How Microsoft (and Startups) Can Make Money in Health IT, Personalized Medicine Is a “Crock,” and Other Highlights from the Xconomy Forum

5/14/10Follow @gthuang

Business leaders, researchers, and investors interested in the intersection of healthcare and information technology packed into the auditorium of the Frye Art Museum on First Hill in Seattle on Wednesday. Luke showed you some of the pictures from our Xconomy Forum already. Let me give you my observations from the event, in the form of a few notable quotes and ideas from our speakers.

One thing that leaped out at me was how intensely personal the field of health IT (and healthcare in general) is. Many of the speakers had a family-related issue that motivated them in their daily work—whether it was a parent or spouse who had battled cancer, or a parent who was a doctor and took them along on their rounds or shared stories of the big challenges in medicine.

Here are a few highlights from the talks and discussions:

Don Listwin, founder of Canary Foundation (and former No. 2 at Cisco Systems):

“Cycle time is the villain in healthcare,” Listwin said. “Personalized medicine is a crock. It takes 20 years to get pills through the system. All this business about ‘we’re going to sequence everything and it’s going to be great’ is interesting but…it’s not going to happen for a long, long, long, long time.”

Listwin also said it’s important to form partnerships in healthcare and biomedical research with China and countries in the Middle East. (“This country is broke; they are not.”) On the technology side, he is a proponent of blood tests coupled with molecular imaging—including ultrasound techniques—as the key to doing early cancer detection. Listwin is one of those people personally motivated to make an impact because of a family experience. He decided to devote his dot-com era fortune to early detection of cancer after his mother died from ovarian cancer.

David Cerino, general manager in Microsoft’s health solutions group (who previously worked in the worlds of online banking and travel):

“At Orbitz, when we screwed up someone’s reservation, we used to say, ‘Well, nobody died.’ Now I can’t say that, and I’m proud of it,” Cerino said. “Healthcare is an information problem but it’s fragmented…We have to put the consumer in the middle so they’re in control of the [health] information,” he said. “I call HealthVault ‘PayPal for health.’”

Cerino noted that Microsoft HealthVault makes money primarily in international markets. The service is free for consumers (he doesn’t call them “patients”) in the U.S. “We sell it on a per-citizen, per-year basis” to foreign ministries of health and other international government agencies that want to sponsor digital health records, for example, in Canada and Germany, he said.

Greg Foltz, neurosurgeon at Swedish Neuroscience Institute in Seattle:

“It’s a tsunami of information now becoming available to physicians,” Foltz said. “I take care of patients with brain cancer. What we’ve had to do in our center is create a team to help these patients; that involves bringing together software, programming, bioinformatics, and scientists used to looking at this data.”

He talked about the electronic health records (EHR) system at Swedish Medical Center, which got rid of paper records more than a year ago: “It’s clear it has prevented errors, and is helping patient care. For me, what I’ve witnessed is, the major barrier is people. Getting physicians to really embrace this is generational. Someone with an iPod and iPhone is embracing EHRs… Software moves faster than hardware, and they both move faster than people. Incentives in healthcare come from … Next Page »

Gregory T. Huang is Xconomy's Deputy Editor, National IT Editor, and the Editor of Xconomy Boston. You can e-mail him at gthuang@xconomy.com or call him at 617-252-7323. Follow @gthuang

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