Electronic Health Records

Microsoft Surface dives into mHealth, telehealth tablet market

The iPad, iPad mini, and Kindle Fire aren’t the only tablets looking for a piece of the action in the rapidly growing mobile EHR and telehealth industry.  Microsoft is throwing its hat in the ring with its new Surface and Surface Pro offerings, seeking to capitalize on its continued success in the enterprise market.  As physicians look to go mobile in the ER, monitor post-op patients in their homes, and access a wealth of medical information anywhere from the coffee shop to the consult room, tablets are becoming the technology of choice in busy hospital settings and forward-thinking small practices.

While the Surface and its beefier cousin the Surface Pro have gotten mixed reviews from consumers, Microsoft is betting big on its retooled Windows 8 interface, which boasts colorful, interactive tiles and a suite of cloud products already proven to attract business customers.  With new offerings like Lync, an enterprise-grade platform similar to consumer-oriented Skype, Microsoft hopes that physicians will turn to the Surface for telehealth initiatives that are just starting to take off around the country.

“Not only Lync but Skype as well are becoming fairly predominant platforms for what I call ‘commodity’ telemedicine and telehealth services,” Dr. Bill Crounse, Microsoft’s senior director for worldwide health, told Pulse IT Magazine during a promotional visit to Australia. “We are seeing amazing progress at an institutional level, with people understanding and mapping out where are their patients coming from and how far are they travelling.  How can we leverage this technology to better serve that population [of] patients who are being asked to travel three hours across town for a snippet of information or reassurance, when in fact this technology can be applied.”

In contrast to the iPad mini, which fits neatly into lab coat pockets and has the advantage of millions of apps in the mature Apple ecosystem, the Surface Pro is a bulkier product, weighing in at two pounds and saddled with an $899 price tag.  In the era of bring your own device (BYOD) healthcare, Microsoft faces an uphill battle when it comes to attracting individual physicians looking to pick up a supplementary device for their office work.

But Crounse is optimistic that the Surface will rise to the challenge.  “With [the Surface] and a little bandwidth, I can be a global telemedicine provider, and that’s the difference. I’m forecasting some fairly fundamental changes in lesser skilled people, armed with smart technology, being able to scale healthcare services in ways that we haven’t seen before. The value of both Lync and Skype is in the reliability of the platform and the ease of use. You can’t underestimate the ease of use, whether we are talking about consumers or clinicians. And with things like integrating scheduling, it just makes it easy.”

To bolster its appeal to the healthcare sector, Microsoft is working with app developers to create tailored offerings that can assist clinical workflows and provide useful resources for providers.  Cerner and Epic, two popular EHR vendors, have already created EHR interfaces for the Surface and Windows 8, allowing clinicians to access patient data from the tablet itself.

“I understand that iOS for consumer devices – there’s no question that there has been a lot of traction there,” Crounse admits. “The issue has always been how those devices plug and play in the enterprise environment. Microsoft’s footprint is very clearly in the enterprise.  Up until fairly recently there really hasn’t been an alternative to what the experience has been on the iPhone or the iPad. They are brilliant, lovely devices, but they are lacking in some of the things you need, like data security, data input options, digital inking – things that doctors really want in devices. It is also about the experience of going from smartphone to tablet to laptop to desktop to the big screen in the living room. That’s what we are delivering.”


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