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An HIT Moment with … Steve Aylward

November 24, 2008 Interviews 1 Comment

An HIT Moment with ... is a quick interview with someone we find interesting. Steve Aylward is General Manager, Health & Life Sciences, at Microsoft.

With Medstory, HealthVault, and Amalga, Microsoft is dabbling in some seemingly disconnected technology areas that have different audiences, but without hitting the home care area that Steve Ballmer focused on in his HIMSS 2007 address. What is the company’s healthcare strategy?

Let’s address the last question first: Microsoft is committed to improving health around the world through software innovation. Our goal is to advance a vision of unifying health information. We’re working in collaboration with a wide range of health and IT leaders across provider, health plans, and life sciences organizations in both the public and commercial sectors.

In order to improve care, health, and quality of life, it’s critical that people across the healthcare system have access to the right information at the right time. Microsoft is in a unique position to accelerate that transformation through our tremendous reach, with a platform that spans from the consumer to the enterprise, and the ability to develop cost-effective technologies that others can use as a platform for further innovation.

image HealthVault and Amalga are pivotal products in our efforts to unify health information and make it readily available to the people making decisions about health — whether a family health manager, chronic disease patient, emergency department physician, researcher, or anyone else in the health system. HealthVault enables individuals to collect, store and manage their personal health information and use it with a wide range of health and wellness applications or share it with physicians to better manage a condition. Industry leaders like Aetna, Cleveland Clinic, Kaiser, and Beth Israel Deaconness are turning to HealthVault with the goal of providing patients, employees, and health plan members with the tools to improve their interactions with clinicians and their overall health and wellness. These organizations share Microsoft’s belief that putting the individual in control of their health information, and enabling them to share it, opens up new and cost-effective opportunities for improving health.

Relative to what Steve Ballmer discussed at HIMSS, when you visit www.healthvault.com you’ll see a lot of partners who have connected their applications and medical devices — many of which are used in the home. HealthVault account users can automatically collect and store data from their glucometers, blood pressure cuffs, pedometers, weight scales, and more into their HealthVault accounts. The individual can then choose to share that data with their physician, family members, or as part of an inpatient admission. This hits toward the home care area that Steve touched on at HIMSS.

Amalga helps healthcare organizations address the challenge of continuously aggregating, managing and effectively utilizing a growing amount of data from disparate sources — regardless of how many different systems the data is stored in. This enables healthcare organizations to bring together their data in one single view. Once in that single view, they can make better, more informed decisions across their clinical, financial, and administrative areas.

The bottom line is that most healthcare organizations have a sleeping infrastructure that needs to be awakened (wish I’d thought of that line myself, but I have to credit a customer). Microsoft is a large part of that infrastructure, with everything from Microsoft Office to Microsoft BizTalk Server to Microsoft SQL Server to Windows. It may not be a model most would think of first when it comes to solving healthcare issues, but we’ve taken our role of adapting horizontal software to an incredibly complex market very seriously. There are plenty of examples we can share, but I recommend that your readers visit www.microsoft.com/health for a glimpse as to what we’re doing across Provider, Health Plans, Life Sciences, and Consumer Health sectors. The video that Steve showed at HIMSS is also posted in the lower left corner.

Bad economic conditions are sure to hit healthcare providers hard with more uncompensated care and tougher lending markets. When IT costs come under the microscope, how can technology, including that provided by Microsoft, prove that it’s paying its way?

Those tough economic conditions are already here. As an industry, we are approximately less than two months behind the tsunami that the financial services markets have already experienced. Many of our healthcare provider customers are turning to us to brainstorm how IT can help them navigate through this difficult time. Those customers are seeing their overhead costs skyrocket as a result of manual, paper-based processes and manual workflows, and it’s extremely difficult for physicians to avoid costly, acute situations without all of a patient’s information at their fingertips.

The bottom line is that our customers are looking for technology solutions that drive top-line revenue, reduce costs, as well as enhance patient safety and the overall patient experience. Each of our solution areas are being defined in one of these main categories. Look at Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center. They came to us wanting to reduce ER wait time and improve the overall experience for cardiac patients in the emergency department. They implemented Microsoft Visio (along with a solution from the Orlando Software Group) and were able to lower patient abandonment by three percent, reduce the average length of an ER visit by 22 percent, and lower the time to be seen for minor emergences into the 70 percent range.

What Microsoft products or services should hospitals and other providers know about but probably don’t?

