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AT&T Just Announced a Major, New Health Care Venture

January 5, 2016, 7:25 PM UTC
Photography by Slyworks Photography, Courtesy of Texas Medical System

AT&T is doubling down on its commitment to connected health with the opening of its new venture at the Texas Medical Center Innovation Institute in Houston, the fifth innovation center the company has started devoted to the Internet of things.

The AT&T Foundry for Connected Health, as it’s called, will open in February and focus on helping companies develop digital health innovations that connect caregivers and patients via wireless monitoring. The idea is to wirelessly connect all sorts of devices, like wheelchairs, glucose meters, and more, so that patients can better share their health data in and out of medical centers to get better results. The new Foundry for Connected Health will operate on Texas Medical Center’s campus, the largest medical center in the world.

Although this is AT&T’s (T) fifth Foundry innovation center, it is the first to be focused solely on health care. The centers are described as “fast-paced and collaborative environments” where AT&T engineers, technologists, and business strategists work closely with startup companies. The company describes each partnership as “short ‘sprints’ designed to determine success or failure quickly.” Its other Foundries focus on different topics, such as the connected car at its Atlanta location and cybersecurity at its Israel center.

“We’ve had great success with our other four Foundries, so we started considering other opportunities to make a big impact,” Chris Penrose, a senior vice president, Internet of Things Organization at AT&T Mobility, said. “Health care has a ton of opportunity to be enhanced and reimagined while hooking up various elements.”

The new venture isn’t AT&T’s first foray into connected health. Back in 2012, the company launched its remote patient monitoring system that’s used in some hospitals. The system uses bluetooth-enabled devices that measure things like blood pressure, weight, and blood oxygen levels in real time and shares that data with medical professionals to ensure a patient is recovering well after he or she has left the hospital. The cloud-based system has monitored more than 1,000 patients to date.

AT&T isn’t an angel fund and doesn’t invest directly in startups. Instead, the Foundry model is intended to provide AT&T’s resources (like production facilities and business model planning) in order to get more successful connected products to market faster, which can provide new revenue for AT&T in different ways. For one, anytime a product is connecting into a network, the company can monetize that connectivity. The company is also looking for great end-to-end solutions, much like its remote patient monitoring system, that can be sold under the AT&T brand.

“We really do believe that health care has a ton of opportunity to be transformed,” said Penrose. “The ability to deliver remote care involves connectivity, and that’s a great tangential area where AT&T can add great value.”

Specifically, Penrose sees more opportunity in the wearable industry, mobile personal emergency response, and continued patient monitoring.