September 9, 2007 9:01 PM PDT

Microsoft: Better software can prevent medical mishaps

Inside a business, software with a good user interface can improve productivity. Inside a hospital, it can save lives.

That's the premise behind a new collaboration between Microsoft and Britain's National Health System that seeks to develop a common design for clinical software. Microsoft isn't trying to prescribe the entire software design, but is proposing some commonality in terms of where on a screen medications are listed and what types of information about the drug are listed.

"It is kind of like when you get into a car," said Tim Smokoff, general manager of Microsoft's health care unit. "Every dashboard looks different, but they are all kind of the same."

By standardizing on a common way to display medical data, Microsoft hopes the industry can make a dent in the 600,000 errors that take place in U.S. hospitals each year, many of them from medication mix-ups.

A 2005 study showed that the most high-tech hospitals in the country have mortality rates 7 percent below those of other hospitals. But separate research, published the same year, found that high rates of drug errors can still occur in computerized hospitals.

The user interface project is part of a broader health care initiative at Microsoft, which now has 600 people in the area, up from 200 workers just two years ago. The company touts its $1 billion in health care revenue, though the bulk of that is from sales of Windows, Office and Windows Server.

In addition to work on tools for hospitals, insurers and drug companies, Microsoft is also focused on tools for consumers.

There, efforts center on the notion of a personal health record. The idea is that there would be an open standard that would allow all kinds of information--medical device data, prescription information and other patient records--to be maintained in one electronic file.

Central to the vision, Smokoff said, is the idea that the information would be owned by the individual. "Look for some announcements within the next couple months on how we take that to market," he said.

Growing segment

Microsoft is not alone in eyeing health care as a booming opportunity.

Part of the attraction, says IDC analyst Marc Holland, is that the technology spending in health care has a growth rate 15 percent to 20 percent faster than other traditional industry segments, such as manufacturing or financial services. "It's one of the fastest-growing vertical segments that we track," Holland said.

Google is focused on many of the same areas as Microsoft, and Intel also has efforts under way that parallel some of Microsoft's notions. Smokoff said Microsoft supports its longtime chip partner's efforts, but the two are not working together.

Microsoft has also been making acquisitions in the health care arena. In February, the company bought Medstory, a health-based search company with tools that were recently integrated into the search feature on MSN's health and fitness page. On Google, Smokoff said, the first result for earache is a rock band by that name. With Medstory's tool, users get a list of relevant results in six categories, including medications, related diseases and possible tests and procedures.

Last year Microsoft acquired patient database company Azyxxi. And Smokoff said to expect more purchases from Microsoft.

"Yes, without a doubt."

Holland said although Microsoft has long been a player in health care because of the reach of its underlying operating system, the company is becoming far more serious about the industry.

"They have made a number of moves in just the last couple of months to strengthen their product story," he said.

Holland said the moves so far are "necessary, but not sufficient" for the company. He noted that Microsoft has been rumored to be interested in buying one of the major health care software providers.

"There has been talk about their name in the context of a major acquisition of a clinical software maker for maybe the last two year."

As for the user interface that Microsoft developed, the software maker says it is available for free to other software makers.

Holland said that although the notion is a good one, it may work better in an environment like Britain, where the government is the single payer for most health care, as compared to the U.S. where individual hospital chains make their own purchasing decisions.

"I have some reservations whether all of the competitive vendors in the U.S. are likely to jump on board," Holland said. "They think the user interface is a competitive attribute."

Still, he thinks at least some elements of Microsoft's approach may be adopted.

Microsoft also faces challenges when it comes to health care records that are both personal and electronic, he said. In addition to regulatory and individual privacy concerns, there is a big question as to who will pay for the kind of data that Microsoft envisions.

The company has a vision that would allow people with chronic conditions to have health data sent to their care providers, paving the way for fewer doctor visits and earlier warning signs of potential problems. "It has the potential to fundamentally change the health care system, particularly for people who are chronically ill," Holland said.

But if a doctor gets less money from office visits and still has the responsibility for monitoring data, he or she needs to be compensated, Holland said.

"Reimbursement is the linchpin," he added.

