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Bill Crounse, MD, is senior director, worldwide health, for the Microsoft Corporation. He travels nationally and internationally to evangelize the use of information technology as a way to improve care quality and safety. Prior to Microsoft, he was Chief Medical Information Officer at Overlake Hospital Medical Center and the Overlake Venture Center in Bellevue Washington. He is known internationally for his work in medical communications and information technology. In addition, he founded and is the primary contributor to Microsoft’s HealthBlog.

Being at the intersection of healthcare and technology all these years, how have you seen technology disrupt the industry?

Before I became a physician, I worked in television broadcasting doing entertainment and new programming and news. After I became a physician, for nearly 20 years I was doing medical television and disseminating medical information to the public.

As someone that approached clinical information from a broadcasting point of view, when the Internet came along I immediately saw the connections it would bring for medicine. The Internet was an inflection point that gave everyone access to the world’s medical information at his or her fingertips.

Years later, it’s become all about how devices, universal communication technologies, and digital are combining with healthcare to create this perfect storm. For some doctors who are set in their ways it will be painful, but for others it’s a very exciting time.

What kind of technologies will permit positive change to happen in healthcare?

Technology has now matured to the point where it can solve almost anything. The thing that holds us back now is not technology, but rules and regulations that were developed a long time ago that aren’t relevant anymore. It’s all the privacy issues, policies, cultural practices, generational differences, and digital native vs. non-digital native mentalities that hold us back.

As I talk to young people and visit universities and residency programs, I see how much they still need to change. A lot of people who’ve grown up as digital natives take all of this technology for granted, and in their early years of clinical practice, their dreams are dashed because medicine can be still very ‘old school’. Things are the way they are simply because a residency director says that’s how they’ve always been done. Many of these old school clinical leaders are wrong. I speak at conferences around the world, and it frustrates me when I don’t see a lot of young people in the audience. We should be harnessing the wisdom of youth, the digital natives, in our quest to use technology to solve problems.

How do you think technology will change the day-to-day of healthcare professionals?

‘The cloud’, social networks, artificial intelligence and other types of technology are leading us to a day where humans will be able to deliver the compassion and care that has been the cornerstone of the medical profession – but also be armed with incredible machines that will enable care to be delivered more immediately and more efficiently.

What is the best way for healthcare professionals to be accessing technology?

This completely depends on your role and what you’re doing. For example if I’m on-call and on the go, it’s my smartphone. If I’m in a clinic, it might be my tablet so I have more screen space but can still move around. If I’m doing a consult or more intensive work, then it’s my desktop computer. If I’m teaching and doing grand grounds I might want a big, touch screen and even virtual reality one day.

Thus, there is no such thing as one device; it is whichever device delivers the analytics, information, and communications capabilities you need at that moment. Eventually the perfect device is no device at all. It would be a world where wearables, sensors and communication technologies are all around us. Hospital hallways, walls, and operating rooms would all come alive through their integration with technology. A healthcare professional would free his or her hands of devices and things would just happen as they should. If they needed something recorded, it would be recorded without them lifting a finger.

What are considerations in implementing health IT systems to be successful in healthcare institutions?

I understand executives at healthcare institutions are using all the money and resources they can to implement EMRs. This is all foundational, but it’s everything they do next that matters.

How will the digital data within EMRs be used, how do you communicate it, how do you measure its results, how do you create technologies around it, how do you enhance transactions and ultimately improve outcomes and lower cost? Those are the things that matter. When I look at the value companies like Microsoft, Google, and Apple can bring to bear here, it’s in all these other areas that enhance the digital foundation using tools which will enable clinicians to be more efficient, more productive, and to lower costs.

For example, even with EMRs, healthcare today is often still locked in a paper, phone, and fax world. If healthcare professionals could avail themselves and work like I do with my colleagues it would make a big impact. At Microsoft, I can pick-up any device and have access to 100,000 of my colleagues, as well as know if they are online/offline, have availabilities, how they want to be contacted, if they specialize in a specific area, have specific competencies and so on. Then with a couple clicks or taps I can move from messaging, to mail, to voice, to video, to web conferencing with hundreds at once if needed. This is all done seamlessly. My colleagues and I work like a neuron-connected colony of ants around the world. Healthcare is a business of communication and collaboration. Most errors happen when something in that communication-collaboration chain breaks down. That is certainly something that health IT systems need to address. These are some of the capabilities that we’re working with our clients around the world to implement, along with highly intelligent cloud based platforms for analytics and learning – not just storing data in an EMR.

Visit Bill Crounse’s_ HealthBlog to read more about his insights on healthcare and technology

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