Hugging the “Cloud” for eHealth Innovation in Europe

IMAG0060This week it was my privilege to host and facilitate a meeting of the Microsoft Health Users Group (Microsoft HUG) in Europe.  On Monday evening and all day on Tuesday more than 90 customers, partners, developers, clinicians, and government officials gathered in Brussels, Belgium, to discuss “Embracing Cloud Computing in Health and Wellness”.

Our event started on Monday with a reception at the Microsoft Europe Executive Briefing Center in Brussels.  We had originally planned to hold the entire two day event at our briefing center but interest in the meeting outstripped the capacity of our facility.  None-the-less, those who arrived to Brussels early for our Monday evening reception at the briefing center were treated to a personal tour by EBC staff.  They saw demos of consumer medical devices connected to HealthVault and examples of tele-health monitoring.  They figuratively and literally worked up a sweat during the demonstrations of Microsoft Xbox Kinect.  You can bet that the developers and clinicians in the crowd were all dreaming about the potential for new health, wellness, fitness and even clinical applications built around Kinect.

imageTuesday morning we gathered at Concert Noble, an opulent building dating back to 1785 that was designed by Henri Beyaert, who also drew up the plans for the National Bank at Brussels and Antwerp. With its Louis XVI decoration, reflecting the eminent guests of the time, the Concert Noble has a history for being a prized meeting place for national and international personalities.  It also proved to be a very enjoyable setting for the much more contemporary and distinguished guests who attended our meeting.

Ronald Zink, Microsoft associate general counsel, officially welcomed our guests to Brussels.  Federico Etro, professor of economics at the University of Venice Ca’ Foscari, provided the opening keynote, a macroeconomic perspective on the potential of the cloud.  Professor Etro provided sound evidence that cloud computing will be an economic engine for new jobs and industries.  Following the professor, we welcomed Pēteris Zilgalvis, JD, Head of Unit ICT for social challenges information society and media directorate general, European Commission, to the stage.  Mr. Zilgalvis spoke on the European Digital Agenda and the future of eHealth.  While the devil is in the details, the EU has gone on record that member nations will provide an eHealth record for all citizens by 2015.  Each country will have discretion on exactly how that is done, but cloud computing and solutions such as Microsoft HealthVault (already launched in the UK and Germany) will certainly play a role.  After Mr. Zilgalvis presented to the audience, my colleague Ruediger Dorn, director of applied innovation at Microsoft, gave a summary primer on cloud computing and the significant flexibility, scale, and cost savings associated with using the cloud.

Later in the day we were joined by Maria Iglesia-Gomez, head of unit strategy and analysis, directorate general for health and consumers, for the European Commission.  Ms. Iglesia-Gomez has a particular passion for eHealth as a strategy to help seniors live longer, more productive lives.  It is wonderful to have EU officials so engaged in using technology to improve the health and well being of citizens.

We also held panel discussions with customers and partners who are early adopters of cloud computing in health and healthcare, and also explored how cloud computing and eHealth strategies are being applied to chronic condition management.  Here, you can review some of the case studies that were presented during our meeting.

IMAG0201The day wrapped up with a visit to the EU Parliament.  We were joined there by MEP Milan Cabrnoch, a physician and widely recognized champion for eHealth who co-authored the IZIP project (electronic health record system) which won the World Summit Award in 2005 as the best eHealth project.  He is also founder and chairman of the Czech National eHealth Forum.  MEP Cabrnoch IMAG0197shared his perspectives on the opportunities and challenges associated with the European Digital Agenda and its aggressive timeframe.

As I gaze out the window of my hotel with fresh snow on the ground and a town square decked out for the Holidays, I can only think how fortunate I am to be working with such talented and motivated people.  I think Europe is well on its way toward providing eHealth services to citizens and embracing this new era of cloud computing.   Certainly the EU is taking its place as a global leader in eHealth innovation. 

Bill Crounse, MD              Senior Director, Worldwide Health             Microsoft


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