Microsoft and Google are working on major digital health-care information initiatives, the New York Times reports. There's a suggestion that these two can make a dent in the sorry state of digital health information because they can throw money, brainpower, and storage at it. Unfortunately, that's not what's been missing.Every CIO has a stake in whether IT is used well to improve health care, given how big and fast-growing an expense employee health insurance is. We've challenged IT execs to take up the cause. We've also seen an ambitious employer-led effort, championed by Wal-Mart and Intel, sputter amid legal disputes and execution problems.
What we haven't seen, however, is an industry-wide consensus that digital health records are an operating imperative. We wrote in May how progress toward electronic health records, and particularly the sharing of those records, is moving much slower than it should. Doctors need to feel they aren't serving their patients as well as they could without digital records. Patients need to pressure doctors to adopt e-records. Insurance companies also need to give doctors incentives to go digital -- and share with them the savings insurers reap as a result. Employers need to put heat on insurance companies they contract with to make this a priority, and help their employees to embrace e-records where practical. None of these groups oppose e-records, but none are moving with the needed urgency.
It's important because e-records won't work unless there's an ecosystem of people -- consumers, doctors, insurers -- using them. E-records don't solve all problems, and they'll create some of their own. But until we move to a broadly digital health platform, we won't know what problems we can solve through better information sharing.
Neither Google nor Microsoft would share much detail with the Times' Steve Lohr, though Microsoft hints at properly broad goals. Steve Shihadeh, general manager of Microsoft's health solutions group, tells Lohr: "We're building a broad consumer health platform, and we view this challenge as far bigger than a personal health record, which is just scratching the surface."
Ultimately it's good news that Microsoft and Google are on this job, and I hope they're wildly successful. The experience of watching the health care industry make such slow progress the past four years tempers my expectations. But getting a mass-market of consumers to embrace useful, intuitive health information tools would apply pressure on an industry too willing to wait.
Please share your thoughts. Will Microsoft and Google spur progress in digital health care information? Will that improve care? And should your company, and its CIO, play a role in encouraging digital health records for employees?