Big-bang disruption: Is it possible in the health industry?

11 July 2013 | Paul Smolke, Industry Managing Director, Worldwide Health

There continues to be a lot in the news about disruptive technologies. Many of you may be familiar with Clayton Christensen’s book on the theory of disruptive innovation, “The Innovators Dilemma,” published in 1997. He has since written several more books on the topic, including specifically for health, “The Innovator’s Prescription.” His overall premise being that even organizations that are doing everything right can face failure when a competitor enters the market with a product that’s less expensive and “good enough” to disrupt the status quo. The theory is that if organizations are aware and looking out for these disruptors, they can adapt and evolve to survive.



I recently read an article in the April issue of Harvard Business Review (HBR) titled “Big-Bang Disruption” that takes the concept a step further. It suggests that in today’s marketplace, there may be disruptors an organization won’t even see coming that will change the market completely. The article references the example of GPS device makers that were continually innovating and coming out with new devices. And then what happens? People get smartphones with free GPS apps and it pretty much wipes out the market for standalone GPS devices.



So does any of this have relevance in the health industry? Our industry is typically slower to adopt new technologies in part because it has to be. Health organizations are dealing with highly sensitive and private health information and all the regulations around that, not to mention technology can directly affect people’s health and safety. In health, a measured, safe and compliant approach needs to be taken with any new technology.



So I think it is unlikely we’ll see something as dramatic as an all-up big-bang technology disruption in health. But I do think we’ll continue to see technologies that disrupt the traditional models and as they meet regulatory hurdles, offer new ways of doing things that help the industry further the triple aim of improving care quality and access, while reducing costs. Here are a few areas to watch:



  • BYOD. Bring your own device (BYOD) is one of the most obvious examples of a technology disruption that’s already happening. Doctors started bringing their smartphones and tablets to work and health organizations have had to figure out how to not only manage all of these devices, but ideally embrace them to take advantage of how they can help clinicians work more efficiently and access tools and information wherever their patients are. We’ll see even more potential come out of BYOD with technology such as Microsoft infrastructure solutions and Windows 8, which help enable a holistic approach to securing and managing devices so health professionals can have fluid, productive experiences across workflows. 
  • Telemedicine. The HBR article mentions telemedicine as a disruptor in the health industry because it offers the potential to efficiently and affordably provide care to more patients and citizens regardless of geographic boundaries. And now that the technology to enable telemedicine is becoming more cost-effective and people are able to communicate on a number of different devices, the barriers to entry are coming down. Health professionals today can use unified communications such as Microsoft Lync for remote consultations, virtual office visits, education, follow-up in between appointments, and more. And technology such as Skype, which currently has about 280 million users, offers serious potential to further propel telemedicine by connecting patients with their healthcare providers. 
  • Cloud computing. Cloud solutions offer powerful operational efficiencies and as more of these solutions meet health organizations’ privacy and security concerns—such as Microsoft Office 365, which addresses HIPAA compliance requirements in the U.S.—we’re seeing more widespread adoption. In the clinical space, for example, physicians are very attracted to cloud computing because it allows them to run their organizations more efficiently while getting out from under dealing with the infrastructure aspects of IT. Health organizations such as Mihills Webb Medical are taking advantage of the productivity benefits of Microsoft Office 365 and using the time saved to focus more on delivering better care to more patients.
  • Big data. Health is an information-intensive industry and harnessing that information represents  a huge opportunity. Solutions such as Microsoft Business Intelligence (BI) that provide powerful capabilities via familiar interfaces are making it easier to mine large data sets. This will help health organizations more effectively analyze clinical outcomes or research, and even conduct syndromic surveillance to name just a few scenarios. It will also help with providing more transparency around cost and quality, which will be crucial for health reform.



We all know change is inevitable and I look forward to seeing how these technology areas continue to positively disrupt our industry. When implemented in a way that makes sense for each individual health organization, I believe they hold real promise for furthering the triple aim.


Paul Smolke
Industry Managing Director, Worldwide Health

Microsoft in Health Blog

About the Author

Paul Smolke | Industry Managing Director, Worldwide Health

As Industry Managing Director of Worldwide Health at Microsoft Corporation, Paul Smolke is responsible for the development of strategy, partnerships and solutions for Microsoft within the healthcare & public health & social services industries. Read more