Thinking Beyond the EMR. Why location, tracking and sensing technologies may provide a higher, faster rate of return.

IMAG0159 I’m in Los Angeles (Santa Monica) to speak at an event sponsored by Town Hall Los Angeles.  The topic is healthcare reform.  I’m sure there will be a lively debate with state and federal officials, representatives from the insurance industry, and provider organizations all participating in the discussion.

My role at the event is to discuss the place for information technology in healthcare reform and how an investment in IT will pay off dividends by improving the quality and safety of patient care and help lower healthcare costs.

I will point out that the biggest return on investment probably won’t come from electronic medical records alone.  Going digital in the health industry is something we should have done in America years ago.  We now find ourselves well behind other industrialized nations in the use of electronic records.  Yes, digital records can and will improve safety, prevent errors, reduce duplicative tests, etc.  Yes, thoughtful EMR implementation and meaningful use will improve productivity eventually.  But when I look the the value proposition for IT in health, I see far greater payoffs in other areas.  I’ve written extensively about information worker solutions and unified communications technologies and how these can streamline care delivery and care team collaboration.  More recently, I’ve been focusing on various location, tracking and sensing technologies and how they can be applied to improve patient flow, on-time delivery of services, staff productivity, and asset management.

Last week I attended a presentation by Microsoft partner, Versus.  To say that I was impressed by this partner’s work and growing body of customer evidence would be an understatement.


While location, tracking and sensing solutions using RFID, IRRD, and USID have been around for a while, the technology is finally coming of age in the healthcare industry.  Debating the merits of one technology over another or one vendor over another is beyond the scope of my Blog.  You’ll have to decide that for yourself.  But I will say that if you are not planning for the use of this technology in your hospital or clinic, you are missing a huge opportunity to lower costs, increase revenues and deliver better, more satisfying care.


Let’s be clear.  In the years ahead, no one is going to pay you more for what you do.  Remember, healthcare reform is about lowering the cost of care.  But savvy organizations are using the language and tools of industrial design and manufacturing to implement much improved work-flow processes in clinical settings.  The names of the organizations doing this are well known in the healthcare industry.  In the ER, OR, hospital ward and ambulatory clinic, they have installed location and sensing technologies to track the flow of patients, the movement and location of clinical staff, and the availability and location of needed equipment.  image

They are eliminating phone calls and wasted time previously used to determine room, bed, or equipment availability.  They are seeing more patients in less time.  They are eliminating patient waiting and increasing the availability of staff and resources.  They are measuring and improving what previously couldn’t be measured.  They are improving patient safety by identifying and eliminating sources of infection.

Yes, it’s time to go digital in healthcare.  Yes, you need to be implementing an EMR.  But there is far more to be gained, and likely more quickly, by using IT in ways that you might not be thinking about if you are only focusing on the EMR.

Bill Crounse, MD  Senior Director, Worldwide Health  Microsoft

Comments (9)

  1. Jay Andrews says:

    Well connecting all the databases together must have some advantage for government. In my opinion if the individual Hospital or private clinics have their own EMR that is no issue, but connecting them means controlling over health care of citizens.

  2. Carol DiPirro says:

    Or an in between might be a repository where systems can send information like results into a "health information exchange" That might avoid some costs of so many interfaces into one central place.  I believe something like that exists in Vermont.

  3. hlthblog says:

    Thanks for your comment.  Yes, there are many examples of successful health information exchanges, including an initiative in Wisconsin that connects emergency rooms in the state.  The Wisconsin HIE is powered by Microsoft Amalga UIS.

    Bill Crounse, MD

  4. Dr. man says:

    I agree, but you’ve also got to consider people’s legitimate privacy concerns over this kind of technology.

  5. John says:

    Greetings. You refer to Versus as a Microsoft partner. How are they partners with Microsoft? Thanks.

  6. hlthblog says:

    Thanks for writing.  Microsoft works with hundreds of industry solution vendors and system integrators around the world who use our technologies to build health industry solutions.  Through our certified partner program we offer technical support, software roadmaps, networking opportunties, and co-marketing support.

    Bill Crounse, MD

  7. Mika Lofton says:

    Thank you Dr. Crounse for a thoughtful post putting EMRs and health IT into a larger context.

    You are spot on about the ROI and broader benefits of sensor-based technology solutions like Versus’ VISion. As another Versus partner — and Microsoft Gold Parner — we get it. (See our blog for examples). However, to many health care IT decision makers it is not always so clear.

    I would be interested in hearing what you think is the key to getting beyond the general tunnel-vision on and unrealistic ROI expectations of EMRs?

    Please note that Dynamic Computer is a vendor-neutral systems integrator of health care RTLS solutions. This is a sincere inquiry about overcoming the barriers to meaningful technology adoption in general.

  8. hlthblog says:

    Thanks for your comment, Mika.  The current economy is forcing a greater degree of pragmatism when it comes to IT strategy and a return on investment.  We need the EMR, but this isn’t where we will see the greatest or fastest return.  That will come from workflow process redesign (aided by technology) and business/clinical intelligence solutions that can shine a light on care quality and performance improvement opportunities.  Keep up the good fight.

    Bill Crounse, MD

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