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40 comments

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Just what the world needs
A blue screen in a medical emergency
Posted by The_Decider (3097 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Irony at its finest
"Hello, Kettle. I'm Pot."
Posted by `WarpKat (275 comments )
Link Flag
Is this some kind of joke?
This must be a joke. Microsoft has never been able to produce a reliable piece of software in its life and now they want me to trust them with my life? I can just imagine being in the middle of a surgical procedure and Windows crashes! The dreaded BSOD when you life is in Bill Gates' hands! How reassuring can that be?
Posted by R.T.F.M. (12 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Welcome to 7 years ago...
Windows NT was replaced 7 years ago and BSOD's area extremely rare since. Most people who didn't experience NT4 don't even know what a BSOD is.
Posted by MMC Racing (168 comments )
Link Flag
BSOD, Kernel Panic, etc..
Id rather have a BSOD in Windows than a Spinning Pinwheel Of
Death in OS X. Or a kernel panic from linux. My Point? All OS's
have their respected Screens Of Death!!

I work in the medical technology field..never have I seen a BSOD
on any Windows based system running any type of software..So
unless you are running hardware made for windows 95 then you
know what you can eat, cuz BSOD's just dont happen on good
hardware with solid drivers.
Posted by SystemsJunky (409 comments )
Link Flag
Ha Haa Ho Ho He He He
Someone out there really believes microsoft is the company that will solve their problems? If a person even suggested that in my company they would be pounding dirt. Can't believe there are still real gullible people out there...
Posted by Ted Miller (305 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Win 95?
That was 12 years ago..

But anyway, I never said there aren't still BSOD's - just that they are very rare today. They have been very rare for over 7 years now, but there is this continued myth that they are common put forward by the haters.
Posted by MMC Racing (168 comments )
Reply Link Flag
GO BACK TO CHANNEL 9
<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://channel9.msdn.com/" target="_newWindow">http://channel9.msdn.com/</a>

you'll find tons of true believers there
Posted by ColdMast (186 comments )
Link Flag
Micro$oft: 90% uptime
MicroSoft is all about solving world problems instead of making money - sarcasm.

Watch: if failure in their software results in death they'll come after the hospital with their lawyers.
HAHAHAHA
Posted by ColdMast (186 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Rrrrrrright.
Pushing for a constant appearence, where everything is in the same place.

This, from a company that gives the tool bar a stir with a stick, changes all the defaults, changes what half the commands are called, and opens a dozen vulnerabilities, and calls it an "upgrade".

Is MS recommending people move to Linux or something?
Posted by Phillep_H (497 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Ummm....
Is there a consistent UI in Linux? Is there even a consistent design
spec in Gnome? I will also mention that Apple also made major
changes to the UI when OS X was released. MS on the other hand,
has kept the basic interface elements in place since 1995.
Posted by rapier1 (2722 comments )
Link Flag
Pedestrian at best.
The idea of an open standard for the user interface of medical records is an decent idea. It might make things a little easer for a nurse who moves from hospital to hospital. Why should Microsoft be the ones to come up with the open standard.

We have plenty of medical organizations that are far more qualified to decide that the list of drugs a patent is taking should be displayed on the right side of the screen.
Posted by ralfthedog (1589 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Almost but not quite
If you'd liek to see what the medical community comes up with
when given a chance to create a standardized methodology
please familiarize yourself with HL7.

Any company, and I mean *ANY* company that can help make
HL7 not suck and make CERNER and EPIC *slightly* more useful
will do wonders in the medical world.

Also, I should point out that MS wouldn't be dictating anything -
they'd be working on the interface design specs with other
groups. Companies with more money and clout than MS are
goign to be involved - don't you think they'll be dictating terms
for a second.
Posted by rapier1 (2722 comments )
Link Flag
Like flys to s...
It fun to see how people who hate Microsoft so indiscriminately actually make the case for going with Microsoft. All of these anti-Microsoft arguments are so weak, over exaggerated, and sound like they all came from same level of intelligence as George Bush. "Rebooting once and hour"... -- ok George whatever you say; BTW, have you ever found those WMDs?
Posted by kojacked (1129 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Remind me not to get sick in the UK
I would love to follow the money trail from Redmond to London
on this one.

MS has been lobbying hard in the UK for its products and
"standards" particularly as it watches FireFox and open source
usage growing quickly outside of the U.S.

A common software interface? C'mon! What a joke.

You know that anything that MS comes up with will only lock the
NHS and its supporting agencies further into MS solutions.

"Yes, this common interface works only IF you have Exchange
server, Outlook, SharePoint, Office, Internet Explorer, Windows
Server, etc."

