I distinctly remember the day everything changed. I entered one of my exam rooms to see a new patient. She greeted me with a handful of pages she had printed off the Internet. By plugging her symptoms into a search engine, she had identified (or so she believed) the likely cause of her illness. That was the day it dawned on me that the Internet was about to change everything in clinical practice, perhaps even the relationship I had with my patients.
Over the ensuing years I became as engrossed with information technology as I was with medicine. At every opportunity I would encourage my colleagues to become more familiar with resources on the Net. I urged them to be proactive in pointing their patients to the reliable, trusted sources of information on the Net instead of leaving patients entirely to their own discoveries. Along the way, I became a strong advocate for clinical computing and eventually became the Chief Medical Information Officer (CMIO) for our community hospital.
Clinical computing has come along way since those early days. The technology has matured, and the devices we use have improved greatly. I know that many of my professional colleagues would say that things still aren’t good enough, and in some areas I would tend to agree. But I can tell you quite honestly that I have never been more optimistic about the future and how information technology, highly mobile computing devices, and cloud services are coming together to better meet the needs of healthcare professionals and our patients.
In previous blog posts I’ve cited why I think we are entering a new era for clinical computing. This includes progress in natural user interface, touch and other data input options, device choice, mobility, cloud applications, and more. A recent example of this new era in clinical computing can be seen in a Windows 8 application from SAP in Europe. It’s called SAP EMR Unwired. If you have a Windows 8 device (preferably one with a touch screen) you can actually download it for free in the Windows app store to get an idea of how it works. Of course, the devil is in the details. The use of any such clinical application in the real world depends on how well it integrates with back end systems and ultimately how data is shared between systems and also with our patients. None-the-less, I really like the “look and feel” of this application and hope it will inspire other developers to create even better front end applications to clinical systems. Regarding back end integration, SAP assures on its web site that they are doing exactly that with a number of healthcare organizations in Europe.
On the patient side of the equation, things are also progressing in rapid succession. I’m extremely pleased to see the progress being made around the world by our own HealthVault team. Entire counties are now looking at HealthVault, or models that emulate HealthVault, as the best way to aggregate health data around their citizens and give people control over how their information is shared and with whom. Even our Bing group is getting in the action. As I discussed in another recent blog post, Bing is offering a Health & Fitness app as part of the upcoming Windows 8.1 release. The app includes some inherent integration with HealthVault. There are also hundreds of consumer health apps available on various platforms, including a robust environment for health apps on smartphones.
In coming months, I’ll be hitting the road to speak at a number of conferences and industry events around the world. I look forward to sharing more information about the work we and our partners are doing, and also to hearing from colleagues in the patient care trenches. I know all this change isn’t easy, but then I guess change never is. How could have I predicted, when I met with that patient who had researched her own symptoms on the Internet, that so much change would take place in clinical practice and computing over the course of my career? Take a look at this video from a young medical student, Shawn Katuwapitiya. How do you think clinical practice and computing will change during his career?
Bill Crounse, MD Senior Director, Worldwide Health Microsoft