Intel seeks bigger presence in health care market
■ The microchip maker is developing specialized tracking hardware for clinicians. But there's no word on its release date or its cost.
By Tyler Chin — Posted March 27, 2006
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Intel Corp., has announced plans to develop two specialized computer devices for the health care market, including a souped-up tablet personal computer for physicians and nurses.
In a Feb. 27 press conference in San Francisco, Intel, the Santa Clara, Calif., company that sells the microprocessors that power a majority of the world's PCs, unveiled a prototype computer device offering the normal functionality of a tablet integrated with several technologies and peripheral devices.
The tablet, a portable computer about the size of a 8½ x 11 sheet of paper but thicker, includes built-in radio frequency identification and bar code readers. The RFID technology, which manufacturers and retailers are starting to use to track inventory, is used by hospitals and nursing homes to track mobile equipment, prevent newborns from being abducted and prevent vulnerable patients from wandering off.
The prototype Intel has developed, however, potentially could enable physicians to pull patient data from an electronic medical records software system soon after they enter an exam room. That's because when doctors get near patients, the RFID reader would pick up the radio signal transmitted from the tag identifying them, said Louis Burns, a vice president and general manager of Digital Health Group, a business unit Intel formed in a year ago.
Hospitals also could use the RFID or bar code reader to avoid medication errors and match the right patient to the right medical procedure such as a blood transfusion, Burns said at the press conference. The device, to be tested this year at hospitals around the world, will enable doctors to use a built-in camera, as well as wirelessly connect to and capture data from medical devices such as stethoscopes and securely transmit those data to colleagues over the Internet.
Intel also is developing a separate device for patients with chronic conditions. That device, which would have a touch screen and be similar in size to a tablet PC, will collect and transmit patient data to clinicians, said Douglas Busch, a vice president and chief technology officer at Digital Health Group.
Busch acknowledged that several companies offer similar remote monitoring or disease management products, but Intel believes it can add value to the industry by making existing technologies and devices easier to use.
"We identify a set of needs that are pretty widely required in the industry, and then we look at the hard engineering problems associated with [meeting] those needs," he said. For example, the tablet PC Intel is developing would be sealed to prevent germs or bacteria from getting in the device and possibly infecting patients.
Another reason Intel is developing specialized health care hardware is there is an "unmet need and opportunity," Busch said, citing reports that only 2% of the $1.4 trillion spent annually on health care in the United States is used on information technology. Most industries spend 4% to 6%, with financial services leading the way at 11%, he said
"Our belief is that there is almost inevitably going to have to be a higher degree of the use of IT," Busch said. "We think that if we can do things that reduce barriers [to adoption] and increase the value of information, then it inevitably will produce market opportunities for Intel that we think are going to be pretty significant."
But industry observers are skeptical about Intel's foray into the health care computer business.
"Intel is a technology and a [technology] product company," said Ann Geyer, a partner at Tunitas Group, a Mountain Ranch, Calif., health care information technology consultancy. "You can make the best product in the world, but if you don't have any distribution channel for it, it will go nowhere. I don't think of Intel as having a distribution channel and certainly not in health care."
Intel knows it's not a health care company and is working closely with other companies and intended users to develop hardware that meets industry needs, its executives said. It also has a plan for how to sell the devices but would not elaborate. Busch declined to say when the products will become available commercially or how much they will cost.