Can GE & Intel really create care innovations?

Earlier this month a long planned joint venture finally made its way onto the stage. Not only was it long planned but it put together two giants of the tech world which both have somewhat checkered track records in health IT. The two giants are Intel and GE, and the joint venture which came out of hiding at CES is called, wait for it, Care Innovations.

A little history. In 1996 Intel’s then CEO Andy Grove published a very influential story in Fortune about his experience choosing prostate cancer treatment. In particular he pointed out how backwards the use of IT in health care was then. Plus ca change…

But in part because of that experience and because of the perception that there was a market for more and more chips in health care, Intel put one of its brightest young minds, Eric Dishman, on the case to figure out the possibilities. Following extensive and painstaking ethnographic research all the way through the zeros, Intel came up with a series of ideas for using technology to help seniors age in place. In fact wiring (or chipping) the house is a trend that’s been happening anyway, and there’s certainly lots of possibilities in smarter houses that can, say, track seniors leaving ovens on, taking their pills, or not getting out of bed.

It took a while but there’s now an Intel Health Guide–a specialist communication device that’s easier to use (although much less ubiquitous) than Skype. The device allows family members and providers to check in on a senior at home and take measurements. On the other hand it would be tough to argue that the research to product ratio from the money spent at the Intel Digital Health Group has been overwhelming thus far.

Despite being the biggest player in imaging and more recently diagnostics, GE has been having if anything an even less rosy time in health IT. When Jack Welch was there he was supposed to want GE to be #1 or #2 in every market it was in. So when they bought IDX (a perennial also-ran in hospital information systems) and slapped the Centricity label on Medicalogic and some other tools for the doctor’s office, it’s not that surprising that they became the butt of lots of consultants’ jokes. (Jeff Daigrepont at Coker has the best one–find him at a party some time and ask).

However, since their Healthymagination campaign started a couple of years back GE has been making some strides, not only with cheaper imaging tools and some new approaches to pathology (see my interview with Mike Barber from last October ) but also working with Health 2.0 companies. With MedHelp and Healthline they have built some pretty nice products (including I’m Expecting which gets used a bunch in my household at the moment).

Now Care Innovations is officially away from the starting gate and has some of the senior Intel folks on board. At launch its products are the Health Guide Reader–a cool (but pretty expensive) automated reading tool from the Intel side–(you can see both of them in my interview with Eric Dishman last October), and Quiet Care from the GE side.

What remains to be seen is whether these two giants can figure out how to provide a service that providers, plans, ACOs or consumers can easily buy, and that will put someone else on the other end of all that home-based data being collected. We’ve been told forever that this isn’t a technology problem but a process one. So is this new corporate combination going to help the moribund health care organization change its process?

And can they do that before their specialist device approach is overtaken by something cheaper and just as good running on, say the iPad or the TV.

We’ll see, but it’s at the least very good to see that two serious corporations are trying something (relatively) new, and we’ll be keeping close tabs on them.