exec Louis Burns’ Digital Health Group since then.

Now Intel appears to be jumping aboard in a big way. The company on Monday formally took the wraps off its own branded home health care monitoring device and accompanying services package.

The device, called the Intel Health Guide, is an FDA-cleared touch-screen pc that’s meant for use only for home health care. It connects to off-the-shelf devices that can read your blood pressure, heart rate and other vital statistics, then reports back through an Internet connection the results to health care providers. Patients also can use the device to grab licensed content from the Mayo Clinic, American Heart Association and others. Doctors or nurses also can schedule video calls to followup on results.

Otellini announced at a conference that the device is being tested in small pilot projects by a number of providers, including Aetna, Scan Health Plan and Providence Medical Group in Oregon. The device would be sold to these groups rather than sold directly to consumers.

Burns in a briefing last week noted that the number of Baby Boomers beginning to suffer from chronic diseases is growing exponentially. With a growing shortage of care-givers around the world, health care providers are frantically looking for new ways to manage these numbers.

Intel hopes to profit by building the hardware and software for monitoring devices, and it’s even offering to host services that would monitor the information as it comes in. It’s a complicated and expensive proposition, but finally one that could jump-start the market.

The value add is the software, which is used as a sort of digital triage and early warning device for doctors and nurses, flagging the patients that need immediate follow-up because of a looming medical crisis.

Tech companies for close to a decade have been jumping on the digital health bandwagon, only to jump off again after finding progress slow-going. Johnson & Johnson and consumer electronics giant Philips are two other companies that are pursuing home monitoring, but along the more traditional routes of medical alerts, “phone visits” and hospital tech tools.

Intel’s approach combines both telehealth and telemedicine and could one day to extended to all manner of devices, including smartphones, netbooks and laptops.

The chipmaker’s chief ethnographer, Eric Dishman, says the next step might be adding accelerometer technology that might sense when elderly patients are walking unsteadily, helping save billions in expenses from fall-related injuries. The company also is working on context-aware sensing that might warn a person they haven’t taken their medications before leaving the house.

It’s nifty stuff, and timely. It won’t go anywhere, however, until governments, particularly the U.S. government, tackle the issue of patient reimbursements for these novel “virtual” visits. Doctors have been reluctant to make the move unless they get paid, so it’s a deeply rooted issue the new administration, in addition to the current financial meltdown, would be wise to have high on its agenda next year.

Reader Comments

Interconnect

November 11, 2008 2:34 AM

Compliments to Intel Paul Otellini, Louis Burns Digital Health Group, Erick Dishman Chief ethrnographer, and the team on the initiation/launch of Digital health product first from Intel. Convergence with Smart Phone is most important development of Intel. Many OEM integrators had this product with Open source software being sought. Certainly this is as important as the smart phone today after convergence. The biggest potential users will be in Asia, Africa. Lacking professional meedical advise local expertise particularly telehealth, telemedicine, the Accelemetery technology, for senior citizens. Millions of trusts, charities, NGO's working day and night, for geriatric care, being funded by philanthrophy, and international donors in Asia and Africa. Intel's development should be tested/tried in countries as Pakistan where earthquake victims in province of Baluchistan had many casualties and the product being evaluated could benefit thousands of affected from earthquake in Baluchistan, connected with major hospital, and advisory help. Interconnect will provide necessary contact data, training to paramedics, doctors and patient usage to Intel Digital Health Division for helping the earthquake victims, besides trail of the product which are probably the beta version of software, hence the digital health support hardware/software will be no cost possibly returned after the relief operation is over in Baluchistan to Intel for further testing after usage. This will help Intel's research proceed. eMail: haroon.rashid@akunet.org

Rolf Bork

November 11, 2008 3:35 AM

"building the hardware and software for monitoring devices"...evolution of internet, microsystem based sensors and the increased (excess) power of chips have caused a dramatic shift in the value chain of medical devices. The platform level system integration is easy and cost effective. The application specific adaptation of the platform becomes a software APP combined with CHEAP MICRO SENSORS.
It is iphone for ehealth.
Rolf Bork. BOD mediaf.com & sensitivetech.com

perspectoff

November 11, 2008 9:39 AM

Sounds like a low end touchscreen laptop with some customised software.

The big question is -- is that customised software compatible with physician's EMRs (electronic medical records)?

Unless the data can be saved in an EMR, like WorldVista (the open source EMR sponsored by the VA, the US government, and many physicians), then the data from this device will be difficult to integrate into a patient's healthcare plan.

Furthermore, unless the physician has identical or very compatible software on the other end, the "device" will be useless.

El

November 11, 2008 8:28 PM

"Sounds like a low end touchscreen laptop with some customised software."

Yes, that is exactly what it is, a touchscreen device slightly larger than a laptop running Linux. It is decidedly low-end hardware because the only thing it does that requires any performance is videoconferencing.

Although this is a compelling business model (it pays for itself in savings on provider office visits and/or home visits) I'm surprised nobody has made this niche work yet. This product was 95% complete two years ago when I quit the project out of frustration with the poor management of the technical details. Does it really take 2 years just to get FDA approval? If so, then you can see why it takes somebody with massive resources like Intel and the determination to see it through to actually bring this to market. I think this first release is a poor implementation of a great idea, but I'm sure the next generation will look a lot more like a PDA/3G cell phone (there is no reason why the software couldn't be ported to an Atom based device). The only drawback is that you need USB, Infrared, and even (choke) RS-232 support to communicate with 3rd party health-monitoring devices, so it needs to be a little more sophisticated than an iPhone.

Dr. Lance Forbat

November 12, 2008 8:18 AM

In the UK I have experience with Docobo's Doc@Home. There are differences the equipment and supporting sofware, principally are it is very portable, all information is entered by the patient (except for oyxgen saturation) a single lead ECG can be taken without peripheral equipment and the physician or nurse can send messages to the device. The value common to both systems for patients is they are proving to be a masterful tool in their empowerment. It transformed the way I think about the management of my patients .

The rate limiting step in the UK is the current lack evidence base for clinical benefit and the way contacting via Primary Care Trusts (PCTs) is implimented. Meanwhile patients should not be denied tangible benefits telemedicine now offers in their lives. (see http://docobo.co.uk/ and also, http://ihsmedical.vpweb.co.uk)

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Bloomberg Businessweek writers Peter Burrows, Cliff Edwards, Olga Kharif, Aaron Ricadela, and Douglas MacMillan, dig behind the headlines to analyze what’s really happening throughout the world of technology. Tech Beat covers everything from tech bellwethers like Apple, Google, and Intel and emerging new leaders such as Facebook to new technologies, trends, and controversies.

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