Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Intel invests in systems to help chronic care patients

By: Don Clark

INTEL is taking its next step in building a business in healthcare, introducing technology to help home-care patients with chronic medical problems.

The Silicon Valley company, at a medical conference in New Orleans, announced a series of trials for healthcare organisations of specialised hardware and software developed by the chip maker.

The tests are designed to show whether the new tools improve results in treating conditions such as diabetes, hypertension and heart disease.

Intel and other computer related companies see big opportunities in healthcare, hoping to address inefficiencies that will become more costly as patients and caregivers get older.

Allowing more people to receive care at home can save billions of dollars, the companies say.

Intel's offerings - collectively called the Intel Health Guide - include a simplified computer and software designed to help elderly people and other patients monitor and manage their conditions at home.

It connects to medical devices such as scales, blood pressure monitors and glucose readers, recording information that can be shared with health professionals over the internet. Intel also has developed software to help staff at medical call centre remotely monitor patients' conditions and manage their treatment. It will manage patient monitoring systems for customers as well. "We are going to do end-to-end services," Intel digital health group vice-president and general manager Louis Burns said.

That's a new approach for Intel, which has been studying medical issues since 1999 and kicked healthcare efforts into a higher gear in 2005.

The company ordinarily makes components that other companies assemble into systems. In other cases, Intel makes prototype designs that it offers to hardware companies - including a tablet-style computer for nurses.

But in managing home care, Mr Burns said healthcare organisations wanted a complete system that could be customised for their needs. Intel is discussing pricing for its latest offerings, in part because each deployment may differ greatly in size and scope.

There are many obstacles. Intel's Health Guide, for example, had to be approved by the US Food and Drug Administration, a process that took several months. The company also hopes to deliver its software to patients on conventional laptop and desktop computers and mobiles, but each combination of hardware and software would have to go through FDA approval processes, Intel product research and innovation director Eric Dishman said.

Who pays for such advances is another issue. Medicare, which covers many elderly patients, had not yet been willing to reimburse patients or caregivers using remote monitoring systems, said Marc Holland, research director at Health Industry Insights, a unit of technology analyst IDC. "Unless and until Medicare gets on the bus, it will be slow going," he said.

There is also likely to be plenty of competition - some of it aided by an Intel-spearheaded consortium called Continua, which has been developing standards to help medical devices exchange information, he said.

Still, Mr Holland said, he was "very excited" about Intel's new offerings and the involvement of companies that would test them, which included Aetna, Erickson Retirement Communities and SCAN Health Plan.

Another company, Advanced Warning Systems, said it planned to use the Intel technology in services to monitor patients such as retired football players and war veterans.