Who are the maroons in the NHS who signed off on this?!?
Posted by ppgreat (1128 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Oh no please not Microsoft
Not in the medical system, please.

Pretty please?
Posted by t8 (3716 comments )
Reply Link Flag
At least MS has a sense of humor!
Ha, ha, ha - this is the funniest s..t I've ever heard from MS. "Better software" and MS? First thing they need to do is to write a software that can help do a through flushing of their system. There's too much s..t backed up in their system.
Posted by oxtail01 (308 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Leave it to Micro$loth, hahaha
What a JOKE, and Micro$loth continues to ply it upon all of us. They can never release a final version of software, its all BETA.... full of bugs, deleberate actions taken to avoid, hamper or interfere with 'normal' standards (Open, etc...) and NOW they want to get to the heart of the matter and affect my medical treatment???

If I am dying on the steps of a hospital that Micro$loth has has something to do with 'fixing up', please, take me to a 'less capable' hospital. I might actually have a chance of living.
Posted by Joe_Wulf (25 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Oh, and BETTER software???
Micro$loth, I think you need to settle down and learn lessons from other OS's that ARE, in fact, stable. When was the last time you heard about a Micro$loth server that actually stayed UP, remained ONLINE for a year plus. Stayed functional through a years worth of updates, remained in the production environment and people thought (much less exclaimed publicly) "DAMN, that windows box has been the sharp, solid, dependable STAPLE of my enterprise"??? I've NEVER, EVER heard that (nor anything even remotely close). Yes, some windoze box's can keep an uptime of a few weeks, some I've heard can even remain up a month. Yet, when you look into various "production environments" they have either are forced to reboot for most servers due to system problems, upgrades, etc... or they have a regular schedule to reboot them. NONE are capable of staying up, functional, operational---much less stable and reliable for a year plus.

That is a commonly accepted NORM of every Unix vender in the marketplace today.
Posted by Joe_Wulf (25 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Did any of you actually *read* the article?
I'm thinking you didn't. Either that or you all have the reading
comprehension of a retarded baboon. Microsoft is work with BHS
to develop a *standardized user interface*. This is *NOT* code.
This is *NOT* Vista or XP or anything like that.

Its a piece of paper that says how people should implement the
user interface. Such as 'in this area of the screen you should
always display the patient demographic information' or 'you
should never display emergency notices below noncritical
information'

Its not software. Its not an operating system. Its a design guide.
That's all.
Posted by rapier1 (2722 comments )
Reply Link Flag
*standardized user interface*?
It is an historical fact that Microsoft cannibalizes anything it comes into contact with. So, they may start with the design spects for a *standardized user interface*, but Microsoft won't stop there. It never has and it never will. Microsoft's mentality is as demented as Hitler &#38; Stalin - the goal is, and was, to control everyone and everything in the world!
Posted by R.T.F.M. (12 comments )
Link Flag
Ayup.
Read it twice the first time through, and twice just now. The need is clearly stated, the rest is lots of business type baffle gab, lots of fluff and generalities, and no meat.

MS talking about standards is like a cockroach praising hygiene and population control.

I've been stuck with MS at work for over 10 years. "Standards"? ROTFLMAO
Posted by Phillep_H (497 comments )
Link Flag
MS and "standard"?
Where you've been? MS changes the interface of their programs with almost every new release just so they can hook people like you into buying into their crap and ********.
Posted by oxtail01 (308 comments )
Link Flag
M$ Healthcare? I hope they use Linux or Macs
Better software is important. Frankly, I wouldn't want to have
Windows running on something that my life depended on.

M$ healthcare? I'd love to read that license agreement.
Posted by appledogx--2008 (92 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Microsoft knee jerk
If anyone but the most successful company in software was the subject of an article on healthcare that said that better software can prevent medical mistakes, everyone would be saying, "Of course". But instead the lunatic fringe of "haters" jumps in to muddy the message.

I like Microsoft's position now that they are providing a base for the rest of us (I am in the medical device business) to improve patient care. I, frankly, would grow a bit wary if they were to "buy a large company" in the marketspace because any well-run company would try to improve their market position (or risk the ire of their shareholders).

So please, don't throw out the baby (message) with the bathwater just because you don't like one of the players. Leave that unthinking attack rhetoric for something unimportant -- Like a Presidential campaign.
Posted by TomMariner (762 comments )
Reply Link Flag
 

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