Microsoft Corp. Chief Executive Officer Steve Ballmer paced the flight deck of the Starship Enterprise Monday morning as the keynote speaker at the opening of the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society meeting in New Orleans.
Ballmer wasnt "beamed up" to the Ernest Morial Convention Center stage, which had been dressed with colored lights and other props to look like a "Star Trek" set.
A comedian, dressed as Capt. Kirk, precluded Ballmer's use of the transporter shtick when, during the audience warm-up, he called out, "Beam me aboard, Scottie," and a short length of a two-by-four flew out of the darkness and bounced at his feet.
But Ballmer brought his own sci-fi show in the form of a futuristic video of advanced healthcare IT applications, part of "an explosion of information and an explosion of tools for consumers."
In one video vignette, a patient thumbs a flat-panel screen the size of a credit card, scrolling through several screen changes until the image of an insurance benefits card appears on its surface. The patient places the card against a blank wall at her healthcare providers office and a registration template lights up, capturing her demographic and insurance information and confirming her appointment. At home, she sets a prescription bottle on a table top and the table lights up and becomes a screen, displaying text large enough for a sight-impaired person or a patient to read the drugs name and dosage information without her glasses.
"Think about a home that evolves electronically to support healthcare needs," Ballmer said. "Your TV, your smart watch, your video gamethose will all be places where you can receive alerts to take action to help you with your healthcare."
"Healthcare is the single-largest industry in the world, and yet we dont see quite the same level of standardization in the healthcare industry that we do in the manufacturing industry," he said. "The needs of the providers simply have not been met."
Making sense of the information, not just storing and retrieving it, will be the challenge of the future, one that healthcare software developers must meet.
"All the information is going to be collected, the question is how can the software bring it all together and allow for providers and their patients to collaborate together on an outcome. The notion that every provider, hospital and health plan will be able to fund their own R&D in these areas will increasingly be a thing of the past," he said.
"It's up to the information technology industry to step up to its role to build the tools to advance healthcare to the next level."
Microsoft announced Monday the purchase of Medstory, a Forest City, Calif.-based developer of a consumer-oriented healthcare search engine. In an interview after his speech, Ballmer talked about the high-tech healthcare home appliances in his keynote video, Microsofts latest acquisition, as well as plans for its Azyxxi healthcare IT system integrator, which it bought in July. Azyxxi was developed at MedStar Health Systems Washington (D.C.) Hospital Center.
Ballmer said the table in the video with the materializing projection screen "was the least science-fiction stuff" of all the toys displayed in the video.
"The table goes to market in the next six months," he said. "We've got that running today." But the likely first applications will be in entertainment, not healthcare. "Weve got partnerships with a number of guys who make big entertainments systems for bars and casinos."
Medstory will be offered to consumers initially under its own URL and also will be woven into the search engine at MSN.com, Ballmer said. In addition, Microsoft is evaluating the Medstory technology to see if it can be adapted for use by clinicians.
Microsoft purchased Azyxxi last July. Ballmer declared the Azyxxi data access tool to be "the most exiting piece of software Ive seen in all of Microsoft" in the past year.
It gives Microsoft an entry into the hospital clinical applications market without buying a full suite of EMR products and butting heads with competitors in that market niche.
"We dont compete directly with any of those other guys," Ballmer said. "We offer something that the others dont offer. If you want to pull together labs from EMRs and other systems and provide an integrated view, I think weve got the tool, the best tool on the market."
Microsoft has long been a major provider of inpatient healthcare IT infrastructure and development platforms for outpatient EMRs targeted for office-based physicians. In a Feb. 17 conference call with Wall Street analysts, Ballmer listed a number of priorities for Microsoft looking forward and another list of opportunities for the company that could generate at least a half-billion dollars in growth in Microsofts gross profit margin. Healthcare was first mentioned on page nine of a 12-page transcript of Ballmers narrative, in a single paragraph on Azyxxi and other consumer IT products in the pipeline. It began, And last but certainly not least ...
Also, in October 2001, Microsoft announced with some fanfare the creation of a new company, Amicore, in partnership with Pfizer and IBM. Amicore would market a tablet EMR product based on a system developed by PenChart, a Connecticut company that the consortium of IT giants acquired that month. The joint venture ended with the sale of Amicore to Misys Healthcare System in 2006.
"We had a partner; they did a nice job and they didnt make it," Ballmer said.
Asked what he would say to a chief information officer about betting on a Microsoft clinical application like Azyxxi, Ballmer insists the company is in healthcare IT for the long haul.
Ballmer said hed ask CIOs, "What software vendor do you think makes the most money in the healthcare industry today? Microsoft. Youre working with us today. Were doing it at the infrastructure level, not the application level. So we have an important critical relationship with provider CIOs today. Were trying to extend on that. I dont think it is going to be a material extension of profitability for Microsoft in the next three years. Im telling (Microsoft stock analysts) that healthcare deserves to be on their radar screen. Most of our analysts would be shocked by that. And in the opposite direction; it implies a very serious commitment to healthcare."What do you think? Write us with your comments at [email protected]. Please include your name, title and hometown.