Today I am writing from Banff, Alberta, Canada. I'm here to keynote at the Wireless Connections 2007 conference at the beautiful Fairmont Banff Springs Resort. There is a dusting of fresh snow on the ground as I peer outside the window of my room looking directly over the Bow River Valley. Can ski season be far behind?
Inside the hotel, the staff is busy putting up Christmas decorations. I came across a crew placing a star on top of a really large tree that adorns the hotel's Rundle Hall. It struck me that "reaching for the stars" was an appropriate theme for this conference and today's HealthBlog entry.
There are now 3 billion cellular subscribers in the world and 2.7 billion handsets. Some of the fastest growing markets lie overseas. India is signing up 200,000 new subscribers every day. New technology called HPSA (high speed packet access) will bring blazingly fast connections to enable every broadband service you can imagine including full motion video on your mobile device. I say mobile device because these things aren't just cell phones anymore. They are becoming every bit as powerful as our computers and in many ways more functional. Much of this is being driven by the so-called "digital native" generation; young people who know nothing other than being constantly connected and always available. The rest of us are mere "digital emigrants" remembering a time when sending mail meant something quite different that it does today.
All of this has huge implications for the healthcare industry. I've written before about the power of Unified Communications and how commodity software will enable personalized tele-medicine and tele-health applications that would have been unimaginable just a decade ago. Here at the conference there are a number of old and new companies focusing on wireless applications and services for the healthcare industry. Examples include Intelliview, TELUS, Rogers Communications, InnoTraction, Capital Health, St. Jude Medical, and Dynastream Innovations. Not attending this conference, but a growing presence in this space is HealthPhone; a company offering highly mobile data capture solutions for healthcare providers who call on assisted living centers and nursing homes. HealthPhone also has a number of health and wellness services aimed at the consumer market.
Where is all this going? In the same way that young people increasingly experience the world through social networking channels (check out the new Zune by the way), service industries are reaching for technologies that will seamlessly connect them to new virtual markets. Healthcare is no exception. In fact, the opportunities here may be even greater than those of other industries considering the vast sums of money being spent by consumers, employers, and governments on healthcare delivery and wellness. Perhaps it is just coincidence that I received e-mail notification today from our Employee Benefits Group that a pilot between Microsoft and a well known Seattle healthcare delivery system is being expanded and that our healthcare insurer will start paying for "virtual visits" between Microsoft employees and their personal physicians.
If you are a member of a healthcare provider organization or a hospital or even a private practitioner, it is time to start reaching for the stars and thinking about healthcare delivery in entirely new ways. Surely your competition is laying those plans. And I don't just mean competition in your own back yard, but competition from places like Singapore, India, South Korea, Mexico and Thailand. And you better believe that the mobile device in your pocket, and healthcare services built around that device, will be taking on an ever greater presence in healthcare delivery.
Bill Crounse, MD Worldwide Health Director Microsoft Corporation