Continua Health Alliance: A New Coalition to Standardize Remote Monitoring

Drawing on lessons from the electronics, banking, and grocery industries, a new coalition with eyes on the consumer health market announced last week that it intends to certify standards for home and remote patient monitoring. The Continua Health Alliance comprises 22 members, mostly technology companies such as Intel, IBM, Cisco, Philips, and Medtronic. Kaiser Permanente and Partners Healthcare are initial provider members.

Continua's idea is to deliver its seal of approval to interface standards for remote monitoring devices. Initially, it will focus on devices in three areas: wellness and fitness, chronic care, and elder care. Continua will have a certification process and give out a logo. The idea is that suppliers can build to certified interfaces and users can be assured that devices will work together.

David Whitlinger from Intel, Continua's Chairman, says it will "provide benefits both to companies building new sensor technologies and to the providers who will then be able to mix and match devices." Although -- other than GE and Philips -- none of the major HIS vendors are in the group, it's likely that the emergence of a common interface into the EMR will be a boon for them as well as their clients -- and the remote device manufacturers. Whitlinger suggested that EHR vendors will soon find RFPs demanding that their software can accept inputs from Continua-certified devices.

Partners and Kaiser Permanente are on board because they want to have a standardized way to accept data from the devices that live outside their firewalls. At this stage, there are no plans for Continua to work within institutions to tackle their internal interface problem, which David Watson, CTO of Kaiser Permanente, described as "a dogs-breakfast."

The providers did sound cautionary notes. While the goal is to have monitoring devices warning clinicians before patients develop major problems, Watson noted, "If you don't have the EMR to receive the data from these devices, then you don't have the ability to monitor exceptions from care guidelines." He suggested that Kaiser will soon be overlaying remote monitoring capabilities onto its HealthConnect EHR.

Joseph Kvedar, director of telemedicine at Partners, said that home monitoring is being held back by an event-driven reimbursement system that "is stuck in cement." Continua has four main program efforts -- certifying technology; promoting the logo; working with regulators; and changing the reimbursement environment to make it more favorable for remote monitoring. It will likely be spending much effort on that last issue.
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