My career started at the tender age of 17. During my freshman year at college where I was enrolled in pre-med courses, I got a part time job answering the switchboard (yes, I said switchboard) at our local television station in Tacoma, Washington. Noticing locally produced shows on TV for kids and adults but none for teenagers, I proposed to station management a variety talk show for teens and young adults. They took the bait, and all through college I produced and hosted a weekly show called “Opcom” (short for Operation Communication) during the summer months. Because of the show, I got involved in managing bands and producing outdoor rock concerts. I won’t bore you with all the details, but from there I went on to anchor weekend television news, do a game show, and later took a job managing a television station in Ohio.
A few years down the line, I decided television wasn’t the best place for a secure, bullet-proof future. I rekindled my interest in medicine, got into medical school in Ohio and did a residency in family medicine. When I moved back to Seattle to practice my former television career caught up with me. Again, this really wasn’t planned. What happened was that I began to realize how inefficient it was instructing my patients one by one about their health when I knew I could use mass media to “scale” my message. One thing led to another and for almost 20 years I appeared on local and national television and cable networks, including Lifetime (Physician’s Journal Update), ABC News (The Health Show), and Discovery, talking about health and healthcare. For someone with a media background, it just made sense.
When the internet came along, I was immediately drawn to all things tech. I had played with computers and computer programming during my medical residency years. It wasn’t much of a leap as web technology matured with graphics, sound, and video to realize the potential of this new medium as perhaps an even better platform than television for delivering health information and possibly even medical services. That gave birth to a company I co-founded allowing people to schedule doctor visits and “see” their doctor on-line a full decade before many of the current crop of companies that are now in that space. My company didn’t survive the dot-com bust. There’s an important lesson here. Having a good idea at the right time is just, if not more important, than having the good idea.
Move forward to today. For the last 10 years I have been blessed to have a very fulfilling career at Microsoft helping customers and partners around the world realize the full potential of information communication technology and how it can be used to improve the delivery of health information and medical services. Technology has matured to the point that it can now be used to provide very personalized services to patients. Patients themselves can harness the power of technology to manage and share their health information, and work more collaboratively with clinicians. The power of social media has created channels that patients and clinicians can both use to network with others and gain insight from their collective experiences. Smartphones, web applications, and mobile networks have now put global communications and computing power into the hands of more than a billion people around the world. We are beginning to understand even more powerful ways to scale health services for better, faster, and less expensive care.
If you have downloaded the consumer preview of Windows 8; aggregated all of your contacts, messaging and mail services into one seamless app; played a video game with Kinect for XBOX 360, downloaded the Kinect for Windows SDK, made a video call on Lync or Skype, harnessed cloud computing with Windows Live Sky Drive, Office 365 or Windows Azure, or “smoked” someone else’s smartphone with Windows Phone 7, you’ll get the drift of my excitement for how technology will further transform health and healthcare.
Where do we go from here? I guess that depends on a lot of things including some of you who are reading this post right now, observing the world around you and making those sometimes random choices on how you will spend your life and career. Hopefully, that will include many of you coming up with the right ideas, and at the right times, that will one day change the world. I believe the right time is now.
Over the next few months I’ll be speaking at industry events and meeting with clinicians, health executives, government leaders and others in New Zealand, Australia, Sweden, Denmark and right here in my home town of Seattle. If you happen to be in the audience, please come up and say “hello”.
Bill Crounse, MD Senior Director, Worldwide Health Microsoft