On-line Physician Consultations: Eating Our Own Dogfood

At Microsoft we are famous for "eating our own dogfood"; the practice of pounding away on beta software well before final versions of the software are ever released to customers. It's our way of testing the waters for new innovations and subjecting all software to the ultimate test; satisfying some of the most demanding users on the planet.

In that same spirit, Microsoft is leading the way in using technology to open the lines of communication between our employees and the doctors who care for them. Prior to joining Microsoft in 2002, I co-founded a company that did some pilot work with Microsoft on technology allowing MS employees to access medical information, securely exchange e-mail with their personal physicians, and even schedule and hold "virtual office visits" with their doctors using video web conferencing. We learned a lot during the pilot. First and foremost, we learned that patients really like being able to correspond with their physicians by e-mail, and physicians enjoy providing clinical cognitive services electronically when they get paid for doing so. We also learned that such technology enhances the physician-patient relationship, and more importantly, that our employees didn't abuse physicians with unnecessary or unwarranted communication.

Roll forward a few years. Microsoft has announced that we will once again test consultations between physicians and patients with Seattle-based Virginia Mason Medical Center and a PPO operated by Premera Blue Cross in Washington. Under the pilot, Premera will reimburse physicians for online consultations for non-urgent care with a small group of Microsoft employees and dependents. The Blues plan, medical center, and employer all will track results.

Patients and physicians will access a Web site to use the webVisits secure messaging software of RelayHealth Corp. The 18-month pilot will start in January with 100 physicians affiliated with Virginia Mason and established patients of the physician. Microsoft employees and dependents who currently receive their care from Group Health Cooperative have been able to exchange secure e-mail with their doctors for more than a year already.

One day, as I predicted way too many years ago, all physicians and patients will have access to on-line consultations and care. It is the natural evolution of technology that enables access to the most appropriate level of care, when and where it is needed, in the most cost effective and convenient way.

What do you think? Let us know.

Bill Crounse, M.D., Global Healthcare Industry Manager, Microsoft Healthcare and Life Sciences