I can’t even begin to count the number of healthcare organizations who’ve deployed products that aren’t being used to their full advantage. Microsoft Office is a great example of this. Many real-world processes already are documented in Microsoft Office. The interface is familiar and what many healthcare providers use at home. So, we’ve turned Microsoft Office into an application development platform that brings the ease and familiarity of Office to more complex enterprise solutions, helping to drive adoption and acceptance. This is what we call an Office Business Application.

There are so many examples of innovative things being done with Office Business Applications or Microsoft Office, and I wish I could share them all. But here are three that might be of most interest to your readers:

The Patient Safety Screening Tool (PSST) is an Office Business Application developed by Accent on Integration (our partner) and Microsoft, and piloted at Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC) to reduce the rate of sepsis, an in-hospital acquired infection that is deadly if not caught early. The capability is designed around the Office tools (primarily Microsoft Office InfoPath, Microsoft SQL Server, and Microsoft Office SharePoint Server). For significantly less than they would have spent on professional services, VUMC has been able to prevent the deaths of several patients — in a matter of weeks rather than months or years. This tool has enormous potential to be used with other in-hospital acquired infections, such as those on Medicare’s “never events” list.

Secondly, we’ve worked to improve the patient experience by integrating Xbox and Windows Media Center with a clinical information system (CIS). This has enabled patients to use Xbox for the “fun stuff” like e-mail, IM, and gaming, but the CIS integration is key. It can enable the patient to understand more about their care team and what to expect during their stay. I know many of your readers have been skeptical of such technology uses in the past, but I think they were hung up on the inpatient e-mail capability (meaning “acute care patients, seniors, and the Luddites will never use it”). The real value of this is to better inform and educate the patient as to what to expect during their stay. It can also be of great value to family members who visit the patient and who confer with the care team.

The third example is something that we recently shared with the Microsoft Healthcare User Group involving Operational Excellence. One of the most prominent children’s hospitals in the U.S. (together with USC Consulting) has used our tools to improve the turnaround time on their lab results by 50 percent.

It’s important to note that with these applications, we’re doing similar work with Health Plans and Life Sciences organizations and moreover, we’re really taking a close look at how they connect with the entire healthcare ecosystem, including providers and patients.

Bill Gates scorned IBM back in the 90s, saying its demise was imminent because of IBM’s reliance on old, cash-cow products and outdated business methods. IBM pulled back from the brink and thrived. Now Microsoft is "the establishment" and gets that same kind of criticism from the next generation of upstarts such as Google, Apple, and open source vendors. Is there a sense of urgency to change the status quo, and if so, how?

I wasn’t at Microsoft in the 90s so it’s difficult for me to comment, but I will say this. We’ve grown now to more than 900 professionals who wake up every day focused on the need to improve healthcare around the world. That 900 includes physicians, researchers, scientists, developers, and sales and marketing professionals. We’ve put an incredible amount of energy into working with our partners and the community to create specific vertical applications on our platform for healthcare, as well as point solutions such as HealthVault and Amalga.

In my professional career, I’ve never been around people who carried such a sense of urgency to change the status quo. Probably Microsoft’s biggest strength that I’ve seen in my nearly three years here is our ability to be self-critical. We have the opportunity to take a step back and look at industry challenges, whether it’s patient safety, moving from paper to electronic records, or cutting costs that stem from inefficient processes. And we have the opportunity to really think about how our products can be used to solve these challenges. How can we work with partners to build an entirely new solution, such as the Patient Safety Screening Tool, on the Microsoft platform?

We try to be as hard on ourselves as many of your readers are. We’ll keep going after a problem or an issue until it’s solved. We want to be strategic partners to our customers. We understand their needs and we’ve brought people on board, such as physicians and researchers, who can work with us to provide even deeper insight.

Can consumerism in healthcare take hold in a down economy, and if so, how will Microsoft support it?

Even in a down economy, consumers are still demanding better care, a better patient experience, and more personal communication with their doctors. The “millenials” (those under 30) are changing the game very, very quickly. They’re coming out of school expecting technology to be there. Those same people are now entering the workforce and taking care of their parents’ health. They demand solutions that support IM, social networks, gaming, and instant access to information — from anywhere.

To stay competitive among peers, healthcare organizations need to meet these consumer demands. Microsoft is certainly playing a large role here with Windows Mobile, MSN and Messenger as examples. What we’re doing with HealthVault, for instance, is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of connecting consumers to their healthcare information. It’s the consumers’ data, and as an industry, we need to break down the barriers that have prevented them from accessing it. Everyone from vendors to providers, physicians, and payers need to come together and empower consumers to manage their data, engage with their health plans and physicians, and truly take control of their health.

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Currently there is "1 comment" on this Article:

  1. Steve: Great article. With our aging society, we need Microsoft to empower the healthcare comsumer. You have our support.


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