Healthcare4 min read

AI Checkup: How Is the Healthcare Industry Investing in Artificial Intelligence?

BreAnne Buehl

If you’re part of the healthcare and life sciences sectors, you were most likely in San Francisco from January 9-12th for the 41st annual JP Morgan Healthcare Conference, swimming through the streets of rain-soaked Union Square with the 50k other industry execs rotating between meetings, offshoot conferences, and receptions. The energy of this industry-leading week of events is unmatched, and it’s the place where leaders such as David Rhew, Microsoft’s Global Chief Medical Officer, shared their vision for the future of healthcare.

I caught up with David at the end of the week when most folks had already made their flights back home and the city was settling back into its quasi-pandemic routine. We talked about the JPM conference, the importance of an outcomes-first approach for tech companies, the newly launched Horizon Cloud on Azure for Healthcare as the latest collaboration between VMWare and Microsoft, as well as his thoughts on new major players in healthcare, trends in the remote health workforce, and his important work in health equity.

Read-on for Part 1 of this 3-part blog series:

Bre: It’s a pleasure to be speaking with you again, David. We've just reached the end of the 41st Annual JP Morgan Healthcare Conference and it's the first time we’ve been in person at this event since the pandemic started! What are some of the major themes that you've picked up on this year at JPM, and how have those themes shifted since the beginning of the pandemic?

David: While I didn't attend all the conferences, I did talk with several folks and spoke at a few sessions. The people that attend JPM are predominantly on the investor side, so most discussions are around the future of health and life sciences, and identifying emerging opportunities. There was some good discussion around how the pandemic opened up opportunities around virtual care and remote monitoring and how we can think about digital health as being a key part of many future efforts.

The area that I focus on is AI and cloud and there was a lot of interesting discussion around those topics. The traditional areas of genomics and multimodal imaging continue to be of high interest to a lot of organizations, and there are some very cool technologies being built. The question I kept hearing was whether there will be more or less investment in this space considering the economic downturn. Will that slow things down or will we see an uptick in certain areas because of the need for innovation? In general, most of the people I talked to were cautiously optimistic. I would say I'm in the same camp and feel that a lot of this is quite transformative. I recognize that many organizations don't have the budgets today to be able to invest in certain innovations, but that's not stopping many of them because this is central to their strategy.

There was also a lot of discussion around who the players are, which traditionally have been your healthcare providers and payers, pharma, life sciences, and med tech. Now retail is making a mark. The industry is also very curious about how the big players will be working within the rest of the ecosystem.

Bre: It’s encouraging to know you’ve been hearing cautious optimism from most people this past week. I’d like to touch on this point about new players as well in just a bit. 

VMWare has recently been shifting its sales and solutions mindset from a technology-first approach to an outcomes-first approach, with patient outcomes and clinical workflows at the heart of conversations we’re having within healthcare and life sciences. I've heard you talk about this outcomes-first approach before and I'm wondering what advice you have for tech companies that are making a similar shift in their approach to the industry.

David: For us, it was a cultural change. It started at the top when Satya took the helm almost a decade ago. We were a technology-first company, and largely our focus was on putting a computer on every desktop. What we have realized is that our role should be focused on empowering our clients and partners, understanding what their needs are and supporting them on their journey.

Our current mission is to empower every individual and every organization to be able to do more, and to think more boldly about what's possible. That then translates into how our business units get compensated. Our compensation is not based on the traditional model of selling products. It’s based on utilization of those products, which aligns us with creating value. So, the more that customers get value, the more our sales teams get compensated.

We had to reorganize our entire thinking around this, and in translating it into a strategy, we realized that Microsoft by itself cannot solve all of these very complicated problems. Partnerships were going to be the only way for us to deliver. Partnerships are central to our entire strategy within every vertical, and in healthcare, partnerships have spanned a wide range from startups to mid-sized and large companies, from the traditional players in healthcare such as providers, payers, med-tech, and life sciences to retail, community-based organizations, public health, and government agencies. These are the organizations that are ultimately responsible for the total well-being of individuals.

Bre: It’s a major shift that, as you’ve said, requires significant change from the inside out. One of our strategies has been to incorporate the voice of the clinician into our solution-building process. In my experience in previous roles, so many technology companies have entered this space to solve problems without truly understanding the workflows within healthcare. What are your thoughts? How important is it to have a clinician’s input and perspective from Day 1?

Check out Part 2 of our series to read David’s response!

Dr. David C. Rhew is the Global Chief Medical Officer and Vice-President of Healthcare for Microsoft. He sits on the Governing Committee for NESTcc (National Evaluation System for health Technology coordinating center), the group within MDIC (Medical Device Innovation Consortium) that advises FDA, CMS, and NIH regarding RWE/RWD safety and efficacy studies on medical devices.

He holds six U.S. technology patents that enable authoring, mapping, and integration of clinical decision support into electronic health records. David is also faculty affiliate for the Center for Innovation in Global Health at Stanford University.