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Thoughts, comments, news, and reflections about healthcare IT from Microsoft's worldwide health senior director Bill Crounse, MD, on how information technology can improve healthcare delivery and services around the world.

Nashville’s New Music—Health reform spurs innovation

Nashville’s New Music—Health reform spurs innovation

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imageNashville, Tennessee, is well known around the world as the home of country music.  It is perhaps less well known as home for many of America’s largest and most powerful healthcare companies.  It was the latter that brought me to Nashville this week.  I’m sorry to say that I didn’t have time to partake of the music scene but then, that wasn’t the prime objective of my visit.

I came to Nashville at the invitation of a few of those well known healthcare companies to share some of my observations about the changing landscape of American healthcare and also what I’ve learned in my travels around the world.  I won’t specifically name the companies I visited, but you can probably figure it out.  Let’s just say these organizations own and operate hospitals all over America; in some cases dozens of hospitals and for at least one the organizations I visited, more than one hundred hospitals. 

As is often the case when I visit with our customers, my objective wasa to learn as much as it is to teach.  One of the questions I wanted answered was, “How does your organization’s leadership view health reform legislation; opportunity or threat?” Frankly, I was a bit surprised by the answer.  Although these companies view health reform as a possible threat to their business,, they mainly see it as an opportunity to reinvent and transform themselves into something far greater than what the are today. 

imageMuch of our discussions focused on the tools and technologies that will be needed to transform both the delivery of care and the business processes around it.  We agreed that the technology needed already exists, but is often underutilized by the healthcare industry.  For instance, a frequently cited imperative in dealing with health reform is improved communication and collaboration capabilities, between and among caregivers and our patents.  When you own and manage dozens of hospitals and are actively acquiring even more, you need clear, concise and flexible ways to communicate.  These are the capabilities of today’s unified communications solutions such as the newly announced Microsoft Lync.  Lynch is imagethe next generation of Microsoft's unified communications software that enables people to connect in new ways, anytime and anywhere.  The name may be new to you, but Lync is actually a new family brand for the products formerly known as Communications Server, Communications Online and Communicator.  It also now includes Lync Web App, and Lync Online.  Lync delivers a new vision for connected health by unifying enterprise voice, instant messaging and web-, audio- and videoconferencing into a new, connected communications experience."

I’ve written extensively on HealthBlog and elsewhere why I believe that unified communication technologies are so important in healthcare.  These tools not only pave the way for solutions that are needed to coordinate care and improve business processes in tomorrow’s accountable care organizations.  These technologies will become the foundation for delivering information and services into the home.  In addition, unified communications technologies will also help “load balance” the demand for health services against available resources.  Savvy healthcare organizations around the world are already using unified communications and robust web conferencing solutions like Microsoft Live Meeting for caregiver collaboration, staff training, and specialty consultations.  One day, expert consultations won’t be limited to whoever is available in your community.  You’ll be able to work with experts and specialists anywhere in the entire country, or perhaps anywhere in the world.

Is reform a threat?  Only if you fail to think beyond the boundaries of what you are doing today.  For progressive organizations like the ones I met with this week, health reform is an opportunity to grow market share, develop new service lines, and reinvent the ways health information and medical services are provided.  That’s new music for anyone’s ears.

P.S. The release candidates of Microsoft Lync 2010 and Lync Server 2010 are now available for businesses of all sizes to try for free. They can be downloaded at http://technet.microsoft.com/evalcenter/ff808407.aspx.

Bill Crounse, MD          Senior Director, Worldwide Health          Microsoft

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