The past few days I’ve been in the nation’s capital with senior healthcare executives from some of America’s largest and best known hospital systems and clinics. I was honored to be asked by the event sponsor, McKesson, to deliver a keynote address to this accomplished audience on the final day of their two-day conference. Besides a great line-up of thought-provoking speakers and featured focus sessions, there were some spectacular evening events at the Smithsonian Museum and Library of Congress. This allowed plenty of time for the attendees to mix and mingle while discussing the challenges and opportunities they face as they navigate the choppy waters of health reform.
There is no question in my mind that healthcare executives are facing some of the most difficult and challenging times in the history of American medicine. They must prepare for a future that is quite different from what they have always known as reimbursement for their services moves from volume to value. Make a wrong move, or move too fast one way or the other, and already fiscally-stressed systems will quickly plummet into the red zone. Whereas hospitals have previously been rewarded for keeping beds full, their future profitability may depend on keeping beds empty. Managing the health of a population and keeping people well takes an entirely different set of skills, resources, and services than does managing sick people in a hospital.
Healthcare executives understand that information communications technologies will play an increasingly essential role in this journey. That role goes well beyond the investments being made in electronic medical records. In fact, as I say so frequently here on HealthBlog, EMR/HIS solutions are nothing but a foundation or platform for what’s to come. The real transformation in healthcare will come about by leveraging mobile devices, improving communication and collaboration between care teams and their patients, and deploying powerful analytics tools to measure and monitor clinical and business operations.
Today, Microsoft announced a pilot project that I believe illustrates how, in this case, mobile technology can be applied to improve population health while controlling healthcare costs. The project is a collaboration that will bring the benefits of smartphone technology and services to underserved and high-risk populations through a new mobile health management solution offered through insurers. This approach expands on my company’s commitment to healthcare and TracFone’s telecommunications expertise as the largest Lifeline provider and prepaid wireless leader. Microsoft and TracFone will work with Health Choice Network (HCN), a Miami-based company that manages and connects a network of community health centers with more than 760,000 patients in 17 states, to conduct a pilot project where HCN will provide smartphones to diabetes patients to help them better manage their care.
Building on the success of TracFone’s short message service (SMS), text and phone programs, the new solution will be offered on a Windows Phone and feature Microsoft’s familiar suite of services and solutions, such as Microsoft Office 365, Microsoft HealthVault, Microsoft Dynamics CRM and a variety of smartphone applications. It will combine enterprise-grade security and privacy features to allow security-enhanced, HIPAA-enabled email and messaging communications to patients regarding their health and regimens. In addition, it will provide appointment reminders with calendar functionality and remote device management that is standard with a Windows Phone. Of course, diabetes is just one of a number of chronic conditions that have the potential to be better managed by giving people access to tools to help them monitor their condition at home, and communicate and collaborate with their healthcare providers.
As much optimism as I have for the role of technology in solving the cost, quality, and access issues that surround healthcare these days, the final speaker at the McKesson Executive Leadership Summit reminded us not to forget the special powers of “human touch” in a caring, hopeful environment. Lee Woodruff, wife of ABC journalist and anchor, Bob Woodruff, shared the story of the devastating brain injury her husband suffered from an IED blast while covering the war in Iraq. During Bob’s long recovery, that included 36 days in a medically induced coma and year’s of physical and speech rehabilitation, Lee stressed how much strength she gained from doctors and nurses who never took away her hope. It was a powerful message for any of us in the medical profession who care for very sick patients.
Bill Crounse, MD Senior Director, Worldwide Health Microsoft