Not long ago, CNBC published an article describing an unusual partnership between Microsoft and the Providence St. Joseph Health System.
Apparently, the two are building a tech-centered “hospital of the future.” Among other things, the facility will feature a streamlined EMR designed to make it easier for clinical providers to find and share information. The new hospital will also include natural language processing and machine learning to help diagnose and care for patients, the news site reported.
Along the way, the article reminded readers that Microsoft has previously mounted unsuccessful efforts to get its footing in the healthcare space, including the release of its hospital IT software package Amalga. It also points out that Apple, Amazon and Google haven’t been really successful yet either, though they’re certainly still working at doing so.
Working around health IT as I do, I can understand why even giant companies like the above have trouble cracking the healthcare market. To me, some of the most important reasons for this include:
- The inherent conservatism of the industry. Often, health IT leaders don’t take industry outsiders seriously, or if they do their bosses don’t. This creates a pretty high barrier to entry for companies that don’t specialize in healthcare. Also, when IT investment plans can have a life-and-death impact, such conservatism makes sense.
- The uniqueness of healthcare workflow. Sure, companies like Microsoft have tackled complex industry-specific processes in multiple industries, and nobody’s suggesting that they can’t adapt to healthcare as well. But given the uniqueness of healthcare workflows, coupled with the incredibly sensitive important role they play in delivering care, it could take a while. It’s little wonder many HIT execs take a pass in many of these cases.
- The need for institutional memory. Any of the giant tech companies listed above can bring experienced and skilled HIT pros on board to create and deliver a healthcare product. The thing is, if the top executives of the parent company don’t have long-term memories of how things play out in the industry, they may end up overruling the industry-insider execs and making uninformed decisions.
Historically, there may have been some reason to adhere to informal guidelines like these when making health IT investments. Having said that, I think it’s worth taking a moment to ask if these considerations are still valid ones for our industry.
For example, given how slow EMR vendors have been to create doctor-friendly systems, might it not be time to give big tech players a legit shot at solving such problems? After all, such vendors haven’t exactly gone overboard in their efforts to offer products that truly meet physicians’ needs.
Also, as emerging approaches such as the use of AI tools arise, maybe big tech companies and hospitals can learn together, which is of course what we’re seeing in the Microsoft/Providence St. Joseph deal. Maybe it’s time to read from a different HIT investment playbook after all.