NEW ORLEANS, Feb. 26, 2007 – As healthcare-technology specialists prepared to gather in New Orleans for HIMSS 07 – this year’s installment of the Health Information Management and Systems Society’s annual IT conference – PressPass spoke with Peter Neupert, Microsoft corporate vice president for Health Strategy, and Steve Aylward, general manager for Microsoft’s U.S. Healthcare and Life Sciences Group, about Microsoft’s vision for the value that technology can bring to the future of healthcare.
PressPass: We hear a lot about the changing dynamics of healthcare. What role do you envision Microsoft playing in support of this industry transformation?
Peter Neupert: This is a really exciting time to be in healthcare IT as changing market dynamics have created an environment in which software is a strategic asset for the future of health.
The last decade has been a time of unprecedented innovation in biological science that puts us at the threshold of an explosion in data about how our bodies work – right down to the molecular level. The last decade has also been a time when consumers have connected themselves to a global information system – the Web – in unprecedented numbers, creating a society that has access to, and demands access to, information. This has coincided with a shift that sees consumers being pushed to the center of the healthcare system, and being asked to assume a more active role in managing their own healthcare and the healthcare of their family members. Software is critical to understanding the masses of data being generated across the spectrum of care.
At Microsoft, we have the ability to develop cost-effective technology for digital health that can mobilize data and connect people in ways that few others can. With our tremendous consumer reach, our proven software platform and our broad ecosystem of partners, we have a head start in being able to transform health through technology. People across the healthcare system need access to the right information at the right time, to make the best possible decisions and software solutions can enable that kind of transformation.
PressPass: This idea – that information technology is going to have a dramatic impact on healthcare – has been talked about for a while, but the results haven’t necessarily lived up to expectations. Why has it taken so long? And why do you think that we’ve reached a point where technology will really begin to have a significant positive impact?
Steve Aylward: One fundamental underlying issue has been that technology solutions for healthcare providers simply haven’t been as convenient, portable or reliable as traditional, paper-based charts. For healthcare professionals who work with patients in a wide variety of settings, the number one requirement is to have the patient information they need at their fingertips, instantly accessible, in an easy-to-use format. And when access to information can sometimes be a matter of life or death, no combination of hardware and software has worked as well as paper. Add to that the fact that traditional IT solutions for healthcare providers by and large haven’t delivered the kind of return on investment that justifies the expense.
Today, in the United States roughly 85 percent of healthcare providers still rely on paper-based charts for record keeping. Where information does exist in digital form, it is often stored in a proprietary system that can’t be easily accessed – a typical U.S. hospital has multiple different information systems, most of which don’t work together very well. Now there is a new generation of information technologies built by our partners on advanced software like Windows Vista and the 2007 Office system. Combined with powerful and mobile hardware, and increasingly available broadband connectivity, these technologies can make it as easy to enter patient information in digital form as it is to write it down on paper. They can also help bridge the gap between systems so patients and caregivers can access the information they need securely no matter where it is stored. This will change the way we deliver and access healthcare in profound ways.
PressPass: How would you describe Microsoft’s overarching vision for the future of healthcare?
Aylward: Microsoft is building products and services based on a concept that we call knowledge-driven healthcare. Healthcare professionals are the ultimate information workers, and Microsoft is fully committed to arming them with the right knowledge, where and when they need it so they can improve healthcare outcomes. We also want to arm consumers with the tools and information they need to make smart healthcare decisions. It’s really about connecting with the right people at the right time, allowing people to collaborate to solve problems and ultimately helping them make the best decision possible.
Neupert: Microsoft is committed to helping turn a fragmented healthcare system into an integrated and informed network of providers and consumers. At the heart of the healthcare process are people. If you are a provider we are focused on empowering you to make the best decisions about patient care. If you are an administrator, we are focused on empowering you to make the best decisions about quality measures. And if you are a consumer, we are focused on empowering you to make the best decisions about lifestyle changes.
We face a future in which the volume of health data will increase exponentially with amazing implications for the delivery of healthcare. Software solutions that manage and surface this information are critical, and are strategic to the future of the industry. Azyxxi, Microsoft’s unified health enterprise platform solution (UHEP), is a great example of this, aggregating information in real-time from across the hundreds of systems installed across an organization. This level of insight enables informed decisions and effectively saves lives. The industry has recognized the potential of technology to transform healthcare. It now falls upon us collectively to realize that potential for improved health.
PressPass: It sounds like information access and control is central to your vision.
Neupert: That’s right. With the availability of so much more data – with so many different data types being aggregated in so many different ways – the key will be to provide software and tools that will enable consumers and healthcare providers to manage all that information in ways that actually deliver tangible benefits. There is no shortage of information, whether we’re talking about a healthcare provider managing patient notes, lab reports, X-rays or reports from other specialists; or whether we’re talking about consumers managing their immunization and vaccine records, disease histories, medication lists, and health and fitness goals.
