Microsoft

Screen Shot 2014-08-11 at 9.43.45 AMHealthcare is very different from most other industries. It is fragmented, conservative, highly regulated, and hierarchical. It doesn’t follow most of the usual business rules around supply and demand or consumerism. An important aspect of my role at Microsoft is helping my colleagues at the company understand the many ways that healthcare is different from other “businesses”.

Having said that, there are a lot of things that healthcare could learn from a company like Microsoft or other technology companies. When someone asks me what it’s like to work at Microsoft, I often say what someone told me when I started at the company 13 years ago. Microsoft is like a global colony of ants, working independently and yet together but always “neurally” connected by enabling technologies. At any given moment, I can be connected to any one of my 100,000 fellow workers or tens of thousands of partners with just a couple of clicks or taps on a screen. I have tools that show me who’s available, what they do, what they know, and where they are. I can engage in synchronous or asynchronous communication and collaboration activities with a single member or multiple members of my team using messaging, email, voice, video or multi-party web conferencing. We can use business analytics tools, exchange information, review documents, co-author presentations, and collaborate with our customers and partners anywhere in the world from anywhere we might be. Our business moves, and changes, at the speed of light. It is the rhythm of the industry.

I sometimes wake up in the morning and think, “If only my clinical colleagues could avail themselves of similar tools and technologies how different could healthcare be?” I’ve been using information communications technologies in my daily work for so long that I almost take for granted that this is the way work is done. But I also know that in the real world of healthcare the journey is still quite different. That hit home again last week when I asked my mother’s family doctor for a copy of a report on an imaging study he had ordered. It took five phone calls to make something happen and my only choice was to receive the report via fax machine. Fax machine, really?

Continue reading “What Healthcare Could Learn From a Technology Company”

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In the past century, medicine has gone from a largely unscientific trade where noxious drugs were given to patients to purge them of unknown toxins to a science where we have the technology to decode the human genome and peer into the deepest recesses of our anatomy non-invasively.  We have learned so much and generated massive amounts of data relevant to the understanding and care of the human body.

Globally, we spend enormous sums on healthcare, but we are not necessarily getting any healthier.  In 2012, U.S. healthcare spending was $2.8 trillion, or roughly 18% of GDP[1].  Compare this with the global average of 10.2%, the EU at 10.1% or The Netherlands, the developed country with the second highest per capita spending of 12.4%. Despite the scientific advances and extraordinary spending, access to the best, most effective care is far from ubiquitous.

Healthcare, like any other industry, is driven by motivators. While government and regulatory pressures drive many behaviors in medicine, financial considerations are also important drivers  When healthcare reimbursement works on a fee-for-service system in which providers are compensated for each service they provide, the incentives do not necessarily  promote the most efficient and cost-effective options. Rather, the incentives encourage the delivery of “more” healthcare. But we don’t necessarily need “more” – we need “smarter.” More adds costs. Smarter solves problems.

Continue reading “Microsoft Ventures Tel Aviv Is Looking For Startups”

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As we look back over the past year and some of the amazing medical breakthroughs like wearable robotic devices, genomic sequencing and treatments like renal denervation that are improving people’s lives, it bears reflection on what else we could be doing better. Our world has changed more in the past century than in thousands of years of human history. We not only know more about our biology than ever before, but science and technology are unlocking the secrets of the very building blocks of our health. Somehow, in the midst of this incredible innovation, we’ve gotten fat, and not just a little. The result? Alarming rates of obesity and related chronic disease that threaten to crush us physically and financially.

But is it technology’s fault that we’ve become fat? A recent study by the Milken Institute that tied the amount an industrialized country spends on information and communication technologies directly to the obesity rates of its populations thinks so.

Most of us are guilty of a little overindulgence around the holidays but for many, overindulgence is a normal way of life. As economies transition to more sedentary, the physical movement that burned calories and kept us fit simply does not occur. Our lifestyles compound the issue — dual-income homes rely on the convenience of packaged meals, and our leisure activities have shifted to heavy “screen time” with movies, games and social media.

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While the evolution of the digital health ecosystem has seemed at times almost painfully contrived, it now appears to have reached the point where it requires but a few sprinkles of magic fairy dust to be truly alive.

The basic idea behind digital health is pretty clear: we can (and must) do health better, and technology should be able to help,

There’s also an ever-increasing amount of support for early-stage innovators in this space. A remarkably large number of digital health incubators have sprung up around the country, as Lisa Suennen captured with characteristic verve in a recent Venture Valkyrie post.

