Crossing the chasm to digital health with unified communications


More than two decades ago I recall visiting a prominent upscale department store that was located in the town where I did my medical training.  I was there to buy a gift for my wife’s birthday.  It was the most elegant store in the city with only the finest quality merchandise.  I found what I wanted and made the purchase.  To my surprise, the store clerk made a record of the transaction on a carbon-paper receipt.  With pen in hand, he laboriously wrote down my name and address, a detailed description of the item, the price and sales tax, my phone number and more.  Keep in mind that even two decades ago most retailers had long given up such practices.  I guess this particular store thought that the manual, hand written receipt somehow set them apart from their competitors.  Perhaps they thought that the the old-fashioned paper receipt was quaint   Perhaps they believed it added a special, personal touch to the transaction.  But at the time I remember thinking  that they probably wouldn’t be in business too much longer.  Needless say, the store closed not too long after that.

IMG_0446 In my e-mail today were several new reports on the dismal uptake of electronic records by American physicians.  Having practiced medicine for almost 20 years, I sympathize with my colleagues.  EMR solutions are expensive; more expensive then they ought to be.  Most EMR systems aren’t all that easy to use.  There is a learning curve and some initial lost productivity which may or may not be made up on the back end.  Most of the devices (computers) that are used to capture clinical data weren’t really designed for the highly mobile, always-on, somewhat messy world of healthcare.  They were designed to be used in offices, at a desk, or while standing in a particular place.  They sometimes don’t work very well in unplugged, disconnected environments.  They certainly aren’t friendly to workflows that require lots and lots of data input.  None-the-less, computers and electronic records can add value by helping to reduce medical errors, improve care quality, and even lower some costs by eliminating the processing and storage associated with paper records.

Although I believe we are getting very close to the kind of EMR software and hardware solutions that really meet the needs of most clinicians, sometimes I think we are missing an opportunity in healthcare by focusing too much on the EMR (especially CPOE and decision support) and not enough on some of the more logical, less expensive and valuable technology solutions for today’s busy clinicians.  We all know that healthcare is a business that hinges on good communication and collaboration with care teams and patients.  With that in mind, I would like to draw your attention to a new white-paper, “The Role of Unified Communications in Healthcare Service Improvement”—written by IDC’s Health Industry Insights senior research team and commissioned by Microsoft.  You can download it here (XPS or PDF).


The white paper highlights the increasing importance of unified communications in the healthcare industry and what I believe is one of the most compelling yet often overlooked opportunities in health . The report offers insights and guidance to healthcare providers who are evaluating investments in communication technologies.  It illustrates how unified communications can bring together all the ways we communicate on to a unified platform for messaging, e-mail, calendaring, scheduling, voice mail, telephony, audio, video, and web conferencing.  This is technology that strikes a bulls eye by bringing sanity and order to all of the synchronous and asynchronous ways we communicate and collaborate in clinical practice.  It doesn’t really demand that you turn your office upside down.  It does offer an opportunity to vastly improve productivity, satisfaction, and bring order to the lives of clinicians and everyone else who works in healthcare.

If you want to avoid a demise like that department store I mentioned at the beginning of this piece, then please don’t put off going digital in your practice too much longer.  On the other hand, there are some things you can do today that will immediately improve the way you work as well as your patients’ perceptions about your practice.  And perception counts for a lot more than you might think.  Just ask the unemployed sales clerks from that formerly proud, but now defunct retailer near my medical school.

Bill Crounse, MD   Senior Director, Worldwide Health   Microsoft Corporation 

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