Improving health and healthcare, a global perspective

If you live in America and work in the healthcare industry it is easy to assume that the issues we face in providing care to our population are uniquely American. While it is true that we spend more per capita on healthcare than other nations, and many would argue that we spend too much for what we get in return compared to other nations, our problems are anything but unique.

In my role at Microsoft I travel the world engaging with healthcare executives, clinicians, health ministries, government leaders and others who focus on health and healthcare. When I'm not traveling, I'm meeting with people in similar roles at our executive briefing center in Redmond. It doesn't matter whether I'm in discussions with someone from Singapore, Sweden, Korea, Indonesia, Australia, or Japan; I hear the same themes over and over again. Only the scale is different. It doesn't matter whether a nation is spending 4 percent of GDP on health as they do in Singapore, or nearly 20 percent as we do in the U.S., industry leaders and executives tell me they must figure out how to provide their populations with greater access to care, while improving the quality of care, and lowering the costs. The only nuance is sometimes additional emphasis, as I hear from places like Singapore or Japan, on extra pressures coming from a rapidly growing population of elderly persons in countries with low birth rates and little immigration.

While technology alone does not address every issue on the plate, these same leaders are very focused on ways to leverage new technologies in their quest to achieve the so-called triple aim of access, quality and lower costs. In America, it seems most of the focus these past few years has been on "digitization" of health information via electronic health records and hospital information systems. Many countries I visit in Western Europe and Asia accomplished this "digitization" some years ago. They already know what we in America are slowly beginning to appreciate, that electronic records only lay a foundation for health and healthcare delivery system transformation. The real transformation begins to happen when we use all that digital information we are capturing to inform us, and provide actionable insights to improve the quality of the care delivered by our health systems. Equally important is technology that improves access to information and care, as well as mobile technologies that improve clinical workflow and productivity. Finally, we must find ways to reduce the cost of technology (computing and storage) while making it ever more scalable, private, secure and compliant.

If you follow the industry (both tech and healthcare) as I do, you are fully aware of the investments being made that will help us truly transform and modernize health and healthcare delivery. It's a big job that involves making deep investments in massive data centers and "cloud" computing, analytics & business intelligence, universal communication and collaboration tech, mobile devices, wearable sensors, artificial intelligence, machine learning, machine vision, robotics, and health industry research. That is why almost every day you hear about a new startup or a well established company making health and healthcare a focus of their business. Some of the names you already know, other names are yet to be created. One thing is for sure. Improving health and healthcare is a global mission with very similar themes no matter where you live. If I've learned anything during my tenure at Microsoft it is how that fact rings true around the globe.

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Bill Crounse, MD Senior Director, Worldwide Health Microsoft