AT&T banking on 'smart slippers' to kick off telehealth initiatives

It's becoming almost a weekly occurrence of late: a major telecommunications company announcing plans to conquer the telehealth market. Following entrances by Verizon and Vodafone, we get word out of New Jersey that AT&T scientists have been hard at work for the past year on prototypes of future home-health products.

The Star-Ledger (Newark, N.J.) reports that one such prototype is a pair of "smart slippers," fuzzy house slippers with embedded pressure sensors to help prevent falls in elderly patients by relaying messages to a doctor in case the wearer starts walking erratically. AT&T hasn't set costs for such products and the accompanying wireless service to deliver notifications, but one analyst says that's not surprising, given the current state of the healthcare industry and telehealth technology.

"This is virgin territory in the healthcare industry when you ask how we are going to pay for it," Frost & Sullivan analyst Zachary Bujnoch tells the newspaper. "Everyone is groping blindly in the dark to figure out what business models are going to work." Medicare and most other fee-for-service health plans generally don't reimburse for such technology just yet, and not much is likely to change until there is some clinical evidence that wireless monitoring saves money and keeps people safer.

"I like to think we are progressive on these things," adds Dr. Stan Harris, senior medical director at Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey. "But AT&T needs to show us that patients wearing those slippers had fewer accidents. We need clinical trials and other research objectives to prove the technology."

For more about the potential and the questions surrounding remote home monitoring:
- take a look at this Star-Ledger story