Microsoft believes that information technology can positively impact the way healthcare is delivered and we’re working hard to build and deliver solutions that empower organizations, physicians and consumers. We also provide a technology platform for partners to enable them to deliver solutions that bring real value to providers and patients.
PressPass: Steve, you mentioned Windows Vista and the 2007 Office system. How do they fit in?
Aylward: These new versions of Windows and Office, along with Exchange Server 2007, will have an impact on healthcare in a four specific areas. Because they can help streamline the collection of data and eliminate the barriers between clinical systems, they will play a significant role in making information easily and instantly accessible to providers, patients and even people working for pharmaceutical companies. In terms of mobility, few information-centric professions require practitioners to be as mobile as healthcare, and Windows, Office and Exchange will help caregivers access the information they need whether they are at a patient’s bedside, in the exam room or out in the field responding to an emergency.
They’ll also change the way people communicate and collaborate around healthcare. This is critical because communication between patients and caregivers, and between the healthcare professionals who play a role in diagnosing and treating a patient, is the foundation for successful healthcare. Windows, Office and Exchange deliver communications capabilities that can make it much easier to manage and control all forms of communication, and they provide new collaboration features that will transform the way physicians share information and work in teams.
Protecting patient privacy is also a critical imperative, and these three products will enable healthcare organization to improve patient information protection and enhance security through features like User Account Control, which limits access by unauthorized users and applications, and hard-drive encryption that prevents sensitive patient data from falling into the wrong hands, even if the hardware it resides on is lost or stolen.
PressPass: Can you provide some examples that illustrate how Microsoft technology is making a difference today?
Aylward: One is Menninger Clinic in Houston, where a centralized clinical information system built on Office SharePoint 2007 and Office InfoPath 2007 has reduced paperwork by nearly 25 percent. It also helps Menninger comply with HIPAA privacy rules. Another example is Clarian Health, which serves more than 1 million patients a year in the Indianapolis area. Clarian’s IT group built a policies and procedures management system to manage the organization’s hundreds of business guidelines for employees. Based on Office SharePoint 2007, the new system has boosted employees’ ability to create reports on their own by 80 percent, increased policy and procedure creation by 50 percent, and reduced IT and patient costs.
PressPass: At HIMSS, you’re announcing Microsoft’s acquisition of Medstory. Can you provide some background on Medstory?
Neupert: As consumers are asked to take more responsibility for their healthcare decisions, they need to access and manage personal health information like their medications, disease history and vaccine records, and they need to be able to do their own research into disease and wellness. A recent study found that 10 million U.S. adults go online for health information every day. That same survey found that 22 percent of adults are frustrated by a lack of information or by their inability to find what they were looking for. This tells us there’s room for improvement.
Microsoft today announced that it has agreed to acquire Medstory, a vertical health search engine that can be layered on top of a general search engine to provide intelligent query refinement “guides.” Unlike most of search engines that display results based on link popularity, Medstory’s results use intuitive search technology that provides pre-qualified results. This approach helps users refine and better target their searches, and it delivers result that are better organized and more relevant.
PressPass: How does Medstory fit into the overall Microsoft healthcare equation?
Neupert: Consumers need better support as they increasingly have to make decisions about the healthcare and well-being of their families. Despite the many things consumers can do online – from booking airplane tickets to making a service appointment for their car to watching a movie – they still don’t have one-stop access to complete and reliable information about their medical and wellness needs. Medstory’s technology-capabilities help address this information gap.
This acquisition is one of the first building blocks of our consumer health strategy, aimed at helping people live longer, better lives.
PressPass: At HIMSS, you are also announcing a reference architecture for the Connected Health Framework. Why is this announcement important?
Aylward: Microsoft first unveiled the Connected Health Framework a year ago as part of our initiative to provide healthcare organizations with a free and extensible foundation to simplify today’s healthcare delivery model, which has become increasingly overburdened and fragmented. Today, for the first time, we’re launching a complete reference architecture and downloadable code – an accelerator of sorts – that is freely available for healthcare organizations to use with Microsoft technology or legacy systems.
This Connected Health Framework is important because service-oriented architectures are key to breaking down the barriers between the information systems used by providers, health plans and life sciences firms. With this reference architecture, the Framework can help providers quickly create solutions that make this kind of empowerment possible without the need for expensive, lengthy or complicated consulting engagements. This is essential if we want to empower employees with the right information at the right time, and empower consumers to take control of their own healthcare experiences.
Recently, a CIO of a major health system told me that his goal is to make his institution the provider of choice for patients at home. The Connected Health Framework is an example of the continuing and expanding investments being made by Microsoft in healthcare. CHF is a platform that enables providers and health plans to securely collaborate with patients at home as well as with physicians where ever they’re working. CHF delivers on the promise of extracting data from the myriad of systems that exist in today’s complex provider environment and it presents that data to patients and physicians in a common, easy-to-read and familiar format regardless of the device used to view the data.