Intel-Led Group Seeks Medical Device Specs

The Continua Health Alliance will select standards, write interoperability guidelines and wrestle with issues about how to secure and get insurance reimbursement for home-use health care systems.

The group foresees a market for a broad set of fitness, disease management and elderly care systems that connect to each other as well as to the Web through PCs, cellphones and digital TVs. It aims to create a logo program for compliant products that could ship as early as 2008.

"This is about bringing care to where the patient is, when they really need it in a way that improves quality, access and efficiency," said Joseph Kvedar, director of Partners telemedicine, a health care provider and Continua member. "Right now our system is stuck in a model where you have to come to a hospital or clinic to see a doctor."

That’s because today’s consumer medical devices often use vendor-specific interfaces to link with each other. They also lack an accepted security approach for ensuring privacy of data shared over the Internet with hospital systems.

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"It’s a dog’s breakfast of standards, interfaces and software to make these things work now and that’s expensive," said David Watson, a chief technology officer at Kaiser Permanente, another health care providers in Continua. "Part of the conversation we have to have is how to secure these devices," he added.

Kaiser currently uses some 300,000 monitoring devices in its network of hospitals and clinics. It would need several million more to offer its 8.5 million members appropriate patient monitoring and preventative care at home, he said.

So far, Continua is weighted toward OEM heavyweights with members such as Cisco, GE Healthcare, IBM, Intel, Medtronic, Motorola, Panasonic, Philips, Samsung and Sharp. It is expected to grow to more than 100 members within a year, said David Whitlinger, director of heath care standards for Intel who chairs Continua.

Continua has already set up a working group defining a limited set of user scenarios it wants to enable. The use cases will include sensor networks to monitor elderly patients living alone.

A technical working group will probably break into as many as five subgroups to select and write implementation guidelines for existing wired and wireless communications and security technologies to serve those uses. Separate working groups will address regulatory and reimbursement issues that could be among the sectors biggest roadblocks.

"Typically reimbursement of home monitoring is very limited. There are lots of explorations around different home service concepts, but until that becomes institutionalized it is not reimbursable," said Jeffrey Rideout, a vice president of Cisco’s Internet Business Solutions Group.

Louis Burns, general manager of Intel’s nascent Digital Health group, kicked off the Continua effort about a year ago. While serving as general manger of Intel’s desktop group, Burns helped form the Digital Living Network Alliance that sets guidelines for home network interoperability.

Continua is essentially an attempt to replicate that model for the emerging sector of consumer medical systems.