Intel Predicts Age of Mega-Automation of Health Care

By M.L. Baker  |  Posted 08-24-2005
SAN FRANCISCO—Intel Corp. intends to become another in a string of giant IT companies pledging to improve health care. At the Tuesday, gloomy music played as huge screens flashed dire predictions about the aging population and rising health care costs.

Then Louis Burns, general manager of Intel's digital health group, strode onto the stage to demonstrate or describe the benefits of IT-enabling patients, doctors and instruments to create more consistent care. He did not, however, say how Intel would contribute to those systems. Major news will follow in the spring, he said.

Among other things, Intel intends to produce or contribute to Bluetooth-enabled stethoscopes, sensory networks allowing Alzheimer's patients to live longer, and a WiMax system that could allow hospitals and laboratories to share information wirelessly from distances as long as 30 miles.

Burns touted the benefits of electronic prescription processing to replace the often-haphazard process of written prescriptions. As an example, he described how his daughter had narrowly missed receiving an overdose of a sedative when an overworked resident wrote a prescription that was off by a factor of 10.

"Some would argue there are fewer checks in place giving medication than buying books on Amazon," he said.

Using a volunteer patient, Burns demonstrated how connected blood-pressure cuffs, thermometers and pulse readers could chart information instantly onto a patient's medical record.

In one pilot project, Intel engineers lived with people who had survived a stroke or who had Alzheimer's or Parkinson's disease, Burns said.

A Parkinson's patient might only see a doctor every few months for less than half an hour, so the Intel team devised a machine that could collect speech, tremor and movement information daily.

A watch would be able to upload information about its wearer's trembling; a computer-enabled hole-and-peg board could be used for measuring coordination. Such information could be used so that Parkinson's patients only take medicines when necessary, reducing its notorious side effects.

Intel also created two new form factors, but denied it is pushing into hardware. "Ecosystems is what we do best," said Burns.

Echoing others in the industry, Burns said that interoperability has the most power to improve health care and improve its efficiency. "We were surprised that the single largest software expense [in hospitals] is proprietary software to link proprietary systems."

The value in health care systems is in their interactions, he said. "If you optimize just one component of the [health care] system, you just shift the bottleneck."