The Health Geeks

Article excerpt

Byline: Daniel Lyons

Microsoft's bid to fix medical care.

The more you look at the problems involved in overhauling our health-care system, the more hopeless they seem. But that is exactly what made Peter Neupert, a Microsoft millionaire and dotcom entrepreneur, want to try. "It is completely overwhelming," he says. "My wife reminds me all the time that there are many things a lot simpler that I could be doing. But I just have a genetic predisposition for big, hairy problems."

That's why, in 2005, having already made two fortunes--as a Microsoft executive and then as CEO of Drugstore .com--Neupert returned to Microsoft to create software for health-care providers. His division, the Health Solutions Group, now has 800 employees and sells to hospitals nationwide.

Neupert's basic premise, oversimplified, is that one key to improving health care involves installing modern software that can make the system more efficient and ultimately enable patients to get better service at a lower cost. The need for this kind of change is obvious to anyone who, like myself, is hitting the age when we need to see doctors more often and/or is the parent of young kids. Keeping track of our health information is a complicated kludge just begging to be digitized. Why is it so easy for me to manage a 7,000 song music collection, yet so hard for me to keep track of my kids' vaccinations? We now do almost everything online: banking, travel planning, shopping. But when we go to the doctor we still do things pretty much the way we did them a half century ago. Too much still gets done on paper. Even when your medical information is stored digitally, the data often can't be shared among providers.

If you show up in an emergency room with a bad cut, they'll want to know when you had your last tetanus shot. But you probably have no idea--and no idea how to find out. That's a simple example. Imagine you're a diabetic, seeing several doctors, nutritionists, and therapists. Each one keeps records, but they don't share them. "At its core, health care really is an information-management business," Neupert says.

Neupert, 54, was at Drugstore.com from 1998 to 2004, when he also served on the President's Information Technology Advisory Committee and helped lead a subcommittee devoted to health care. …