Unified Communications: The Next BIG Thing in Healthcare

In previous Blog entries and on my House Calls audio-cast series, I’ve highlighted healthcare customers who are doing some outstanding work using Microsoft and Microsoft partner solutions to build portals that make key performance indicators, quality standards, and price standards more transparent.  These same solutions are being used to automate clinical and business work-flow processes, manage documents, and generally improve collaboration across the enterprise. Today, I want to focus on what I see as the next really big opportunity in healthcare; Unified Communication

Healthcare is a communication intensive business.  Good communication has a profound effect on the quality and safety of patient care.  Communication also has a huge bearing on patient satisfaction.  Yet historically, the options for how we communicate with each other in the healthcare industry have been somewhat limited.  We are hampered by an industry that has far too long relied on old fashioned telephone, paging, fax, and mail (both postal and interoffice); not exactly the most contemporary communication infrastructure.  

Today’s progressive businesses use a wide variety of tools and technologies to facilitate communication.  Communication can be synchronous or asynchronous depending on the urgency or context of the message.  Information can be relayed and exchanged by instant message, e-mail, telephone (including voice over IP), audio conferencing, or video conferencing.   In addition, the concept of “presence” in communication technologies now allows us to know ahead of time if someone is available to receive a message or take a call.  It also lets us set up rules on how, when, where, and on what devices we want to be contacted.

So let’s extend all that into the typical healthcare setting.  No longer am I restricted to the telephone for communicating with colleagues or patients.  Depending on the nature of the message, where I am and what I’m doing, I can decide to use either a synchronous or asynchronous mode of communication.  No more waiting on hold or playing phone tag on the telephone.  Furthermore, as communication technology converges to the computer and is increasingly facilitated by the Net, my choice of device is no longer restricted either.  My office telephone, Smartphone, Pocket-PC, laptop, Tablet-PC or desktop PC will all be able to do the job for me whether it’s an instant message, e-mail, voice, or  video communication that is required.  This technology will also have a profound effect on the way we conduct meetings and do training in the future.  The use of multi-media web conferencing and interactive e-learning technologies will absolutely explode in healthcare as we increasingly communicate electronically in the office and at home for grand rounds presentations, staff training, patient education, and more.  Finally, advances in speech recognition and the incorporation of speech recognition technology into unified communications, will open up new vistas for securely accessing patient information and relaying clinical orders.

I’m not going to spill the beans on everything that is yet to come.  But if you work in healthcare, or you are an industry vendor building communication and collaboration solutions for the healthcare industry, the future is blazingly bright.

Bill Crounse, M.D.       Worldwide Health Director                Microsoft  

Comments (9)
  1. Renee Salmen says:

    I agree!  Great article.  

    There’s  Yugma, a web colloraboration tool perfect for the Health Industry.

    I’m Renee’ from Yugma (pronounced “yoog-ma”; Sanskrit word meaning "together").  Yugma is truly a interactive web collaboration service.  You get real time desktop sharing, annotation, whiteboarding, change presenters, and it works great on both Mac and Windows (Linux coming soon).  

    Considering the high cost of many solutions, Yugma will be a great alternative for many people around the world.    

    Try a demo and you will see.

    All the best,



  2. hlthblog says:

    While I personally hope readers will want to use Microsoft Live Meeting 🙂 for secure and enterprise-ready web conferencing, I’m encouraged by the number of hits on this topic.  The future for unified communication technologies in the provision health information and certain kinds of medical services to consumers/patients wherever they might be, not to mention its use for training and e-learning, is astounding.  Thanks for weighing in.

    Bill Crounse, MD  

  3. chiro says:

    Very important article, Dr. Crounse.

    Communication isn’t the only thing, it is everything. This is especially true in the health field, where life and death, sickness and health, can be contingent on communication or lack of it. Whether it is the emergency room of a hospital, or a simple patient encounter in the office, communication is paramount.

  4. lunakizz says:

    Very important article, Dr. Crounse.

    And I just confused now!

  5. Reason # 6,384,289,121 to work at Microsoft: our healthcare includes free home visits by a doctor . We

  6. HealthBlog says:

    Ten years ago I co-founded a company with the aim to provide web-based medical information, secure messaging

  7. Dear Dr. Crounse, thank you for this glimpse into future. Communication is indeed very important, especially in healthcare, but there are two factors that detrimentally affect it – lack of standards and legal issues. Let me start with the later one – I believe there always be legal restrictions what can and cannot be done across the borders, what kind of service can be provided. This boils down to medical liability. So teleradiology, consultations, remote services will be restricted not due to technology, but due to legal framework. The technology also has its own problems – lack of globally agreed standards. To maintain contact with my professional network I have to run five different IM clients on my PC, all with slightly different functionality. Not only this is a nightmare for IT support, but it clearly is not acceptable in clinical environment. Many of these clients can be launched from multiple machines simultaneously, so you never know where your messages go, who sees them, why the user is not answering a call when he seemingly is on line, etc. I wish there was one common standard that all IMs support by default. Please do something about it!

  8. hlthblog says:


    Thanks so much for sharing your wisdom.  You are correct, most of the issues holding back wider adoption of unified communications technologies in health and healthcare are related to regulatory compliance issues and reimbursement issues rather than technology.  Yes, there are still issues around proprietary communication standards but things are moving in the right direction.  Our Office Communicator and MSN messenger show on-line presence from other on-line messaging systems.  I believe this trend will continue.

    Bill Crounse, MD

  9. HealthBlog says:

    If you search the term "unified communications" on this Blog, you’ll see that it is a frequent topic.

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