Microsoft Surface Computing: Implications for the healthcare industry

 Surfac Computing 

Yesterday, Microsoft officially launched the first commercial product from a group and technology known as Microsoft surface computing.  The product is called Milan; a coffee-table sized PC that takes touch screen technology to entirely new levels and gives users a highly interactive experience with all things digital.  For now, you'll be seeing the technology in business environments such as hotels, casinos, and retail establishments.  You can read more about that here:

I first told you about surface computing last July when I met with colleagues at Microsoft Research to produce a video segment for my House Calls for Healthcare Professionals series.  In that video, Dr. Eric Horvitz and surface computing guru, Andy Wilson, and I talked about the technology and possible implications for the healthcare industry.  At the time Andy's work was going under the code name Play Anywhere.  My head was literally spinning with ideas on how this new user interface could be used in radiology, physical therapy, anatomical pathology, and other disciplines.  It also occurred to me that this new way to interact with a computer, manipulate screen images, and navigate through data could be immensely important to clinical work-flows demanding a more hands-free, no-touch solution such as might be desirable during surgery or certain medical procedures.

If you are a developer of solutions for the healthcare industry, or just an enthusiast of forward-looking technologies, you may want to give my video another look.  You may also want to view another video that was shot during an “In the Labs” keynote panel at the Gartner ITXpo at the Moscone Center in San Francisco.   In the video, broadcast by CNETDr. Eric Horvitz also ponders possible medical uses for surface computing.

Finally, if you take a look at another video I recently did with UCSF physician and CMIO, Dr. Michael Blum, and Motion Computing VP, Joel French, you'll catch us talking about the touch screen features found on Motion Computing's newest Tablet PCs running Windows Vista.  Put two and two together, and I think you'll begin to see where all this is going.

I would like to extend my congratulations to Andy Wilson and his fellow researchers at Microsoft Research, as well as to my colleagues in our surface computing group.  Way to go!  I can't wait to see how some of our partners in the healthcare ISV community will take advantage of surface computing in tomorrow's clinical applications.

Bill Crounse, MD       Worldwide Health Director        Microsoft Corporation


Comments (13)
  1. I’m not sure that the healthcare industry needs this security hole on their heads. How easy would it be to steal patient data, by simply doing something as naive as placing a cellphone on the table?

  2. hlthblog says:

    Microsoft surface computing is an advanced user interface design.  What the computer does or doesn’t do totally depends on the software applications that are installed. Therefore, your concerns about security in a hospital or other healthcare setting are unfounded.

    Bill Crounse, MD    

  3. Louis Spikol M.D. says:

    Bill- interesting article.  Fascinating future uses.  I am also interested in getting in touch with you personally if possible.

    Louis Spikol M.D.

    Senior Healthcare Information Technology Consultant

    Center For Health Information Technology

    610-403-3800 (office)

    610-657-6218 (mobile)

  4. hlthblog says:

    Thanks for your comment Louis, and as you know, we’ve made contact.

    Bill Crounse, MD

  5. I’ll be going into this in more depth when I get unburied in my email queue, but here’s a quote from Bill Crounse, Microsoft’s healthcare guru, about Surface Computing: Implications for the healthcare industry. I first told you about surface

  6. Tibor Duliskovich dr. says:

    Watched all three videos and while surface computing is certainly big, it is not entirely new. There are 3D positioning systems in surgery for a decade, that let surgeon interact with volumetric imaging data real time. You can move a scalpel above patient and see underlying anatomy projected onto patient. Machine vision is around for 50 years. Other devices let you manipulate data with bare hands. This product, though nicely integrated and incredibly small, is not revolutionary.

    There were two things in videos that captured my attention. One was the concept of a device doing one thing and one thing only (the Starbucks finder). It is understandable that a device that does twenty things cannot perform any of those functions at max performance or it will become too big, too expensive and impractical to use. We know that and still head the way of all-in-one devices. Convenience is an acceptable excuse in everyday life, but not in areas where lives are at risk. For healthcare we should be developing single purpose devices, that are so intuitive to use, they eliminate possibility of human errors. These devices should have clinical logic built-in to double check and even guide users. Functions that enhance each other (like a GPS in a camera to geotag photos or the C5 from Motion Computing) can and should be integrated. But unrelated functionality that gets in the way of each other, should be avoided.

    Surface computing may help, especially in the area of collaboration. This leads me to the second point – this device lets multiple users interact with it simultaneously. I understand that the operating system has to be altered to accept multiple inputs too. Still, as a new concept, this is huge! I cannot tell you how many times I had my colleagues grabbing mouse from me and arguing with me on screen. When the argument was intense we were practically fighting for the mouse – whoever had it was dominating the rest of us. This is simply how humans are, we interact not only with objects but with each other. An input device and OS that would let us do this in a natural way will be the winner. Just try and connect multiple mice, shuttles, keyboards to one PC and see what happens when several people use them at once – nothing. Currently it is not possible to use a PC that way. It does not have any logic to differentiate and prioritize multiple inputs. Enhancing input and output options (3D visual and tactile output) is going to be the next big thing.

    Just my two forints.

  7. Guest says:

    Yeah, surface computing is the last thing healthcare in this country needs

  8. hlthblog says:


    You and I should meet over coffee.  You know where to find me.

    Best always,

    Bill Crounse, MD

  9. Guest says:

    Dr. Crounse,

    thanks for the invitation, but I do not drink coffee.

    Kind regards,


  10. Eric Rock says:

    Bill, I have been following Surface since it’s inception.  As the founder of the company that introduced Touch Screen solutions to healthcare in the 90’s, I am confident that the combination of the Surface hardware and development technologies such as Windows Presentation Foundation will change the face of healthcare.

    The opportunities for collaboration, natural gesturing and object sensing will change the way computing is done in the future.  For nearly two decades, across multiple industries, we have proven that one-dimensional touch screen hardware/software can dramatically impact usability, workflows and productivity.  Multi-touch is a nice improvement, but Surface computing brings real world objects into the digital world, revolutionizing user input modalities.

    This can change healthcare, one step at a time.  I have to admit, the video presented during Steve Ballmer’s HIMSS 2007 Keynote was one of the most inspiring moments in my career.

    The video is 16:25 minutes into Ballmer’s keynote speech:  I recommend that everyone watch this more than once.

    Bill, I look forward to meeting you soon.  Will you be attending HIMSS/MS-HUG, MIX’08 or the Healthcare DevCon?

    Best regards,


  11. hlthblog says:

    I will be at HIMSS 2008 on Monday and Tuesday.  Come by our booth and say "hello".

    Bill Crounse, MD

  12. Alok Srivastava says:

    Dr. Crounse,

    I am interested in P4 Medicine and I wonder if you are working (or interested in working) on this emerging area.  P4 medicine requires the analysis of large amounts of data and its power could be unlocked far more effectively by the use of the exciting technologies you have highlighted in your videos.

    I am also excited about the potential impact that Surface can have on the delivery of healthcare in general.  

    It would be great to talk with you informally.


    Alok Srivastava, Ph.D.

  13. hlthblog says:


    Thanks for writing.   Send me a note using the e-mail link at the top of HealthBlog’s home page.  That way I can contact you by e-mail. Perhaps you can tell me a bit more about your work.

    Bill Crounse, MD

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