Microsoft Making Name in Lucrative Health Care Records Market

Loraine Lawson

I've noticed one name that seems to be popping up whenever I read about medical records and integration: Microsoft.


I find that surprising. After all, Microsoft is rumored to be losing ground in many areas and, while you'll usually find that Microsoft has its share in whatever market you look at, it's not exactly known as a leader in integration-although it did at least rank as a challenger in the recent Gartner Magic Quadrant for Data Integration Tools. And yet, here it is, quickly staking a claim in the lucrative, growing health care market. It just goes to show that you can't ever underestimate the company's business savvy.


A few weeks ago, Microsoft popped up in a Health Data Management piece about a "lite" electronic health care records system for the National Cancer Institute. This is an expansion of the institute's existing Patient Outcomes Data Service (PODS), which is a Web-based system that lets doctors and hospitals share information about oncology patient demographics, diagnoses, treatments and outcomes, according to the article.


Microsoft, the National Cancer Institute and the Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC) worked together on a prototype. This is all about the integration, and the prototype uses two Microsoft health care products you'll see mentioned over and over again: Microsoft HealthVault personal health records software and Amalga Unified Intelligence System (UIS), which aggregates data from a variety of existing hospital systems and allows you to perform comparative analysis on that data. There's also Microsoft Amalga Life Sciences for researchers. This area seems to have really taken off since Microsoft's 2009 acquisition of Rosetta Biosoftware, which was a wholly-owned subsidiary of Merck


Incidentally, Microsoft offers a free, Web-based version of HealthVault for storing individual health care records, if you're curious.


So, basically, the prototype integrated the PODS data with the Microsoft products online. Now, patients can contribute their own medical information-which is huge, considering that, right now, less than 5 percent of adult cancer patients presently participate in trials, according to Ken Buetow, director of the Center for Biomedical Informatics and Information Technology at the National Cancer Institute.


The new tool will also allow researchers and others to access this information, and hopefully get a better idea of how cancer treatments work-or don't-among various populations.


Around the same time, Microsoft and the University of Washington Medicine announced an expanded deal to collaborate on the Center for Biomedical Informatics' technology using Microsoft's Amalga UIS (Unified Intelligence System). Microsoft secured this contract after a two-year pilot program.


It sounds like another cool, forward-looking project. eWeek reports:

The collaboration between Microsoft and UW Medicine entails extracting data from text as part of natural language processing and using Amalga to further clinical and translational research. Translational research entails translating knowledge learned from basic sciences and applying it to clinical and community environments.

Other hospitals and medical organizations that have touted Microsoft's health care solutions recently in the trade press:




One key to Amalga's appeal seems to be that it gives medical staff access to data from other health care systems, according to this InformationWeek Healthcare article. It's not the only system that does so, but it's certainly a plus in the badly siloed medical world.


But Microsoft, in true Microsoft fashion, doesn't just focus on one type of solution. Rather, it has used the integration and data tools to gain a foothold and then expand that footprint. For instance, the eWeek article notes that last year, Microsoft unveiled plans to integrate Eclipsys' Sunrise Enterprise suite into Amalga. That move brought capabilities beyond the basic patient data, giving doctors integrated software for handling clinical and revenue issues.


Microsoft also made news when it acquired Sentillion, a Massachusetts-based health care software company, for the largest health care acquisition in Microsoft's history, according to The Motley Fool.


But perhaps we shouldn't discount another factor: Microsoft's lobbying. Most of the funding for these health care IT investments will ultimately come from federal incentives, so it doesn't hurt that Microsoft is using its powerful lobbying branch to push legislation on electronic health records, privacy and security provisions related to Amalga and HealthVault.


Whatever the reason, Microsoft's strategy seems to be working-it's making a name for itself in a sleeping giant of a market that's only now awakening to the power of business technology.

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Add Comment      Leave a comment on this blog post
Jan 29, 2011 8:55 PM dan dan  says:

I work with Amalga at a major hospital. It is a DISASTER. I don't think anyone has reported the real story here and it saddens me that no journalist has dug very deep.

Jan 31, 2011 2:28 PM Alan Alan  says:

To Dan, You're not the only one who's had a terrible experience with Amalga but Microsoft has done an awesome job on marketing Amalga to death and painting over all the cracks.

We decided not to go with Amalga last year and chose to build the medical record dashboard ourselves, but the health service executive was enamoured with the marketing spin from Microsoft.  They offered a contract that my manager reviewed that said that if we signed off on user acceptance test first time round, we got a discount of about 25% on the total price.  That was enough to tell us no way should we go with Amalga.  It's not a product - it's cobbled together junk

It doesn't look like they have much of a future now though, considering Amalga HIS and RIS/PACS have both been dumped.  They've also lost top-spot on SSO - Sentillion was great until Microsoft bought it - KLAS endorsed them as #1.  Now they're #2 and dropping.

Feb 6, 2011 8:40 PM Jane Jane  says:

It's never very hard for Microsoft to make a name for itself in any domain considering the strength of it's marketing machine, it's political lobbying access and the adbundant resources that are at it's disposal.

But there's a big difference between talking the talk and walking the walk.  I understand that the majority of Amalga installations are either in pilot or very limited deployment, even though they're with big names.  They've abandoned the MedStory, Amalga HIS and Amalga RIS/PACS products already and there have been no announcements of new Amalga sales in a year.

So I think a lot of people (including apparently this journalist) has been caught in the headlights of the Microsoft marketing machine and not questioned if there is a little less substance than it seems under the marketing veneer. 

Personally, I would be very surprised if Microsoft's foray into health solutions lasts even one more year.  There was a piece of self-promotion done a while ago by Peter Neupert, the boss of Microsoft's health group, talking about how he's spent $1 billion acquring all these companies mentioned in this article.  http://healthspottr.com/fh100/585-peter-neupert

Considering that a company like Cerner which has a huge suite of medical software deloyed in thousands of hospitals in the US and around the world has taken 20 years to reach revenues of $1.5billion, I would hazard a guess that Microsoft (with only a single product in a crowded market) is unlikely to see any return on revenue for a very, very long time.

All of the technology giants have at some point in their history looked at the health industry, made a simplistic assumption they could make huge amounts of money, invested large sums, delivered little, failed to break even nevermind make a return, and then quit the health industry.

As usual Microsoft is merely a laggard in that cycle, but will soon collapse their health solutions business when they discover $1bn and counting is delivering no real return.


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