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GE, Intel joint venture company will open a door

GE-Intel Joint venture: transcends the past, picks up the pace.  In the wake of endless studies about the benefits of telehealth and in-home monitoring, finally Intel and GE decided to transcend the good works and research phases and form a new joint-venture company. The progression has been slow and steady: GE resells QuietCare, buys Living Independently Group, partners for distribution with DirectSupply, and in April invests $3 million in Ireland's Tril Centre's research for independent living -- already recipient of a sizable Intel investment. But the organizational shifting and fits-and-starts hampered QuietCare and in the meantime, interesting startups emerged who out-innovate and under-price. Meanwhile, over at Intel, years of effort and research, propelled by champion-in-chief Eric Dishman, culminated in only a few actual products for independent living -- Intel Health Guide and the Intel Reader. So a joint venture company offers a chance to capitalize on what both organizations have done and learned, but also to get moving. It couldn't happen soon enough or at a better time. 

Everything has changed since GE and Intel first contemplated the home care market. First and foremost, the home is where the ultimate customer insists they want to be. Not in assisted living, nursing homes, and certainly not in hospitals -- perhaps penalized if the patient reappears soon after discharge. With aging-in-place as mantra of the decade, the new growth industries are home care, home health care, home retrofitting and a host of the ancillary products and services. Care coordination among the multiple constituents of home care will (someday) be a given. Meanwhile, life expectancy seems to extend by a year every year, creating a perfect storm of opportunity for the Intel-GE Joint venture.

Executives for the joint venture share the right vision. Omar Ishrak -- currently SVP of GE and CEO of the Healthcare Systems Group -- will become chairman of the board of the joint venture and Louis Burns, GM of Intel's Digital Health Group, will become CEO.  In conversation with them yesterday, it is clear that they see the opportunity to grow new businesses out from the organizational shadow of the parent companies. After all is said, Intel is a core technology company, not a product company -- and healthcare products were an anomaly.  GE had a long history in medical products, but serving seniors and caregivers (the QuietCare value proposition) was new territory. It was clear from their comments that separating into a new company will afford both of these smaller initiatives to focus and grow. Louis Burns noted:"It was important to enable families and caregivers to be part of a coordinated care team, offering the senior a window to the outside world." Asked about whether the new venture would tackle the 'whole person' issues of isolation, Omar Ishrak observed: "We recognize that the conditions faced by home health patients are not necessarily clinical. It is part of our core mission [in the Joint Venture] to address social and support needs."

So what should be different?  The surprise to those who have been associated with telehealth and remote monitoring is how long these products have been around -- telehealth devices have been in the market for a decade or more -- and how very limited the uptake has been by doctors, hospital administrators, home health companies, those who serve seniors and those with chronic disease. Tangled up in the resistance to change, business model/process intransigence and much-ballyhooed lack of reimbursement -- are the products themselves.  The joint venture has the chance to market the current but also invent or acquire the new.  Form factors and price points must shrink to consumer-tolerable levels and the pace of matching products-to-need must accelerate. The joint venture has an opportunity to use their plethora of research studies, scan the market of startups and aggressively acquire. And the presence of a company (versus departments within large companies) that has GE and Intel backing both validates the inexorable trend towards tech-enabled care in the home -- and should energize large players like Philips as well as encourage startups.  Here's hoping!


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