Speaking of healthcare data, is Microsoft the elephant in the room?

In a previous blog I discussed the need for a uniformed data structure in healthcare. The concept got me thinking about how to accomplish such a monumental task, and make no mistake, it would be a monumental task. There aren’t many “people” out there that could develop the hardware and software infrastructure solid enough to handle the needs of the complex data stream coming out of the healthcare industry.

Then I noticed a trend at a lot of the web sites that I frequent: Microsoft has slowly, and quietly, been positioning itself to jump into the healthcare market.

Consider the following:

  • Microsoft has been plowing forward with their cloud and Software-as-a-Service model: Azure Platform, Office Live, etc.
  • Microsoft is offering American scientific researchers free access to their new Window’s Azure platform. This should allow centralized data collection for scientists to collaborate on research projects.
  • HealthVault is one of the key players in the personal healthcare record (PHR) race. Google Health is the other big boy on the block. Sure, there are other players in the game, but even they recognize the need to acknowledge the dominance of Microsoft and Google.
  • Microsoft announced HealthVault Community Connect, which is designed to help hospitals and patients control the flow of data stored in multiple systems.
  • The Cleveland Clinic and Microsoft partnered to use HealthVault with the hospitals EMR to track patients with chronic conditions.
  • EHR vendors are starting to get on board with the Microsoft platform.
  • Microsoft already offers a health information system, i.e. Amalga Hospital Information System. Why isn’t anyone talking about it?
  • Take a look at some of Microsoft’s activity at HIMSS 10.
  • Microsoft Surface – what a great tool for physician interaction with patients.

  • Mobility – at the moment, the only real player in the tablet computer game is Microsoft. I’m encouraged by the iPad and the Adam, but for now there is only Microsoft and Windows XP tablet, Vista and Windows 7. Microsoft will have to do a better job with their smartphone platform, but take notice that they continue to push forward with the concept even though they’re getting trounced by the iPhone and Android devices.
  • Microsoft and Philips are collaborating to build clinical decision support tools (CDST).
  • Microsoft is already entrenched in numerous healthcare systems across the country, perhaps the world, as an enterprise partner. Windows is still the dominant operating system found on desktop computers in hospitals, and how many millions of healthcare providers already use a Microsoft productivity application, i.e. MS Office, Exchange Server, MS Outlook, MS SQL Server, so on and so forth. This gives Microsoft an extensive user base from which to build an incredibly integrated system.

Further consider that software like our pharmacy information system (PhIS) and BCMA system from Siemens is built on the .NET framework using Visual Basic.NET. Yep, another Microsoft product. How long do you think it will be before other vendors begin partnering with Microsoft to develop and integrate products that will work in the healthcare arena? I’m betting not long.

I’d love to spend a few days in Redmond running around playing with all their toys. I can’t imagine the research and development that goes on behind those walls, but it must be pretty cool. I’m sure we only see a fraction of what they’re working on.

Microsoft may be aging and their bite may not be as vicious as it used to be, but they are still an 800 pound gorilla in the the software industry. And what can an 800 pound gorilla do? You got it, anything it wants.

4 thoughts on “Speaking of healthcare data, is Microsoft the elephant in the room?”

  1. Hi Jerry,
    There is also the partnership between the UK’s NHS and Microsoft for NHS branded Office suite and initiation of the NHS Common User Interface work a number of years ago to develop a common look and feel for NHS clinical applications – http://bit.ly/cgPcSm.
    Also note the non-NHS Microsoft Health Common User Interface – design guidance and toolkit controls for developers – http://bit.ly/ddd3cg. The latest work involved display for medication administration and ‘search & prescribe’. The design docs I’ve see have been very good.
    Regards
    Heather

  2. That’s fantastic information, thanks Heather. I played with the search and prescribe for a big, very nice. It just makes me more confident that Microsoft will be a major player sooner rather than later. I think they need another pharmacist on that development team, and I think I might know one. ;-)

    As usual, the information you share with me is awesome.
    Jerry

  3. It really seems like the entire field is wide open and just waiting for some major players to come along and revolutionize the entire process. As for pushing data around, there are systems that definitely do that. Health care is such a beast to deal with, it’s going to take a lot to standardize the exchange of data, but it can be done. Just don’t let the standards bodies get involved, that’ll mean decades of arguing.

  4. Rob, you’re absolutely right about the standards bodies. They do good things and are necessary but are slow and political. And the attendees/voters in standards bodies are not necessarily those who are the domain experts, eg political representatives from a national stds body.
    I’m also increasingly aware that people come along to standards groups with a ‘good idea’ but not necessarily something that is worked up and ready for implementation. So the standards process is actually defining the idea and working out if it is possible. I am disappointed that this can chew up resources for years.
    It is another reason why openEHR is attractive to me – open source, large international community, implementation based. The domain experts are contributing this continuously. ISO 13606 EHR extract standard is what openEHR was approx 5 years ago – 13606 stopped development as it entered the ISO standards process but openEHR keeps moving on, improving and evolving in a much more agile way. Finally ISO 13606′ 5 parts have only just been published thru ISO, but in practice openEHR is becoming the implementation path adopted by national bodies who are mandated by EU policy to implement ISO13606 eg Sweden. So, you can consider that openEHR is traveling in parallel to the standards world, if you like, feeding it’s technology back into the formal standards process, but managing to keep on evolving.

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