SAN JOSE, Calif. Intel Corp. has decided it wants to be the first big systems integrator in what it believes could be a multi-billion dollar market for home health care services. The world's biggest chip maker formally announced today (Nov. 9) it plans to sell a new line of systems, software and services to health care providers.
The Intel Health Guide is a PC customized to monitor vital signs and deliver health services to elderly patients managing chronic health conditions. Based on an Intel motherboard, the system is designed to be simple enough for technophobic users but robust enough to have received FDA Type 2 certification in August, a first for the company.
Intel provides the software to run both the new device and computers used by health care professionals to track and communicate with patients using it. The chip maker will even host those services and provide consulting to health care groups who want to set them up.
The move is an effort to define a common platform for the emerging field of remote health care expected to reach $5 billion in 2010 and explode to $34 billion by 2015, according to a recent report. It also marks a major expansion for Intel which has been studying the health care market for several years, but to date focused on defining systems and standards.
Intel helped spearhead the Continua Health Alliance, a 100+ member group that will release before the end of January its first specifications for designing interoperable personal health care systems. The company also created a reference design for a portable computer for health care professionals. Panasonic recently launched a system based on the Intel design.
"This is a much, much deeper commitment," said Louis Burns, general manager for the company's Digital Heath division started nine years ago.
"This is an Intel Health branded end- to-end solution, not just a piece of hardware," he said. "Customers want us to host and manage this," he added.
Scan Health Plan, a large Medicare administrator, is one of a handful of health care providers try the Intel offering, initially in a test with 25 patients with chronic heart disease. "If this works effectively by mid-2009, we hope to roll it out to several hundred patients, and within a year to our entire network 105,000 members," said Hank Osowski, senior vice president of corporate development for Scan Health.
"We have no doubts about the technology, but we want to understand if the seniors and clinicians can use it effectively," he said. "The power of this system is we can use it to see many more people on a daily basis and let seniors engage in their own health care," he added.
"We have a number of pilots starting or getting ready to start on three continents," said Burns.
Home health care systems seek to reduce the costs and increase the quality of medical care for an estimated $2 trillion health care industry in the U.S. alone. Managing chronic illnesses is a big slice of that market given a growng population of people over 65.
"There's not enough care capacity for everyone to see a doctor whenever they want," said Eric Dishman, a social scientist and director of product research whose work in 2000 helped spearhead formation of Intel's Digital Health group.
The Personal Health Guide uses a simple interface with audio prompts and a touch screen to walk users through regular checks of their blood pressure, weight and other vital signs using peripherals from third parties connected via USB or Bluetooth. The data is stored and analyzed on the system and transmitted to health care providers.
Nurses can log on to get a snapshot of their patients, ranked by highest risks. They can set customize threshold levels and set messages for the patients.
"This helps nurses to be more knowledgeable before they take action," said Julie Cherry a registered gerontology nurse and director of product marketing for Intel.
The system currently requires a health care provider to initiate a video conference call, via the system's embedded VGA camera. A future version will let patients make calls to social networks of patients with similar conditions.
The initial Intel service targets patients with chronic heart disease, using a care plan being developed by the American Heart Association that includes videos and other content to be stored on the device. Intel is working with the Mayo Clinic and other partners to develop content for other conditions, and hopes the device ultimately can be used to track multiple conditions.
"There's a lot of pre-packaged content for hypertension, asthma, heart disease and diabetes--the classic issues people are dealing with," said Dishman.
"This supplements and allows you to scale, but it does not replace people going to hospitals and seeing doctors," said Burns.
Intel has prototype versions of the software running on cellphones and other mobile devices. It's not clear when regulators might approve such systems, Dishman said.
"In Europe where cellphones became more commonplace earlier, there's a lot of pressure to interact using devices people already have," he said.
The company is also researching links to motion and other sensors to track behavior and environmental factors. Dishman projected than as many as three-quarters of falls that cost as much as $100 billion in U.S. health services could be prevented by use of hip-worn accelerometers measuring stride length.