Intel's new health IoT platform takes remote care beyond consumer devices

Intel's Health Application Platform, paired with hardware from Flex, offers a way to remotely monitor patients without the challenges that come with tablet- or smartphone-based solutions.

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Seeing an opportunity to grow its Internet of Things business in the health care sector, Intel on Thursday is taking the wraps off of a new software platform and accompanying hardware, designed by the supply chain company Flex, that should facilitate remote patient care.

The new Intel Health Application Platform, as well as the new Intel-Architecture-based hardware design specification, were created for remote patient care services that now typically rely on smartphones and tablets to assist patients once they're out of the hospital. The platform and accompanying edge device address security concerns and other challenges that consumer devices aren't equipped to handle, Intel says.

About five years ago, as the remote patient care market was growing, "tablets were just emerging [as a possible tool], and they looked really attractive," Dave Ryan, Intel's GM of Healthcare IoT, told ZDNet. It's easy to load health care applications onto these devices, and data from sensors -- monitoring variables like a patient's pulse or blood pressure -- could be aggregated locally.

"But after using tablets in the field for several years, companies recognized the issues with consumer-grade tablets," he said. "The short lifetime, the turnover in SKUs, how an Android update could kill their software... Also, the tablets are attractive devices -- grandma's grandson could grab it and disappear."

Remote health care providers will probably still use tablets and smartphones to communicate with and deliver educational information to patients, Ryan said. However, Intel is betting that these companies will want enterprise-grade platforms like the HAP to collect, store and transmit patient data.

The HAP offers a stable software environment, eliminating disruptive software updates. It's an Android solution, making it easy to connect applications and peripheral devices like blood pressure monitors. At the same time, Intel has closed off the ports and systems that are typically vulnerable to attack in consumer Android products, Ryan said. And because the software platform is tightly integrated against the hardware design that Flex is shipping, it includes security features like encryption of data at rest.

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To put to rest any concerns over data ownership, Intel built into the software stack data orchestration and secure connector capabilities. Consequently, a remote care company can pull data directly from sensors and have it go straight to their cloud or a customer's cloud through a private, secure connection without any intermediary support.

Remote care companies can whitelist the devices they wish to connect to and configure the orchestrator in terms of what to do with the data. In other words, the HAP will only connect to devices it recognizes, and it can then separate regulated and non-regulated device data.

"If somebody walks in with a fitness band, it's not going to pair with the hub and spew unrecognizable data into Grandma's record," Ryan said.

The HAP is mated with the Flex IoT Compute Engine, a small, portable device that fits in one's hand. The IoT Compute Engine sits in a stand, which can be mounted to the wall. Along with providing the first hardware design optimized to support Intel's HAP, Flex will be providing customer support, distribution and logistics and overseeing the global expansion of the solution.

Given the shift to more value-based reimbursements for health care services, hospitals and other providers are increasingly looking at remote health care services as a way to reduce hospital readmission rates. To demonstrate the potential market for the HAP, Intel pointed to a study which found the remote care market grew by 44 percent in 2016.

Intel and Flex are already working with several companies in the health care space, including Vivify Health, iHealth Labs, and Sensogram Technologies, to deploy the new product.

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