Microsoft enlists partners to build healthcare apps for Office

Microsoft has teamed up with a dozen software developers to create healthcare and pharmaceutical applications built on the...

Microsoft has teamed up with a dozen software developers to create healthcare and pharmaceutical applications built on the forthcoming Office system.

The strategy could hold substantial appeal to healthcare users and developers. By including a host of new development tools and positioning the new Office as a "system" platform, Microsoft hopes to reduce the cost of departmental and personal applications in healthcare.

"For the first time, we are viewing Office as a full systems platform that can exploit XML," said Ahmad Hashem, global productivity manager in Microsoft's Healthcare Industry Solutions Group. The new development components, as well as mainstays Excel, Word, and PowerPoint, include the OneNote digital note-taking program, InfoPath for creating web-based forms, and the SharePoint portal server.

Microsoft Office System is slated to begin shipping on 21 October and went into manufacturing earlier this week.

"The healthcare industry in the US used more than 25 billion pieces of paper in 2002. With the evolution of Microsoft Office to a comprehensive and integrated system of programs, servers, and services, the healthcare industry can use it as a platform to transform information into business impact," Ahmad said.

The 12 new solutions, many of which will debut when Microsoft Office System ships, range from imaging programs to medical content that takes advantage of programs such as Word or Excel.

"The areas where we will see the most advances relate to applications that are best done on departmental levels," said Wes Rishel, Gartner Group vice president and research area director in healthcare. "This all revolves around making Office work in XML. Someone with moderate skills or someone who knows the problem can solve the problem, not just the C++ programmer."

Quilogy has been a Microsoft partner since 1993 and is now expanding into healthcare with a portal product based on Sharepoint Portal Server 2003.

"It gives healthcare organisations the ability to easily and quickly bring up new applications for knowledge and document sharing," said Carol Maddox, Quilogy vice president of marketing and sales. "For example, we just created 30 forms that automate in the ER."

As for vulnerabilities, Gartner's Rishel is willing to give Microsoft some benefit of the doubt when it comes to poor security - an area where the company's products have come in for ferocious criticism.

"Their claim is that they have securely built in the new Office and that they are working very hard to go through their code base. But that's a very large code base, and you can't go through it overnight," he said. "The fact is they're the biggest security laboratory in the world because everyone targets them. My guess is it's better than anything that has come before. We won't know until it's out there."

Besides Quilogy, the vendors building on the Office Systems include:

Allscripts Healthcare Solutions, a provider of point-of-care decision support solutions for physicians.

DataLabs, a developer of Internet-based applications for clinical trial automation.

Elsevier, a publisher of scientific, technical, and medical information products and services.

Gold Standard Multimedia, a developer of clinical drug information and medical education software.

Motion Computing, a Tablet PC software developer.

NextGen Healthcare, a provider of practice management and electronic medical records software.

Ovid, a medical information services company.

Proscape, a supplier of marketing and sales solutions that help pharmaceutical sales representatives win more time with physicians.

ScanSoft, a supplier of imaging, speech, and language applications and technologies.

Standard Register, a provider of document technology solutions and document consulting services.

Thomson Micromedex, a division of Thomson, which provides drug information electronically.

John Dodge writes for Health-IT World

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