By Bob Marshall, Chief Editor, Med Device Online
Integron Strives to Make Connected Device Deployment Easier
Do you remember what it was like to manually configure a smartphone to send and receive messages with your work email server? Should I choose POP3 or IMAP? What port number do I use for SMTP? There were so many settings that had to be selected and erring on any one of them prevented connectivity. Today, we simply enter our email address and password and magic happens! Well, it’s not really magic and it doesn’t just happen. There’s actually a lot of technology and integration behind the scene that makes it possible. But, this is the image that came to mind as I listened to Bryan Lubel, President of Integron, describe his company’s approach to telehealth and device connectivity. He explained, “Our goal is to insulate our end customer with simplicity and keep the complexity behind the scenes in what we manage for them.”
Integron’s experience deploying and delivering wireless machine-to-machine (M2M) and remote asset management solutions began in 2004, and expanded to include the telehealth market in 2008. The company responded to a request for proposal to add cellular connectivity to a legacy medical device that was broadly distributed by a major cardiac rhythm management company. Lubel explained, “At that time, the primary focus of Integron was being able to source, configure, deploy, recover, service and maintain a suite of technology for an IT enterprise, but we had very little expertise in the regulatory environment surrounding healthcare.” Integron had to quickly become familiar with the requirements of ISO-13485 and the FDA, in addition to the data privacy requirements for Protected Healthcare Information (PHI). This challenge was also magnified by the Great Recession of 2008-2009, but Integron remained steadfast in their belief that the IT infrastructure and asset management tools that they had developed previously would position them well in the evolving telehealth market and they increased their investment in the business. Lubel is quick to point out that their first foray into the space was not exactly what he would characterize as the broader telehealth connected device market. Integron developed a solution for a medical device manufacturer that had a mature therapy with predictable demand that was not enabled for the Internet of Things (IoT). Based on their early success, Integron developed a growth strategy to approach companies with existing in-home therapies looking to connect their devices. Today, Integron’s remote patient monitoring and connected health offerings represent a significant portion of their business having deployed over 2 million connected health devices to 56 countries around the world.
But growing Integron’s healthcare presence was not without adversity. When asked about the challenges that Integron has faced along the way, Lubel replied, “I think the first and largest challenge was the financial flow of payment and reimbursement, and both our clients’ understanding of how they were going to monetize their offering, as well as our own understanding of how the healthcare insurance reimbursement model was going to work.” Early customers that had mature devices in the market and only required the addition of connectivity had an existing payment model and known demand for their devices. So, once the connectivity solution and logistics were developed and validated as economically viable, the ramp-to-volume occurred naturally. But new solutions could be for insurance companies, hospital networks, or care networks. Defining those value propositions, who’s going to pay for it, and how they are going to get reimbursed in the traditional reimbursement model was complicated and took a long time to develop.
Qualcomm Life Partners with Integron to Bolster Growth
Integron’s partnership with QualComm Life dates back to 2010. At that point in time, Qualcomm Life was launching its 2net solution which consists of one or more 2net Hubs that collect data wirelessly from various medical sensors and transmit that data to the Qualcomm Cloud. The Cloud subsequently delivers the data to the customer’s telehealth solution. Qualcomm Life was looking for an integration and deployment partner that would be able to provide the comprehensive Qualcomm 2net Hub and service solution. They needed a partner that could integrate medical peripherals, create kits, pair sensors with 2net Hubs, and deploy and recover kits to their end destination. Qualcomm Life was looking for a little magic and they found it in a partnership with Integron. Like setting up email on your smartphone today, Integron brought simplicity to a complex service solution.
Trends in Telehealth and Connected Devices
Lubel believes the demand for consumer healthcare and consumer advocacy for maintaining healthcare around chronic disease will increase. He said, “Let’s say you have an elderly parent who is diabetic, and you want a tool set because you don’t live in the same city as your elderly parent. But you want to be able to monitor how your parent is managing their diabetes, and whether they are maintaining proper blood sugar levels.” There is a significant portion of the population that wants this type of monitoring capability, and it must be simple to use from the perspective of both the person with the disease and the person ultimately monitoring the results. Lubel also sees other aspects of the market starting to develop. “The original customer base of medical device OEMs is now expanding to insurance payers. Integron is looking at implementing technology that could potentially reduce costs by more effectively monitoring chronic disease states. This could prevent unexpected medical costs to insurance companies by proactively monitoring diseases like congestive heart failure, diabetes and COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease).”
Lubel also sees opportunity in clinical drug trials. “Pharmaceutical companies have essentially always outsourced the management of their clinical trials to a Clinical Research Organization (CRO). A CRO is the type of organization that would likely value a solution that could provide sourcing, kitting, the deployment of those kits, the management and recovery of those kits, along with connectivity of any devices used in subject monitoring. So, if a CRO is going to deploy a drug trial in numerous countries, they don’t want to have to build that ecosystem and bring the vendors together that can support it. The logistics around connectivity management and deployment simply isn’t part of their core business. They want to know that somebody has already done that and can make it all work from a logistics, systems, and regulatory perspective.”