Healthcare's increasing presence at CES harbinger of things to come

To see the first products from the new GE-Intel collaborative at the 2011 International Consumer Electronics Show, you need to descend into the South Hall of the Las Vegas Convention Center, find the GE booth, and crane your neck around the corner from the home-scaled wind turbine.

In that backwater of CES11, you'll see Care Innovations' first three products: An assistive device that scans text, transforms it into digital texts and then reads it; a "camera-free" monitoring system to help elderly family members remain independent in their own homes; and the Intel Health Guide, an FDA-approved device that connects patients to healthcare information and providers.

The Intel Health Guide "is aimed at payers, providers and consumers," a booth representative told me. "All are interested in improved quality of care and cost containment."

Payers, providers and consumers - it's a trinity that is named by just about every exhibitor here with a healthcare solution. For that reason, I wouldn't be surprised to see the same devices exhibited at HIMSS11 in February, or the May conference of the American Telemedicine Association.

The convergent interests of consumers, payers and providers isn't simply an economic one. It's also reflected in the technology. In the Verizon booth, moments before the mobile telecommunications giant launched its 4G LTE network, I watched as Michael Mathur showed BL Healthcare's home healthcare device running a real-time video session with a physician in Boston. The video session, however, was just one app that runs on the iPad-like BL Healthcare device.

The device can collect data from sensors and monitors in the home and upload them to a server, eliminating the need for a home network and router. It can connect to personal health records and a number of nutritional and wellness apps. But unlike the iPad, this (like the Intel Health Guide), is an FDA-approved device.

And like the Intel Health Guide, you had to navigate your way through the substantial depths of the Verizon booth to find it. At least this year...

I expect that the true healthcare devices and applications will increasingly move closer to the center stage of CES, a stage currently dominated by 3D televisions, media tablets, and motion-sensing gaming devices.

The Qualcomm booth may offer a glimpse of that future. Smack-dab in the middle of the booth a CES attendee can run through demos of Independa, Lifecomm and Telcare, three Qualcomm partners using mHealth hardware and software to bring patients, caregivers and providers together around health data.

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