On top of this, a slew of corporate VCs have now emerged – many from payors, but some from communication companies, and even a few from big pharmas such as Merck – all keen to invest strategically in the digital health space.

Deliberately, many of these large corporations also represent likely buyers for the products or services that will be produced, so it really does seem like an example of the savvy external sourcing of innovation.

So we’re good, then – right?

Well, not so fast.

It turns out that many high profile VCs continue to eschew this space, other than perhaps an occasional investment or two. The reason? As one extremely well-regarded VC – with extensive healthcare experience – told me yesterday, “I haven’t seen a viable business model yet.”

Translation: how do you make (serious) money here? Where’s the revenue?

Continue reading “Digital Health: Almost a Real, Live Business”

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Who am I? Why am I here?  Does it really matter anyway?  Bestselling business author and corporate historian Jim Collins(“From Good to Great”, “Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies ”) has made a career by asking executives unused to such introspective philosophical questions to stop and think about the fundamental assumptions at work in their businesses.  Collins has found that the most successful companies (think GoogleAppleMicrosoft, probably notFacebook) learn to ask the key questions that keep them focused on what they’re supposed to be doing and teach them to avoid making the mistakes that cause lesser, more mortal companies to trip up over their own feet.  Not long ago THCB was on hand to catch Collins and bestselling author (“Getting Things Done”) David Allen speak at an exclusive invitation-only healthcare forum hosted by the Denver-based Breakaway group. In this interview, Breakaway group CEO Charles Fred talks with THCB founder Matthew Holt about his organization’s innovative and very successful approach to teaching healthcare professionals to work with new technologies.

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Health system CEOs would be well advised to study what newspaper industry leaders did (or perhaps more appropriately, didn’t do) when faced with a dramatic industry change. Turn back the clock 15 years and the following dynamics were present:

  • Newspaper leaders knew full well that dramatic change was underway and even made some tactical investments. However they didn’t fundamentally rethink their model.
  • Newspapers were comfortable as monopoly or oligopoly businesses allowing for plodding decisions. Their IT infrastructure mirrored the plodding pace with expensive and rigid technology architectures.
  • Newspaper companies bought up other newspaper chains and took on huge debt.
  • Owning printing presses was a de facto barrier to entry allowing newspapers unfettered dominance.
  • Depending on one’s perspective, it was the best of times or the worst of times to be a leader of local media enterprise.

Before they knew it, owning massive capital assets and the accompanying crushing debt became unsustainable. The capital barrier to entry transformed into a boat anchor while nimble competition dismissed as ankle-biters created a death-by-a-thousand-paper-cuts dynamic. Competitively, newspaper companies worried only about other media companies or even Microsoft, but their undoing was driven by a combination of craigslist, monster.com, cars.com, eBay, and countless other marketing substitutes for their advertisers. In addition, there were easier ways to get news than newspapers. Generally, the newspaper’s digital groups were either marginalized or unbearably shackled so that the encumbered digital leaders left to join more aggressive competitors. The enabling technology to reinvent local media didn’t come from legacy IT vendors who’d long sold to newspaper companies, but from “no name” technologies such as WordPress, Drupal and the like.

Continue reading “The Creative Destruction of the News Business and Other Weird Stories”

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Today, GE and Microsoft announced a joint venture (JV) that will lead to the formation of a new company (NewCo) targeting the clinical healthcare market sector. The NewCo will be located near Microsoft HQ in Redmond, WA, start with roughly 700 employees and combine the remaining Microsoft clinical products, Amalga UIS and the former Sentillion products Vergence and expreSSO with GE’s eHealth and Qualibria suite. NewCo’s new CEO will be GE’s Michael Simpson, who has been heading up the combined Qualibria-eHealth group since earlier this year after a re-org at GE. Along with this announcement, Microsoft’s Health Solutions Group (HSG) leader, Peter Neupert stated that he’ll be retiring.

Combine the above announcement with Microsoft’s long anticipated sale of Amalga HIS, which went to Orion Health in October, and you are left with Microsoft completely pulling out of the clinical market. Sure, they’ll claim to be still in healthcare by directly selling their horizontal products (e.g., SharePoint, MS Office, various server products, etc.) into this sector and having a stake in this JV, but it is also exceedingly clear that Microsoft will no longer have any direct involvement in this market, that will be left to GE. That being said, Microsoft did state that they’ll hang onto HealthVault, but even here, that is more likely a by-product of no one wanting to take on HealthVault rather than Microsoft’s strong desire to continue to try and build a viable, revenue generating entity out of it. Do not be too surprised if, in a year’s time, HealthVault falls to the wayside much like Google Health did this year.

