Posted by Cecily Hall 
Director, U.S. Benefits

Tuesday morning, I had the distinct honor of visiting the White House along with six other business, labor and government leaders to brief President Obama on  innovative ways private and public organizations are improving the health of workers while reducing costs for employers.  

I was invited to today’s event along with representatives from Safeway, the Ohio Department of Health, Pitney Bowes, REI, Johnson & Johnson and the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees International Union because each of our organizations have pioneered creative and cost-effective health care solutions that President Obama believes hold promise for workplaces across the country.

President Obama asked each of us to share something unique that our organizations are doing that improves health care outcomes and bolsters our bottom line. I cited two Microsoft initiatives.

First, I mentioned a benefit we’ve been providing in the Puget Sound area for two years called Mobile Medicine. (Two decades ago you may have known this practice by another name: House calls.)  By making doctors available to visit ill employees and their family members at their homes, we’ve found that we can save $1 million annually by preventing unnecessary (and costly) trips to the emergency room.  First, an employee calls our 24-hour telephone Health Line to speak with a nurse, who determines the type of care needed.  If that means a doctor visit to the home, one is dispatched right away.  

I also noted our weight management program.  One-third of the U.S. population suffers from obesity.  Since our weight management benefit was instituted in 2003, our employees have lost 50 tons of weight.  They are healthier, happier and more productive. 

After our closed session, when President Obama met with the media, he specifically mentioned our Mobile Medicine benefit as a best practice others might follow to rein-in health care costs and he noted the value of weight management programs as well.

Providing these kinds of benefits to our employees serves two purposes.  They raise the quality of care for our workers and lower the costs for our company, because employees make fewer visits to the doctor.   This is a goal President Obama  indicated he wants the entire country to achieve. 

I’d also like to note that there is a significant effort at Microsoft to bring technology to the forefront of the health care system as a whole.  We have an entire division at the company devoted to improving health globally through software innovation, and at the heart of this is empowering consumers with data at their fingertips to make better health decisions.  Microsoft HealthVault lets our employees personally store copies of their health records from sources across the health system; upload data from home health devices such as digital scales; provide data to healthcare providers, coaches and trainers; and access products and services to help improve their health. 

HealthVault is also available to consumers, not just to Microsoft employees, to organize health records and gain insights to make informed health decisions.

President Obama noted that if companies like ours can create this type of cultural change in the way we deal with medical issues, we can do it as a country as well.  For more on President Obama’s efforts, visithttp://healthreform.org

Good health care is important to everyone’s personal and economic well-being.  I commend the president for organizing today’s event to engage us all and to raise visibility on these critical issues as we begin to tackle health care reform.