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TECH: Intel inside, but inside what?

I spent Monday morning at a press conference where Louis Burns, the head of Intel’s health initiative, talked about what Intel is up to in health care, and Robert Pearl, the CEO of TPMG (the Kaiser doctor group), talked about their move to EMRs.

Kaiser is clearly making some progress—for instance they’ve now got messaging between physicians and patients running in N. California. Pearl repeats the line, which I buy, that the medical groups which have electronic clinical records and manage chronic care for their patients automatically will produce superior quality patient care. Unfortunately, there are two major problems. First, getting people to move to a Kaiser (or equivalent) from the disaggregated FFS doctors that 90% of Americans now use will require Kaiser to be cheaper than competitive plans (which it’s not any more) and to get employers to force their employees to move to those integrated systems. Something that has been really tricky for employers to do. Second, when I asked Pearl about it he said, speaking personally, that employers (and America as a whole) were going the wrong way by moving towards high-deductible health plans because it was a short-term way of cutting costs, and reduced the sensible use of preventative care.

Intel’s health group wants to move towards more preventative care (and less reliance on intensive acute care). They are pushing technology to create smart homes, and easier communications between patients, caregivers, and clinicians. They’ve spent a ton of effort researching all of this on an ethnographic layer, and in ergonomic use cases.

The problem is that not much seems to changed since Andy Grove’s 1996 Fortune article. Health care sucked then. Intel spent a fortune over a decade trying to change it. Health care sucks now.

So what’s Intel really doing? Well it’s helping on standards (that’s original, huh!). It’s doing lots of (free?) consulting with hospitals. And it has a new tool that looks like a more advanced version of Health Hero’s health buddy with video, and a new prototype for a portable tablet that’s designed for health care. And some snappy videos showing how it might work out. But 6 years with 200 people working away? Is that all Intel has come up with? I’m afraid it appears so.

But in some ways it’s worse; as I wrote in Spot-on a couple of weeks ago, on the benefits side it’s changing its health plan into the style that actually is pushing individuals away from integrated health plans like Kaiser. So to some extent, while they’re featuring Pearl and Kaiser, they’re not really corporately pushing the solution that would increase the adoption of the technologies they think will improve health care.

So what’s the real problem? The real problem is that America’s system is so screwed up, that just saying that “every other industry has changed and health care will” as I heard many times at the conference, is not realistic in the cottage industry that they also kept saying it was. And we’ve spent a decade of massive dislocation staying a cottage industry. And the change in the payment system required to move this is a long way away in time.

Meanwhile, Intel (as with Cisco) will continue to do fine so long as health care keeps buying new IT. But I remain confused as to what their health care initiative is going to actually do to improve their bottom line any time soon. I don’t really think that educating tech journalists about health care (which was what yesterday seemed to have been about) advances the agenda too much. And the industry-wide problems that they are recounting are well beyond Intel’s control.

I hope that I’m missing something here. As their hearts are clearly (both logically and emotionally) in the right place.

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Matthew HoltBlogReaderTom LeithJ KosterNarayanachar Murali Recent comment authors
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Tom Leith
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Tom Leith

> Why doesn’t Intel stick to making chips?
I’m sure there are lots of Intel stockholders saying the same thing. If they wanted to be invested in a healthcare company, they could buy Cerner stock.
But I hardly think Intel is going to slow anything down. And if they did, who would notice?
t

Matthew Holt
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Matthew Holt

Blogreader is very close to the truth. 90% of the reason that Intel is in the health care business because of Andy Grove’s experience in 1995. (See the link in the article). And obviously there’s no natural place for them here, hence the problem they’re having finding one.
On the other hand I’d rather have them funding the ergonomic research that they are, than just ignoring it like most of the other hardware guys…

BlogReader
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BlogReader

Why doesn’t Intel stick to making chips? Is that too much to ask of a chip making company? I suspect that this came down as an order from the CEO saying that they should disverify their business so some VP got the bright idea that they should be involved with health care standards (WTF?). Now he has a budget of millions and a staff of 200 and needs something to show for it. So we in the health are field are getting these 800 pound gorillas which act to just slow things down as that’s what gorillas do. If Intel… Read more »

Tom Leith
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Tom Leith

Oh, you got me wound up. > Here is my wish list for hardware and software… …and it can’t break when you drop it, and it shouldn’t cost more than $300 per unit. Let’s see: you want “Windows type of OS with no fancy multimedia functions” except it has to have voice input and display medical images, which means color for those pathology slides, and full-motion video for ultrasounds and any number of other things. Which should be delivered to the device how? Oh yes! No nasty DVDs, No! No! Every bit of medical information on the PLANET must be… Read more »

J Koster
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J Koster

I was at a recent meeting with healthcare CEOs and Intel folks and your assessment of “big hat, no cattle” is on the money.

Narayanachar Murali
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Narayanachar Murali

Intel need to send its programmers to the real life doctors offices to observe what doctors and healthcare workers do. They will be aghast with the perforamnce of the computing systems they dish out to us! Here is my wish list for hardware and software. How about a very slim, 2lb, large screen, superbly backlit tablet PC, with a reasonable size keyboard at the bottom,( just letters and numbers), extremely fast processor, simple networking protcol to define who is allowed to communicate with which machine and who is allowed to open, view and change folder contents using plain english( even… Read more »

Tim Gee
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Matthew, I don’t know that the only way to drive EMR adoption is to make doctors work for (or “own”) hospitals. How about federal legislation to take health care away from employers, give that responsibility (and the money they were paying into it) to employees and create a national risk pool that payers could compete for? These two small steps would go far to remove much of the distortion from the health care “market.” God bless Intel for their persistence, but I have to agree with your assessment. Regarding standards, I think Julian Goldman at CIMIT stands a better chance… Read more »

Ron W.
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Ron W.

You have touched on what I believe is the real issue that (still) holds the key to cost, quality, and delivery in healthcare (and maybe access); and that is how medicine is organized. It seems that we all love to talk about how it is financed, and we like to talk about how it is delivered on the individual level. But what I don’t see enough of is real discussions about how it is organized at the provider level. Physicians don’t want to talk about it, so the hospitals won’t touch it (don’t piss off the doctors is any good… Read more »