Chips off the block – vacation reflections on innovation and Health IT

IMG_3041Regular followers of this blog may have noted a paucity of new posts. That’s because I’ve been on vacation the past two weeks. My wife and I took a much needed respite in the Canadian Rockies. We flew to Calgary where we rented a car and spent the next six days exploring Banff, Lake Louise, Jasper, and all points in between. Some of you may have come across a few of my favorite vacation photos on Facebook.

One of my favorite locations (actually there were many) was just south of Jasper along the Ice Fields Parkway IMG_3073in Jasper National Park. We took a rather nondescript cut-off from the main highway and ventured several miles into the mountains on a very narrow, yet well maintained two-lane road. After 20 minutes or so of nail-biting twists and turns, we made it above tree-line and finally to a parking lot already crowded with cars and a few flat-bed campers that had ignored the width restrictions for vehicles on the narrow mountain road.

After walking about a mile through a rocky valley of pure Alpine bliss, we came across the prize we had come all this way to see - the Mt. Edith Cavell and Angel Glaciers. Here, lucky visitors can see chunks of ice as large as automobiles falling thunderously into a pond below creating a mini tsunami across the frigid water. It is truly spectacular. For scale, find the human figure sitting by the pond in the middle of the panoramic photo (made with Windows Live photo editing) below.

 Lake Edith Cavell Panorama  

So you may be wondering what any of this has to do with innovation and health IT? First of all, let me assure you that I wasn’t thinking about my job or health IT while visiting this monument to nature. It was only after I had returned home and read a blog post citing a recent speech by Pay-Pal cofounder and investor Peter Theil that what I had observed on vacation came to mind. During a presentation at an investor’s event held in Aspen, Mr. Theil expressed an opinion that the pace of technological change in America is stagnating. He gave several examples to back up his claim. Whether you believe that or not, I’d say that the pace of change in Health IT is anything but stagnant. Yes, we still need devices and solutions that integrate better with clinical workflow. There is still work that needs to be done to make it easier for clinicians and other health workers to document their work using a wider variety of input options. We need even more intuitive and flexible user interfaces to clinical solutions, and even better tools to sort through, prioritize and reveal the most critical patient care data for analysis and action. Having said that, I’m seeing amazing progress in mobile health solutions, telehealth, and telemedicine. We have powerful cloud or premises-based, enterprise ready solutions to improve care-team communication, coordination, and collaboration. We have business intelligence and CRM tools that provide unprecedented ways to interpret and share clinical and financial data. On the consumer/patient side of things, we have solutions that help people track and manage their own health information and that of their family. And, the era of access to health information, “health gaming”, and health experts via interactive entertainment and information systems in our living rooms is just around the corner.

IMG_3069You see, Health IT is an additive, cumulative process of new technologies and solutions large and small, for the enterprise, small businesses, and in the home, that over time become stitched together to find their way into everyday use. Some of this change drops into the pond in very large blocks. Some change comes in small, unexpected splinters that hardly get noticed. But over time, they become melded together into something that is really quite beautiful and amazing- just like the deep clear waters of the lake that is forming below Mt. Edith Cavell in Jasper National Park.

That was my vacation revelation. Now, it’s back to work with all of my colleagues at Microsoft to help add more ice to the pond.

Bill Crounse, MD Senior Director, Worldwide Health Microsoft

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