Intel revives debate

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

SANTA CLARA, Calif.--Intel could play a key role in solving the biggest barrier to entry for home telehealth for HME providers: lack of reimbursement.

Intel, a company known for its computer microprocessors and “Intel inside” commercials, plans to work with healthcare organizations like Aetna to conduct pilot studies to validate the benefits of its new home telehealth device, Intel Health Guide. If the studies show the device can improve health outcomes cost efficiently, Medicare may take another look at home telehealth as a way to treat chronic conditions like COPD, industry sources say.

“Medicare’s opinion has always been, ‘Until you can prove the benefit to us, we’re not going to pay for it,’” said Mickey Letson, president of Decatur, Ala.-based Letco Companies. “But a company the size of Intel may be able to put enough units out there over a certain period of time to be able to collect and analyze data. Then they can go to Medicare and say, ‘Here is just a sampling of what we could save you.’”

Intel announced the launch of Intel Health Guide in November. The device combines an in-home patient device and an online interface, allowing clinicians to monitor patients in their homes and manage care remotely.

Unfortunately, industry sources say, until Medicare reimburses for home telehealth devices, HME providers will continue to turn their noses up at the market.

Case in point: In 2006, The MED Group formed a partnership with Cybernet Medical, allowing its members to become sales and distribution agents for Cybernet’s MedStar telemonitoring device. The MED Group saw home telehealth as a new business opportunity for providers. But the partnership fell through after a year due to lack of interest.

“Everything follows reimbursement,” said Bill Elliott, CEO of The MED Group.

Eventually, home telehealth devices will find their way in the hands of HME providers, says Shelly Prial, who has been touting the market for years.

“Who better to handle the distribution of home telehealth devices than an HME provider?” he asked. “He has a maintenance crew; he has a sales force; he knows the physicians and he knows the patients. He’s sitting right in the middle.”