Health ICT 2012 – Pain, Progress and Promise

After two weeks back in my Redmond office it is time again to hit the road.  I swear I hardly remember last week due to the mental fog of jetlag after a two and a half week sojourn in New Zealand and Australia.  Next week I’m heading in the opposite direction around the globe to do a keynote address at Vitalis, the biggest eHealth conference and exhibition in Scandinavia.

imageThis is the 10th anniversary edition of Vitalis. The conference will be held at the Swedish Exhibition and Congress Centre in Gothenburg, Sweden.  I last spoke at Vitalis in 2004 when the conference was in its second year.  According to the event website, Vitalis has been growing in attendance every year since then.  Attendees include doctors, nurses, social service managers, politicians, care imagemanagers, purchasers, patient associations, researchers, educators, IT managers, policy makers and staff who are responsible for and influence developments in their various fields in health and healthcare.

I recall how much I was looking forward to visiting Sweden back in 2004. Even then, Sweden was known for being light years ahead of the United States in the use of electronic health records.  And, it still is. However, in reviewing some notes that I made during the trip in 2004 I also recall that I was a bit disappointed by what I actually observed on a visit to a local hospital.  Here’s what I wrote at the time.

On each leg of of my European journey I had an opportunity to visit local clinics and hospitals. I was able to observe first-hand how patients were being cared for and how the doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers performed their duties.  In Sweden, widely regarded as the world-leader in the implementation and use of electronic medical records by clinicians, I noted the use of some very advanced systems for patient registration, physician order entry, and the processing and reporting of laboratory information. But when it came to how doctors and nurses in Sweden actually documented their work, it was still a pen and paper world. I was expecting to see doctors and nurses doing lots of data entry and using mobile devices like Tablet PCs and PDA’s. Instead, I observed clinicians accessing information on desktop PCs by means of a user interface that was anything but intuitive. And they documented their work mainly by writing things down on paper or dictating. Dictations were later transcribed by assistants who typed the information into the electronic record. Strangely, the computer system did not allow the doctors to easily access their transcribed reports once they were in the electronic record.

imageI suspect a lot has changed in Sweden since I wrote that in 2004 just as a lot has changed in America.  I don’t know that I’ll have time to visit a local hospital on this trip, but I do know that the EMR/HIS systems I’ll see being offered at Vitalis are every bit as advanced, and perhaps more so, as any of the contemporary solutions being used in America.  In fact, that is a significant theme in my keynote address at Vitalis.  Most of our challenges in health ICT are no longer about the technology itself.  Most of the remaining challenges are around the cultures, behaviors, regulations and business models that either encourage or discourage its use.  In my keynote, “Health ICT 2012 – Pain, Progress and Promise”, I’ll examine some of those issues through the lens of my own personal journey in the industry and explain why I believe citizens, health professionals, governments and markets are now better aligned to create the opportunity needed to improve the quality, accessibility and lower the cost of healthcare with information communication technologies.

Bill Crounse, MD                        Senior Director, Worldwide Health                          Microsoft


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