Opportunity abounds in healthcare, says Microsoft Chief Ballmer

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Steve Ballmer, CEO of Microsoft Corp., presented HIMSS 2007’s opening Keynote Address, “Realizing the Innovation Opportunity,” this morning in New Orleans. The company has been involved in the healthcare industry for about 10 years and has 600 employees dedicated to the industry. The healthcare industry is too big and complex not to have dedicated staff, he said.

Healthcare is the largest segment of the world’s economy, Ballmer said, and information is playing an increasingly large role. “We have an opportunity to make an incredible difference in the quality of health,” he said. “Healthcare has yet to be fully scratched by information technologies.”

Ballmer showed the audience a video portraying healthcare in the future, from futuristic online communications to touch-screen displays at the bedside to medication containers that can display information. Ballmer said providers will be required to get patients more involved in the future. “There’s been an explosion in the amount of data available and an explosion in the interest and opportunity for patients to be involved in their own healthcare.”

Information technology is the only way to manage data, Ballmer said. Most people already go online to research conditions, fill out forms, and interact with other people who have already gone through a similar experience. That will only increase, he said. Meanwhile, providers and researchers will need to manage the increasing amount of clinical data that will become available through imaging technologies, mapping of the human genome and more developments.

“There is only one path to deal with that — automation,” said Ballmer. “We need IT to use the data but not have to confront every detail. We need technology to filter through the data and make sense of it. There’s a framework of opportunity to really allow people to deliver better healthcare outcomes and do it in a way that’s increasingly cost effective.”

At this point, the depth and level of understanding of the needs of providers haven’t been met. Ballmer said. They need robust, general purpose tools. “Software is the strategic asset needed to bridge the gap.” Ballmer said that software already has helped people in other industries make informed decisions.

Ballmer showed a video about the LSU Healthcare Network, a network of more than 300 medical faculty members in southeastern Louisiana. Before the hurricanes in 2005, there was little impetus to move from paper medical records to an electronic system. However, the flooding from the storms made the need very clear. One of the faculty members in the video said it was frustrating not to have any data from procedures that were performed just weeks or months before Katrina. The network members want to offer state-of-the-art healthcare and hope that they are building a better healthcare system for the future with the EHR system currently being implemented by Microsoft, Dell and Allscripts.

Ballmer said software can connect systems, drive informed decisions, and improve collaboration. The drive to better HIT requires both policy and partnership. The Continuity of Care record, HL7, XML and other standards are all needed.

Microsoft is displaying its Connected Health Framework during HIMSS07. The framework is a set of tools to facilities interoperable systems, Ballmer said. The company has developed a similar system for other industries. The framework includes a reference architecture designed to document best practices for integrating healthcare systems.

“We’ve only scratched the surface of what’s possible,” Ballmer said as he encouraged the HIMSS07 attendees to “boldly go where no one has gone before.”