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In a stance one would be more likely to expect from Bill Gates’ humanitarian foundation than from his company, Microsoft Corp. (MS) is counselling caution as the U.S. government considers spending billions of dollars on digitizing health care records and processes.

As CNet’s Ina Fried reports, “Peter Neupert, the former CEO, who now heads Microsoft’s health care unit, said investment is a ‘necessary, but not sufficient’ condition for improvement and said that spending money on computer technology may not even be the right first step. … ‘Don’t focus on spending money on tech per se. Focus on what outcomes do we want’.”

All of which is not to say that MS and other players including Google don’t have a lot to gain from the proposed digitization effort. The budget for the project is currently set at (US)$50 billion.

Neupert just wants to ensure that the money is spent wisely, producing ‘a health data asset that can be used to improve both individual outcomes and the performance of the institutions and the system overall’.

He also urged the powers that be, at a U.S. Senate committee hearing yesterday, to leave room for experimentation and evolution in the incremental development process to ensure a meaningful result. Even so, the health care records digitization initiative will probably take another year or so to get government approval and several more to implement.

And Neupert warns that it may take even longer to get hospitals and physicians on onboard with the plan.

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