Microsoft and GE have announced they will form a joint venture in health care IT to build an interoperable platform that enables the management of patient populations and chronic diseases.
The new company will inherit several existing health care products and their teams. Microsoft will contribute its experience in developing health IT platforms, while GE will focus on software for clinical administrative workflows. The two tech giants will also continue their separate efforts in the health care vertical.
The yet-to-be-named company, announced Dec. 8, will build an interoperable health care platform that could reduce data incompatibility, or information silos, among various electronic health records (EHRs), radiology images and systems.
"Combining Microsoft's open, interoperable health platforms and software expertise with GE's experience and health care solutions will create exciting opportunities for patients and health care providers alike," Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer said in a statement.
"With this platform, it makes everybody have access to a common set of tools, a comprehensive set of patient information so that people with the greatest insight on how to improve care have very little barriers to making a difference in health care," Dr. Brandon Savage, chief medical officer for GE Healthcare, told eWEEK.
"Third parties can create applications that leverage that platform, and individuals can create use cases and share them among a user community," added Nate McLemore, general manager of Microsoft's Health Solutions Group.
With payment models in health care moving from pay-per-visit to paying for outcomes, doctors need more visibility into patients' histories and visits with other providers.
"The global health care challenges of access, cost and quality of care delivery are creating a new focus on the performance and accountability of health care delivery systems-in every country, at every level of care," Jeffrey R. Immelt, chairman and CEO of GE, said in a statement.
GE and Microsoft will combine several existing products into a joint performance-management suite. Redmond will integrate its health intelligence platform Amalga, which allows doctors to view patients' medical histories from multiple databases. Amalga is the backbone behind several health information exchanges (HIEs), including projects in Hawaii and Miami, where health histories are combined with academic records.
Microsoft will also move its single sign-on and context-management program Vergence and single sign-on application expreSSO to the new joint venture.
The HealthVault personal health portal will remain with Microsoft "as a cloud-based service that we will continue to invest in and develop over time," McLemore said.
In addition, Redmond will continue to market SQL Server, SharePoint and Windows Server to hospitals, he added.
Meanwhile, GE will integrate its HIE platform eHealth into the new company along with Qualibria, a clinical knowledge application environment GE developed along with Salt Lake City health system Intermountain Healthcare and nonprofit medical and research organization Mayo Clinic.
The Centricity EHR platform will remain part of GE, according to Savage. GE will also continue to grow its business of CT scanners and MRI devices as well as applications for radiologists and cardiologists, he said.
GE and Microsoft plan to launch the new company, pending regulatory approval, in early 2012. Michael J. Simpson, vice president and general manager at GE Healthcare IT, will be the joint venture's CEO. It will establish headquarters near Microsoft in Redmond, Wash.
Although the combined efforts have the potential to develop a major, interoperable health care IT platform to compete with industry leaders such as Epic Systems, the two companies need to show how they'll gel together, according to Shahid Shah, CEO of IT consulting firm Netspective Communications and author of the Healthcare IT Guy blog.
"As a combined entity, GE and Microsoft can certainly pull it off, but they have very different views of how health care works, so it will be an uphill climb," Shah wrote in an email to eWEEK.
In addition to competing with software from Epic Systems, the future health care platform will be an alternative to Qualcomm's 2net cloud platform for integrating biometric data. Qualcomm introduced 2net Dec. 5 along with plans for a new Qualcomm Life health care IT subsidiary.
"Most EHRs and health IT already rely on Windows and other Microsoft development and automation tools in general, so focusing on 'Windows for Health' is certainly a good idea for the market if they leave the platform open to multiple devices, EHRs, analytics and other toolsets," Shah explained.