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Intel gives health care a dose of tech

The chipmaker is working with health care and technology companies to improve the role computing can play in caring for people.

Intel is working with health care and technology companies to improve the role computing can play in caring for people.

The Santa Clara, Calif.-based chipmaker has formed a division, called the Proactive Health Research group,

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to look at how computing can be used in the health care industry and specifically how current technologies can be applied to help take care of the quickly growing population of senior citizens. Part of the group's goal is to find untapped markets where its products, such as the tablet PC, media adapters and portable video players, can be used.

"What we kept coming up with--when we were trying to identify the new areas to develop--was that health and wellness was a chief area of concern" for consumers, said Eric Dishman, manager of Proactive Health Research.

Some of the concerns for the health care industry are rising life expectancies in the United States and the baby boomer generation. Baby boomers, Americans born between 1946 and 1964, represent the biggest sustained growth of the population in the history of the United States. And life expectancy in the United States was up from 76.1 years in 1999 to 77.1 years in 2000, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

"Our society is going to have to get ready to take care of a senior citizen pool that is going to get drastically bigger," Dishman said. "We're looking at how our technology will help these problems."

One of the group's goals is to take technology that is already available and use it to help senior citizens live their lives where they feel most comfortable, also known as "aging in place," and where it is most feasible from a caretaker's point of view. Ninety percent of Americans 60 and older wanted to be cared for at home, according to AARP (formerly known as the American Association of Retired Persons), but health care costs are rising.

Intel is using three core technologies, sensor networking, smart home technology and artificial intelligence, to develop products that can be used in the home to help monitor mentally disabled or senior citizens.

Dishman said the research group often takes current technologies, such as Intel's Universal Plug and Play, and modifies them to address different needs. Some of the technologies already are being used in some assisted living facilities in Oregon, according to Holly Jimison, a medical informatics investigator at the Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Research.

Jimison said that Intel's work is preliminary, involving pilot studies testing the effects of aging in place. Some of the technologies are as simple as sensing where a person is in a home and using a connected device, such as a television, to send the person a reminder that it's time to take their medication.

The chipmaker is also working on sensor technologies to give health care agencies data on any drastic changes in a person's behavior as an early sign of oncoming disease.

With about 14 members, the research group is relatively small compared with others within Intel, but Dishman hopes that it will grow as the issue of an aging population becomes a priority for more families.

"The project is small, but it has the potential to get bigger," Dishman said.