On Monday and Tuesday of this week I attended the 6th Annual Healthcare Unbound Conference in Seattle. I was invited to speak on a couple of different panels during the 2-day event. The effect of our soft economy on conferences was evident by the much lighter than usual turnout; or so I was told by conference organizers. I was also struck by who wasn’t in the audience. Clinicians were largely absent; perhaps too busy trying to keep their practices afloat in these challenging times.
Monday evening, I was invited to attend a dinner with my fellow panelists (Dr. David Kibbe, Ravi Sharma, Steve Adams, Martin Pellinat) and others to discuss the idea of clinical groupware. If you are not familiar with that term, clinical groupware is described as a set of practice management, electronic medical record, decision support, prescription writing and other solutions that could be delivered to clinical practices as services over the Internet.
I like the idea of clinical groupware. For some time now, doctors have been pleading for lower-cost, flexible, easier-to-use and implement solutions for their practices. This is especially true for smaller practices that don’t have, and will never have, IT support staff. They want something that works more like cable TV. You plug it in, get some basic channels, subscribe to the premium channels you want, and get on with your business. Another analogy that has been used to describe clinical groupware is Apple’s successful iPhone. You buy the appliance and download the applications you need.
Although the pure vision of clinical groupware is to deliver all of the software as “services in the cloud”, a blended model of some software on the local server or PC plus services in the cloud is probably better. And either of these visions is likely better than most of the way-too-expensive, totally inflexible practice management and EMR solutions on the market today. HealthBlog readers know that I have long advocated for greater commoditization of both ambulatory and hospital-based solutions. I’d rather see more money going directly to patient care.
I believe there is a future for clinical groupware. Physicians need better, more manageable and less expensive solutions than what the market is currently delivering. I’m hopeful that portal initiatives, such as the AMA’s recent announcement about their partnership with Microsoft HealthVault, may one day evolve as a platform to deliver clinical groupware services. In fact, HealthVault already serves as a platform for sharing health information, connecting devices, and providing services for consumers. Clinical groupware offerings could be a very natural evolution of that platform.
Bill Crounse, MD Senior Director, Worldwide Health Microsoft