International Travelogue Part Two...

Last week, I continued my round the world itinerary visiting customers, partners, and governmental agencies. I took an overnight flight from London to Bangkok on a Saturday—the plane was full, primarily of tourists taking advantage of what Thailand has to offer, despite the political turmoil. My day started with a random act of kindness—receiving a text message from someone who picked up documents I left on the train to London and offering to send them to me—remarkable! What many folks don’t recognize when looking at maps is how large, spread out and diverse Asia Pacific is. After arriving early Sunday morning, I caught up with my team on the ground, many of whom just came from Arab Health—a huge HIT conference. I then spent Monday in Bangkok with customers, Tuesday in Kuala Lumpur departing on an overnight flight to Sydney, and Wednesday to Friday in Sydney departing on an overnight/day flight to U.S. for a brief, but important meeting in Scottsdale, AZ on Friday afternoon before the last leg getting home to Seattle that evening. Amazingly throughout the 13 days, there were no big logistical problems (no lost bags, no delays over an hour, no lines over 30 minutes)—made it much easier to survive!

Here are a few of my observations from Asia Pacific—with more specifics this week to provide context:

Monday morning started with a visit to a large public hospital in Bangkok. They are at the same time very sophisticated from a diagnostic/therapeutic perspective (research lab, surgery center) and very antiquated from a work process perspective. They see a huge number of patients—both with appointments and not. Their “system” is primarily paper-based—the amount of forms and paper they have is overwhelming. Their whole system is based on queues—throughout the hospital, there are people waiting and standing in line. To get a pharmacy or lab item, a patient might go through three separate queues or tellers with an indeterminate wait time at each—identify/submit order, make payment, and draw or receive lab or Rx. I was struck by the incredible opportunity for the use of technology to improve the entire system—in terms of throughput and satisfaction, and ultimately patient care. Hospital management also sees the need and the opportunity— to invest in the information infrastructure as they have invested in the medical equipment infrastructure—but the implementation task seems daunting to all.

I spent the afternoon at Bumrungrad Hospital in Thailand where I have a development organization and key strategic partner. Bumrungrad is an amazing example of excellence—using technology to support clear outcomes—quality, efficiency, and customer satisfaction. Each time I’m there, they show me advances in infrastructure, workflow processes and facilities. It is great to have strategic partners who push the agenda for our products forward. Now they’re moving on to Bumrungrad Version 3.0—a whole new level of service and are again looking to IT to help. While they serve the local population, they serve an even greater number of foreigners—thousands and thousands of “medical tourists” from the US, Middle East, Europe, and Asia. Interestingly one of the key topics was how to leverage HealthVault in supporting the medical tourist and expatriate part of their business…something we have talked about internally but now have prioritized.

In Kuala Lumpur, I visited two private hospital groups, each of which is part of a larger conglomerate. They view healthcare as a growth portion of their portfolio and they have money. I enjoyed learning from them about their goals and approach, and explaining our strategy to them. The perceptions of what Microsoft is as a brand are so prevalent and ingrained—consequently, I have learned my most important objective is to communicate with folks that HSG is a serious and thoughtful player in health information technology. These private hospitals want technology partners to help them do a lot; —streamline their clinical and business processes, use clinical workflow tools to put guardrails on clinical processes, provide sophisticated BI tools and to stay on the leading edge. While they are focused on their enterprise needs first—our Health connected strategy—of connecting consumers to physicians to facilities—really resonated with them for their future business needs.

In Sydney, I met a very diverse group of folks—shadow ministers, MDs, CEOs of hospitals, members of the Clinical Excellence Commission, and members of the NSW health service. Australia has been pursuing leveraging HIT for several years. Some states are pursuing standardized Cerner implementations for hospitals and there is an institution named NEHTA that has been exploring the policy issues/standards around community or personal ehealth records. As I’ve noted before, the challenges in Australia are similar to the U.S. and Europe—leveraging information across the continuum of care, getting more out of their existing departmental systems, improving performance at the enterprise and system level and engaging consumers. The health of the healthcare system is a hot media and political topic—everyone is talking about the Garling report and what it means, physician concerns about the Cerner implementation in emergency departments and other specific bad ED incidents the media have publicized. While I get the scale benefits of standard software and standard rollouts by centralized and skilled service organizations—they frequently run into challenges in the healthcare domain.

I concluded my trip in Scottsdale, AZ, where I had the opportunity to address a small group of CEOs at the Health Management Academy. It was a great interaction about how technology has changed many industries. I had the opportunity to use my personal history to tell the story of how connecting vision, technology folks and domain experts has powered positive and sustainable change—which I have had the good fortune of doing at Microsoft, at MSNBC and at It was fitting to conclude the trip back in the U.S with leaders dealing with the challenges in their organizations and the economic climate. Increasingly I see the local market separating into two segments—while all are focused on cost containment—some are primarily hunkering down and others are seeing the current climate as an opportunity to invest in transformation. Obviously I believe the right technology is critical to both groups.

Let me wrap with a side comment. I’m over 50 years old and have been traveling internationally for nearly 40 years. Even though there have been many articles and books written about how the world is flat, it is remarkable to me how much the world has changed in this relatively short period of time...and yet, in some respects I believe the change is just starting. From the ease of staying in touch (my kids could call/text me anytime—didn’t need to know where I was at all)—to the ability to stay connected to important events in the U.S. (Superbowl started at 6am local time in Bangkok with Thai announcers and a pre-game show)—to physically getting from place to place—it is all steadily improving and becoming part of the norm. In the same 13 day time frame, I worked out on four separate continents—ran in the cold in London’s Hyde Park and in the heat around the Sydney Opera House—and collected all the workout information on my HealthVault compatible Polar heart rate monitor and watch.