Microsoft  launches  Healthcare group

Left to Right: Peter Lee, Joshua Mandel and Jim Weinstein of Microsoft Healthcare. (Microsoft Photo / Dan DeLong)

Microsoft announces the launch of Microsoft Healthcare, an umbrella for all its healthcare work conducted within its Artificial Intelligence and Research Group.

Microsoft is a company that provides computer operating systems and office software, so it’s kind of hard to see the relevance of healthcare to them. But think Big Data and Cloud, two things that Microsoft is getting very good at, and the relevance becomes obvious.

From a technical viewpoint, think of everything we could do if all the healthcare data for an entire nation (or an entire planet) was available to anyone who was interested in it. At a population level, we could see long-term trends in health issues, geographical variations in diseases.

For auditing, it would be simple to compare hospital or departmental death rates, or see which surgeons are getting more patient complications or readmissions. For us as individuals, all our health data would be available to us in the cloud. Think of the information it could yield; “yes, sir you are in the top 10% of the population of Oxfordshire for [fitness/weight/GP visits]”.

From the perspective of privacy and confidentiality, this is a huge challenge. You have to guarantee that my personal information is carefully controlled and that I am the one who decides how it should be shared.

If you happen to be a software company with huge Cloud data stores and a track record of great software development, plus you have a spare billion or two to throw at Big Problems, healthcare is a great challenge with the potential for huge rewards. Microsoft just happens to be that company.