November 13, 2008

Intel’s Health Guide Puts Telehealth in the Spotlight

Intel has entered the healthcare market in full force with the announcement of its Intel Health Guide product. However, a closer look at the 'personal health system' reveals it to be something of a disappointment. Although Intel's entrance into the telehealth space will bring much needed attention to the emerging technology, the company's success in this competitive new arena remains to be seen.

Intel's entry into the healthcare market through its Intel Health Guide product sees it following in the footsteps of other technology giants like Microsoft and Google. The so-called 'personal health system' connects patients to their providers from the comfort of their own homes, while simultaneously allowing patients to increase their communication with clinicians. Rather than traveling to see their doctor, patients connect to Intel's Health Guide, measure vital signs, comment on their health status and send these data points to a doctor or nurse for review on a consistent basis.

Intel's product also includes health education content, video conferencing calling, a calendar and reminder functions. The hope is that daily patient monitoring will keep patients healthy and outside of the hospital, resulting in better care for patients and lower costs for the healthcare system. Intel, aware that this needs to be verified, also announced a number of pilots to study the clinical outcomes of using the Health Guide solution.

Intel is not the first, nor will it be the last, to enter the telehealth space. Telehealth - the use of a digital network to monitor and/or treat patients in a different physical location than the medical expert - is an emerging market that, according to Datamonitor, is expected to grow at a five year compound annual growth rate of 56%.

However, despite this high growth rate and the potential benefits of telehealth, established vendors in this space (including Honeywell HomMed, McKesson and Philips, to name only a few) have been faced with a number of obstacles including reimbursement and resistance from providers. Nevertheless, with Intel's entrance into the market, the focus on telehealth will undoubtedly increase. If this increased focus translates into greater adoption of telehealth, then all vendors in this space will benefit.

A closer look at the Intel Health Guide is disappointing, however. Despite years of investment in the product, it does not "go beyond the simple remote patient monitoring systems available today" as it claims to do. Other remote patient monitoring devices transmit vital signs and health status information to providers just as the Health Guide does. What is most baffling about this product is the need for a laptop specifically for telehealth. It is doubtful that patients will want to buy a separate device for health education content and video conferencing when these are increasingly already accessible on regular computers. From search engines to health-specific websites like (from which Intel is pulling its content), more information is available online than could be delivered through the Health Guide. While one could argue that the information provided on the Health Guide is more accurate and relevant to the patient, it is coming straight from an online website: patients could just as easily go directly there to retrieve the information.

Furthermore, as video conferencing grows - Google, for example, has just added voice and video capabilities to its Gmail chat function - Intel's Health Guide's unique characteristic will become less of a differentiator. Today, the laptop may be an easy interface for less technologically savvy elderly patients to use, but as the elderly population becomes more adept at using computers, there will be little use for another piece of equipment in the home. Telehealth solutions are also not just for the elderly, but for the chronically ill of all ages and for those with a focus on wellness and prevention. As such, a product that focuses exclusively on the elderly excludes a large segment of the market.

Intel's Health Guide deserves credit for bringing many different health components together for the first time, but Datamonitor expects that it will become easier to do what the Health Guide already does, at a lower cost and with less equipment, in the near future. The company's announcement is an exciting milestone for the telehealth market as it brings increased publicity to an important, but not often recognized, technology. However, Intel's success in this competitive space remains to be seen.

Christine Chang