This week I’m writing from Gothenburg, Sweden, where I am holding meetings with Microsoft customers and partners. I am also doing a keynote address at Vitalis, a conference billed as the largest health IT event in Scandinavia. This isn’t my first trip to Gothenburg or Vitalis. I first visited in 2004 to speak at the second annual Vitalis conference. Conference organizers say the event has been growing in attendance each year. This year, Vitalis is celebrating its tenth anniversary.
Yesterday afternoon shortly after my arrival in Gothenburg I took a quick walk around town. I always do this when traveling internationally to help me adjust to a new time zone. During my walk I came across a sign promoting an exhibit at the natural science museum located just across the street from my hotel. It said, “The return of the Dinosaurs”. Reflecting on my age and the years I’ve been working in the health industry, I immediately chuckled to myself, ”How did they know I was returning to Gothenburg?” Then I had an even more profound thought. Maybe the sign wasn’t directed at me. Maybe it was a greeting for some of the exhibitors and customers attending Vitalis. After all, the health industry is littered with bloated, ridiculously expensive legacy IT and broken, inefficient healthcare organizations. That thought became even more imprinted on my brain as I came across the next scene during my walk around town. It was a life-sized replica of a brontosaurus standing in a small, manmade lake just outside the entrance of the museum. Sitting on its head was a small seagull who appeared to be oblivious to the significance of its perch. From the “white wash” on the brontosaurus's head it was clear that this gull, and perhaps others, were regular visitors.
We all know what happened to the dinosaurs. For whatever reasons smaller, smarter and more adaptable life forms eventually took their place. Coming back to the topic of health IT, I wonder if the dinosaurs of yesteryear are nearing the end of their existence too. In fact, one might wonder if this notion could be extended beyond health IT to the entire health industry itself. It is clear that healthcare, especially in America, is going through some serious self analysis due to cost and political pressures brought on by healthcare reform. But in Europe and in developed countries around the world, under increased pressure from aging populations and the growing incidence of chronic disease, there is an equally urgent call for the healthcare industry to focus on prevention, improve care quality, improve access to care, and lower the cost of that care to society.
Touring the Vitalis exhibit hall, there are plenty of old dinosaurs on display. But I’m invigorated when I see all the smaller, more nimble technology companies that have come forward with really compelling solutions for the healthcare industry, and for consumers too. Many of these companies are Microsoft partners, and even customers, who take the best of what we do and embed it into powerful, flexible, low cost and highly intuitive solutions that meet the needs of health and healthcare workers. Many of these solutions also take advantage of the growing opportunity to engage consumers and patients with technologies that help them better manage their own health, and provide more efficient ways to receive care when needed.
The mental image of that dinosaur with the seagull perched on its head is still etched on my mind as I think about all the ways cloud computing, advanced communication and collaboration technologies, solutions for business and clinical intelligence, population health data analytics, new scientific breakthroughs and new business models will revolutionize health and healthcare in the years ahead. I think the seagulls, not the dinosaurs, are leading the way into that future.
Bill Crounse, MD Senior Director, Worldwide Health Microsoft