It may sound a little creepy, but Intel thinks that virtual doctor visits are the future of health care for the elderly. The Intel Health Guide, launched in the U.S. last year, is a simple white box with a screen that includes a video camera for doctor-patient communications, on screen reminders for scheduled sessions, and connectivity for a variety of vital sign monitoring machines (glucose meters, blood pressure monitors, etc. Essentially, the Guide keeps patients out of the doctor's office by helping to detect potential medical events before they happen.
Even though the Guide was only released last year, the idea for a virtual doctor system was kicking around Intel for about a decade. "We had social scientists looking at applications of computing technology in the hope of identifying the desire and need of people who wanted to use computers to manage their health care," explained Charles Goodwin, the Director of Market Development for the Intel Health Group. In 2005, the Intel Health Group was formed for just that purpose.
The Intel Health Guide moved out of the pilot stage in November 2008, but customers are still figuring out how the doctor-patient relationship changes with remote patient monitoring. A patient with a chronic health condition, for example, might be able to avoid constant doctor visits if they remain vigilant about using their Health Guide-attached vital sign monitoring machines.
Soon enough, virtual doctor visits will become commonplace. Intel and GE recently announced a $250 million partnership to develop health care and IT technology, and the companies believe that the home monitoring market will balloon from $3 billion today to $7.7 billion by 2012.
Next up for the Intel Health Guide: expanding outside of the U.S and U.K, and establishing connectivity with other back-end systems. "We want to be able to connect the Health Guide with electronic medical record systems in hospitals," Goodwin said.