Verizon is making a bet that telemedicine — a term for virtually administered medical care — could provide a big business opportunity.
The company recently announced it was providing private network services to the University of Virginia and Stanford University for a study on a so-called “artificial pancreas” — a series of devices that could monitor glucose levels in Type 1 diabetics and automatically release insulin into the body.
For the past few years, Verizon has been supporting universities as they perform clinical trials on telemedicine, providing them with the required network services. Verizon declined to share the financial terms of these agreements, though it said it was providing a private wireless network and data center services, among other services.
The artificial pancreas uses a tiny glucose monitor, inserted under the skin, which relays glucose levels to a smartphone. There an application can communicate with an insulin pump to release insulin into the body as needed. (Diabetics often manage this process manually by periodically measuring glucose levels and injecting themselves with glucose, according to the study.)
Verizon offered the researchers a private Internet cloud for patient data — in this case, from subjects between ages 7 and 17, among other underlying network support.
“[Researchers] need to be able to have Internet and wireless capability, to enable data to be transferred between continuous medical devices,” said Jean McManus, Verizon’s executive director of technology.
The company is still figuring out how to commercialize these complex networks in healthcare, McManus said — in a system like the artificial pancreas, for instance, the pricing model, and who would pay Verizon for the service, is still being examined.
“We’re building innovation with the client,” said Nancy Green, a managing principal at Verizon’s healthcare innovations unit. Sometimes, she said, clinical trials require smartphones or tablets, but “more and more we’re working with organizations to build something [new]”, she said.
The same closed-loop technology Verizon offers in these clinical trials — when users’ devices rely on private networks to relay data to a Verizon data center, and back — could eventually be applied outside of healthcare , McManus said.
“One of the things we really want to do is we have a suite of private network services,” for other industries, such as finance, she said.