By Matt Perry
The brainchild of two well-funded corporate giants, a new Sacramento-area company hopes to change the future of aging by using technology to help senior citizens age gracefully – and safely – at home.
Intel-GE Care Innovations – a partnership between Intel’s Digital Health Group and General Electric Healthcare’s Home Health division formed in January – is angling to become one of the world leaders in technology solutions for aging adults with products that monitor chronic disease, improve social connections, minimize falls, and reduce healthcare costs.
Yet executives of the Roseville company, led by noted healthcare evangelist Eric Dishman, are hoping for even bigger changes that would further revolutionize healthcare.
Using years of ethnographic research on aging adults conducted by Intel, they hope to become a major player in the growing telehealth movement – providing healthcare outside medical offices – which could dramatically reduce in-person doctor visits.
Eventually the company intends to be a leader in “personalized medicine” that would include health monitors to collect data round-the-clock to help provide customized treatment for a wide variety of diseases.
The “silver tsunami” of aging adults over 60 is expected to tally 1.2 billion worldwide (or 16% of the population) by 2020 and over 2 billion (22%) by 2050, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s International Data Base.
This rising tide of aging adults is expected to produce dramatic increases not only in chronic disease, but cognitive disorders and bone fractures from falls. Each of these, says Care Innovation, can be reduced using technology solutions.
“We have a deep belief that we can help people age at home,” says CEO Louis Burns.
The company’s flagship product is Connect, a social networking and wellness hub that blends a wide variety of applications to optimize health: online community interactions, brain fitness games, medication reminders, and other features.
Company executives say that while disease management is important, social connections play a critical role in senior health – which include cost.
“Not enough of care focuses on sense of community, connection and purpose,” says Eric Dishman, director of health policy. “If your social network goes, so does the rest of your health. And suddenly you become very expensive.”
Chief operating officer Douglas Busch says healthcare costs for aging adults skyrocket the further patients are from home.
The three other existing company products were formerly marketed by their parent firms.
The Care Innovations Guide is a remote patient monitor, formerly marketed by Intel, that provides chronic disease data from a home or long-term care facility to physicians. The Reader, also formerly from Intel, allows sight-impaired or dyslexic patients to scan pages that are then read aloud electronically. QuietCare, formerly offered by General Electric, tracks the usual movement patterns of residents, and alerts assisted living staff of a possible fall or illness.
Marilyn Yeats has used the Guide for two months as a participant in the Humana Cares Biometric Monitoring program, which tracks 2,000 patients with congestive heart failure.
“It’s just like having a nurse come and visit you every day, and make you do what you’re supposed to do,” says the 78-year-old from Naples, Florida. Each morning at 10 a.m. the Guide reminds her to take her medications, check her blood pressure, and weigh herself. “It’s just like a friend in the house.”
Started in January, 2011, the 15-month Humana pilot program aims to increase compliance for prescription drugs and prevent hospital re-admissions. Humana nurses also make follow-up contacts via phone or videoconference.
The Care Innovations joint venture is turning heads in admiration.
“The company has secured top leadership to create the vision and steer its work, and strong talent to grow its products and market share,” says Scott Peifer, executive director of AgeTech California. “CI staff have been tapped by federal agencies and non-profit groups to coach and teach them (about) innovation.”
In the relatively new telehealth marketplace with only a handful of players, Care Innovations is determined to shake up the competition.
“We’re forecasting an extremely aggressive sales and market-growth path in the coming years,” says Shannon McIntyre, communications manager.
Dishman, a pioneer in technology solutions for the aging and founding member of Intel’s Digital Health Group in 2005, says the company wants nothing less than to redefine healthcare around the globe. He says the current healthcare crisis is the result of an unacknowledged failure.
“It’s an imagination problem. It really is,” says Dishman. “We have so naturalized a 200-year old tradition of health care that clinicians don’t even have an imagination about how to use telehealth.”
Rather than having a doctor base treatment on the few moments spent with a patient, Dishman envisions a day when tiny electronic devices implanted in the human body detect subtle changes in diseases like Parkinson’s, allowing patients to optimize treatment dosages.
Initially targeting the USA, Europe and Australia, Care Innovations plans in the next few months to expand into Canada, Mexico and Japan with existing products “which will greatly expand our sales footprint globally,” says McIntyre. After that, new products emphasizing health sensors, fall prevention, and emergency response will be added “at a rapid rate.”
Care Innovations has its sights trained on Asia and what CEO Burns calls “mature Europe” which includes the Nordic countries, Germany, France, Italy and Spain. Western Europe now has a third of its population over 60, Dishman says, and governments have already begun to focus attention on the aging problem.
“They’re well ahead of us in changing policies and regulatory climate,” says Dishman, citing the European Commission’s Innovation Partnership on Active and Healthy Ageing created earlier this year. In the United States the National Institutes of Health have failed to take a leadership role, and “by and large Congress still has its head in the sand,” Dishman says.
“Ten years out, a good chunk of our revenue has to come from China,” predicts Dishman, citing the country’s one-child policy, which limits most families to a single baby, greatly reducing family support in the future.
Care Innovations has 200 employees worldwide, with 70 based in its Roseville headquarters. Smaller American offices are housed in Beaverton, Oregon, and New York City. Overseas offices are located in the United Kingdom and Australia.
At the heart of its products is the 1999 ethnographic research carried out by Intel’s Health Research & Innovation Lab, founded by Dishman. Researchers polled over 1,000 households in 20 countries to uncover health requirements for seniors. What they found is that aging populations wanted three things: choice in how care is delivered, connection to a wider community, and compassionate healthcare delivery.
Inside headquarters, an informal air permeates the office, with staff members dressed casually. There are no cubicles, and workstations are movable, which allow employees free reign to join others on projects.
One hallway displays black-and-white photographs of family and friends whose lives were affected by the aging process.
Peifer says the company has a “culture aimed at improving people’s lives (which) is noteworthy for a company of its size and caliber.”
With the current economic recession, aging at home may not be just a desire for aging adults, says Dishman, but a necessity. Five out of six seniors now age at home, a number that Dishman expects to increase since housing assets intended for retirement have eroded significantly. Dishman says this often leaves seniors with no choice but to rip up applications for retirement communities.
This trend will affect California and Texas most, he adds, since these states have the highest percentage of seniors in long-term care.
In fact, Dishman insists, the concept of nursing homes and retirement communities will change dramatically over the next decade.
“Their current business model isn’t sustainable,” says Dishman. “The model of payment for long-term care has to be re-thought.”
Dishman says retirement communities are already looking at new ways to provide services to adults who remain at home, such as home nursing care or other at-home services.
While the “aging in place” market is relatively new, Peifer says California has a handful of entries, including two San Diego firms: the startup Independa and the mobile phone company GreatCall, which he says is growing rapidly with its mobile health applications.
“CI leadership believes in ‘coopetition,’ where competitors come together to better develop the market space,” says Peifer, “then return to their corners to compete for market share.”
Yet Dishman is disappointed at the slowly-developing marketplace for telehealth solutions, especially within California.
“I’m almost frustrated I haven’t seen enough innovation,” says Dishman, citing Silicon Valley and research centers at the University of California, Berkeley and Stanford University, home of the Stanford Center for Longevity. “Why isn’t California at the front of reinventing aging?”
“If these kinds of innovations succeed,” writes Dishman in the book Longevity Rules, “it is possible that in a generation or two, no one will even understand the concept of a ‘nursing home,’ except in history books.”