I spent most of this week at HIMSS in Orlando – a conference I’ve attended every year since 2006 – which gave me an opportunity to reflect on the significant changes I’ve seen in the healthcare industry over the last few years.

Four years ago at the HIMSS in New Orleans, Microsoft’s CEO, Steve Ballmer, gave one of the keynotes. Steve spoke about the proliferation of clinical data, the need to engage patients in managing their own health, the required move to a more collaborative approach to life sciences research, and Microsoft’s focus on helping to harness technology to drive improvements in health and healthcare around the world. One of the things Steve discussed is the need for “a different kind of working relationship between public and private people, between providers, insurance, and government to really develop and deploy the kind of interoperable systems that will let this vision happen.”

In 2007, when we started talking about different relationships among stakeholders in healthcare and highlighting the important role of consumers as well as interoperability – data liberation and liquidity – in transforming care, everybody thought we were crazy. And now – in the US, at least – it’s the law.

Meaningful use was once again a big topic at this year’s HIMSS since many organizations are focusing their IT investments in order to qualify for federal incentive payments. But, we need to recognize the vision behind the meaningful use of EHRs: an interoperable system of care that increases quality, safety and efficiency, improves care coordination, engages patients and their families in managing their health, enhances population and public health, and ensures adequate privacy and security. Meaningful use of EHRs requires moving beyond the traditional electronic medical record to enable the secure flow of data across the health ecosystem in ways that enable new delivery and payment models to flourish. This is the position we staked out four years ago – and the ongoing focus of our investments. 

Earlier this week we announced an alliance with athenahealth designed to drive better care coordination across outpatient and inpatient physicians and settings, a priority for health systems looking to form ACOs and qualify for pay-for-performance funds.  We’re connecting Microsoft Amalga with athenahealth’s hosted web-based services (athenaClinicals and athenaCollector) to enable physicians to see inpatient and ambulatory information in a single view. Microsoft and athenahealth decided to make these investments because they meet a need our joint customers – specifically, Steward Health Care System in MA (formerly Caritas Christi) and Cook Children’s in TX – have expressed.

Steward is focused on executing on programs like their Alternative Quality Contract (AQC) with Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts, which is a contract model designed to give providers meaningful incentives to improve the quality of care while conserving healthcare resources. To meet these objectives, Steward is looking to drive efficiencies and deliver truly coordinated care. At Cook Children’s, the goal is to improve the health of every child in their region by providing patients and physicians with access to an information platform that transcends physical location and has the capacity to evolve to meet changing rules and requirements. athenahealth and Microsoft are bridging the information gap – giving clinicians the ability to access patient information from anywhere, regardless of its origination, and enabling a new level of patient engagement.

In 2007, we knew it would take time for our vision to come to fruition – and we’re clearly still at the beginning stages of data liquidity and health information exchange and the innovation these changes will enable. And, the government and private insurance companies need to ensure that the right incentives are in place to drive this move toward greater interoperability and to avoid stifling innovation before it has a chance to take root. But, as these customers and others are demonstrating, the healthcare system can achieve our shared goals of better value – better outcomes for the spend – today by enabling the flow of data and collaborating across the healthcare system in new ways.