Microsoft Helps Build Healthier Communities through Public-Private Partnership Innovation Forums

02 December 2011 | William O’Leary, Executive Director, Policy, Health and Human Services at Microsoft
​The nation’s success in achieving healthy communities will be impacted by the progress and dissemination of cutting-edge public and private partnerships that are being developed today. This is the overarching theme behind a new series of forums to be hosted by Microsoft, in collaboration with other government and business leaders, foundations and thought leaders, in communities across the country.
 
On December 7 in Chicago, Microsoft, Building Healthier Chicago, and the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce will kick-off the first of these forums, “Innovation in Public and Private Collaboration.” The event will focus on cutting-edge and emerging business and public health collaborations among organizations in health, education, economic development and technology sectors. U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Regina Benjamin will present the keynote address.
 
In the coming months, we’ll hold additional forums in San Diego, Miami and Washington D.C., to discuss additional drivers for facilitating public-private partnerships to improve health, economic, workforce and education outcomes, including:
 
o Cutting Edge Business and Public Health Collaboration
o Health Modernization Models
o Partnerships in Healthcare and Education
o Health and Economic Development
o Technology Innovation
 
Some may ask, “What makes Microsoft an authority on the subject of public-private collaborations?” Microsoft has a unique vantage point from which to observe and participate in these emerging partnerships. Our partner and customer relationships span the public and private sector, and we are actively involved in every area of healthcare. Our teams work with federal, state and local payers and providers and their commercial counterparts, as well as life sciences, research and academic organizations and other community resources.

As part of our ongoing conversations with health decision makers across the country, I had a chance to sit down with Dr. James M. Galloway, Assistant U.S. Surgeon General for the United States Public Health Services, who will facilitate the discussion on business and public health at the Chicago forum. A principal in Building Healthy Chicago, Dr. Galloway has a unique understanding of both the healthcare challenges facing local communities and the innovative solutions public private partnerships are developing to meet them. Also joining us was Claire Gregoire who chairs the Health and Wellness Coalition for the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce. Claire is President of KAMDEN Strategy Group and works with businesses on their strategic growth initiatives.
 
Bill: Dr. Galloway, we have seen many instances of the business community providing financial support to public health efforts and in more recent times focusing on employee health and wellness. How would you distinguish emerging partnerships from these earlier approaches?
 
Dr. Galloway: Innovative leaders realize that corporate social responsibility within private enterprise brings value by recognizing customer and community health as a key factor in strategic planning, business development and corporate perception. In many cases, what’s good for public health is good for a company’s bottom line: a true win-win opportunity.
 
Bill: Can you provide some examples?
 
Dr. Galloway: Many of our nation’s large grocery and “big box” companies have made commitments to eliminate food deserts across the United States by bringing fresh produce to low-income areas. Companies such as Walgreens and Wal-Mart are targeting food desert areas for the development of new or expanded stores to include a wider variety of healthy produce and products. Walmart also has created a prescription program which provides a 30-day supply of hundreds of generic drugs and over the counter medicines for just $4. Walgreens is also developing new innovations in the provision of health care, including personalized HIV treatment and health support services within their stores. Such efforts not only increase access to healthy foods and services, but they also have the potential to improve public perception, increase sales and bring new customers to their business.
 
Bill: You are talking about benefits to both business and public health where businesses engage in social enterprise to improve consumer health and improve the bottom line?
 
Dr. Galloway: Yes, exactly. There is a distinctive and growing social and educational movement connecting the public health and business communities which have a strong interest in social enterprise curricula within U.S. business schools as well as corporate social responsibility initiatives within existing business.
 
We can take the environmental “green” movement for inspiration. Consumers now demand access to environmentally safer products and are often willing to pay more for them. Businesses are increasingly encouraging a social media following that only enhances this socially responsible branding. As a result, the environmental movement is getting much more attention nationally. The public health sector can replicate this mutually beneficial partnership.
 
For example, food companies are working to improve public health by creating healthier food and beverage products. The major multi-national food companies signed a pledge as the “International Food & Beverage Alliance” to the World Health Organization in 2008, acknowledging that they are in a unique position to engage in “social enterprise” to improve the health of their consumers. Briefly, the pledge promises to re-formulate existing products to reduce sodium and trans- and saturated fats and to create new products that are healthier, such as fiber and/or whole-grain enriched baked products and vitamin-enriched beverages. Profits are being realized and jobs produced in significant and unique ways. Indeed, recent evaluations of profits have shown that newer ‘healthy’ products are driving the majority of new business and profits.
 
Bill: Claire, so companies are also getting involved in health issues at the community level through more than just their funding commitments. What are you seeing through your work with many of these companies?
 
Claire: This is a critical point. So often in the private sector when we hear of ‘public-private collaboration’, we assume it means what is needed is our funding. Yes, the financial resources of private companies is a big part of this, however as big of a challenge is getting businesses and nonprofits involved for maximum impact and quite frankly create the change that is needed to truly improve health at the community level. A recent New York Times editorial on this very issue said it best; paraphrasing, private dollars and private resources can uniquely facilitate innovation and allow rapid experimentation with new approaches where public resources cannot because of the restrictions in government money sources. Private enterprise also has the ability and mechanisms to scale – a VERY important piece of the puzzle.
 
Bill: The forum will also discuss cutting edge collaborations among health, education, economic development and technology. Regarding technology, we know that Congress, business and the health community are investing billions of dollars in health IT as a means to reduce health costs, facilitate access, as well as measure and improve outcomes.
 
These efforts leverage the Internet as a means to connect consumers, business and health care. For example, the Surgeon General’s “My Family Health Portrait” (http://www.hhs.gov/familyhistory) helps users organize and share family health history. Government and business recognize that Internet access is a critical tool for improving health, education and economic development. As another example, Connect to Compete is a national public, private and nonprofit partnership announced by the Federal Communications Commission, which includes businesses such as Microsoft and Best Buy. The goal is to increase broadband adoption and digital literacy training in disadvantaged communities throughout the country.
 
Dr. Galloway: Yes, innovations in technology have also led to substantial business involvement in public health efforts. Todd Park, the Chief Technology Officer for Health and Human Services (HHS), has engaged business and entrepreneurs to develop health-based applications for computers, devices and mobile phones. Many health IT businesses have been spurred by the Affordable Care Act and Meaningful Use rules to develop new technologies for hospitals and public health centers. These technological advancements have immense potential to benefit public health, while also creating jobs and boosting business performance.
 
Bill: Claire, you are going to conclude the forum with a Call to Action. What might we expect?
 
Claire: There are two actions we plan to advance. One is to continue the discussion at a national level after this forum. December 7 starts the conversation among businesses, government, academia, private foundations and nonprofits about ways to collaborate with new products, new services, new methodologies and new models to improve health with all of our communities. We want to find ways to continue the discussion with all stakeholders and share what is working around the country.
 
A second call to action we’ll suggest is at a more personal, individual level. What can someone attending this forum do on December 8? On the days following that? We know many of the ideas put forth in our speaker presentations will resonate with people and inspire new ideas, regardless of their sectors or professional roles. Our Call to Action is to encourage everyone to figure out how to transform this inspiration into an actionable plan.
 
Bill: Dr. Galloway, I look forward to “Innovation in Public and Private Collaboration” on December 7.
 
Dr. Galloway: Yes. I do as well. We all look forward to the meaningful participation from multiple businesses as well as community models from other parts of the nation.
 
William O’Leary
Executive Director, Policy, Health and Human Services at Microsoft