Continue reading “Microsoft Bows Out of the Clinical Market”

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Microsoft and GE Healthcare announced a joint venture yesterday (as-yet unnamed), trumpeted as bringing together the best of both companies’ offerings in the health care provider market. (More from the NY Times.) Late in the day, I spoke with Brandon Savage, Chief Medical Officer at GE Healthcare, and Nate McLemore, General Manager of Microsoft Health Solutions Group.  They had a great deal to say about the companies’ shared vision of the use of platform technology to enable care teams to deliver the right decision at the right time, noting that their core products complement each other rather than overlap.

The centerpiece of the collaboration will be an amalgamation (so to speak) of the two companies’ strengths around Amalga (the Microsoft product) and Qualibria (the GE product). Brandon and Nate described the challenges facing these products thus: Qualibria needs to be able to pull in data from multiple sources better (Microsoft can help), and Amalga needs to be able to share best practices across sites better (GE can help).

Put another way (to quote John Moore at Chilmark Research), Amalga is “more a toolset than a product.” McLemore acknowledged that provider organizations need to make a substantial investment in customization in order to realize benefits from using Amalga, and noted that one of the keys to the synergy with GE is that GE can build the applications needed to unlock the value from Amalga for customers who can’t or won’t do it themselves.  While there have been some providers that have walked away from Amalga, there are some notable success stories (e.g. New York Presbyterian’s dramatic reduction in DVT thanks to information extracted and interventions facilitated by Amalga’s analytical tools).  (We should note that there a number of products that carry or have carried the Amalga brand; one of them, Amalga HIS, was sold to Orion Health in a deal that should close soon.)

Continue reading “Microsoft GE Healthcare Joint Venture – A Sign of Weakness or Strength?”

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Health care is in the process of getting itself computerized. Fashionably late to the party, health care is making a big entrance into the information age, because health care is well positioned to become a big player in the ongoing Big Data game. In case you haven’t noticed computerized health care, which used to be the realm of obscure and mostly small companies, is now attracting interest from household names such as IBM, Google, AT&T, Verizon and Microsoft, just to name a few. The amount and quality of Big Data that health care can bring to the table is tremendous and it complements the business activities of many large technology players. We all know about paper charts currently being transformed via electronic medical records to computerized data, but what exactly is Big Data? Is it lots and lots of data? Yes, but that’s not all it is. Continue reading “The Rise of Big Data”

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Microsoft’s Health Solutions Group (HSG), which has straddled the fence with consumer-facing (HealthVault) and corporate-facing (Amalga), is increasingly moving to the corporate side of the fence. Not that surprising considering that the consumer market continues to struggle (Google Health is in virtual mothball state, consumer adoption of HealthVault is nothing to write home about) and that HSG has now moved out of R&D and is now under the business solutions group, Dynamics. At the end of the day, HSG head Peter Neupert has to show that he can deliver the goods and Amalga is the horse he’s betting on (Note: Sentillion is there as well, but think of Sentillion as the gate-keeper to accessing Amalga).

Yet Amalga has gone through its share of birthing pains with some in the industry beginning to question its value.

Amalga has suffered from two significant problems, both inter-related. The first is that Amalga is an extremely powerful set of data aggregation and analytical tools, but it is more of a toolset then a product and this leads to long implementation time-frames and subsequently an inability to extract value quickly (ROI for Amalga is measured in years). For example, in 2009 Golden Living signed on to adopt Amalga and HealthVault. At last week’s Connected Health Conference, (CHC) Golden Living presented some remarkable results of how they are transforming long-term care through the use of Amalga. But in their presentation, Golden Living also stated that they knew full well when signing on to Amalga that this was going to be a multi-year effort and their implementation team has been given 5 years to put Amalga in place. Five years to fully implement a software solution is a very long-time and similar to the installs of the largest EHR systems. Unfortunately, many early Amalga customers did not have the foresight of Golden Living. In recent conversations with Microsoft, Chilmark has been told that significant resources are now being dedicated to improving time to value for Amalga. We’ll have to wait and see as the CHC sessions we attended on Amalga and HealthVault Community Connect, did not make this readily apparent. Continue reading “Microsoft HSG Bets Future on Amalga”

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Masthead

Matthew Holt
Founder & Publisher

John Irvine
Executive Editor

Jonathan Halvorson
Editor

Alex Epstein
Director of Digital Media

Munia Mitra, MD
Chief Medical Officer

Vikram Khanna
Editor-At-Large, Wellness

Joe Flower
Contributing Editor

Michael Millenson
Contributing Editor

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