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Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Intel Is Checking Up Digital Health


Intel Corp. has a prescription for enhancing health care in the future: increasing the dose of computer technology.

The chip maker, which established a new Digital Health Group as part of a broad reorganization earlier this year, is preparing to trial a laptop-like device that could aid in the care of people suffering from Parkinson's disease. The device conducts a battery of tests to measure their symptoms and stores the data for doctors to access. Intel researchers plan to begin medical trials of the machine, which they say can be used to tracks the patients' symptoms more closely by repeating the tests weekly at home versus a doctor's office visit every few weeks, with about 60 patients in January.

Intel isn't poised to enter the medical devices business with the tester, however. Instead, the device represents one of numerous opportunities the chipmaker sees in applying its forte—designing chips and the systems that surround them—to health care. To that end, researchers inside the company's labs—many of whom are now affiliated with the Digital Health Group following the reorganization—have been experimenting with numerous ways to use fairly standard computer chips, software and networking technologies, including RFID (radio frequency identification) tags, to assist doctors and their patients as well as aid in the care of aging populations around the globe.

"This is not going to make a laptop replace a nurse. That's not what we're thinking," said Manny Vara, a technology strategist inside Intel's research labs, while demonstrating several of Intel's health care-oriented research projects for Ziff Davis Internet during an event in New York City.

However, "We think some of this is very promising," he said.

Intel researchers envision sensor networks that use RFID tags to help monitor the daily activities of elderly people, for example. By gathering data from RFID-tagged household implements, even including drinking cups, a network could track a person's movements throughout a house and therefore deduce whether he or she was capable of performing day-to-day activities or track whether medications were being taken on time, Vara said.

"You can deduce what [your grandmother] is doing by looking at what' she's touching" around the house, he said.

Numerous Intel researchers were on hand at an event in New York City where they discussed projects, including the Parkinson's tester, digital pill box, sensor networks as well as others such as location-aware wireless networks. But the Digital Health Group also had its coming out party a few months ago at Intel's fall Developer Forum in San Francisco.

There, the group's General Manager, Louis Burns discussed the benefits of IT-enabling patients, doctors and instruments to create more consistent care during a keynote address at the forum.

Burns touted other potential health care benefits. Electronic prescription processing could replace written prescriptions, he said.

Burns also demonstrated connected blood-pressure cuffs, thermometers and pulse readers that could chart information instantly onto a patient's medical record, in another example of networked medical devices.

That interoperability has the most power to improve health care, he said during the speech.

"If you optimize just one component of the [health care] system, you just shift the bottleneck," he said.

Intel plans to reveal more detailed product information next spring, he said in the keynote.

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