An HIT

Microsoft (Redmond, Washington) and the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS; Chicago) have reported the launch of the Microsoft Health Users Group (MS-HUG) in the Asia-Pacific region, a step they said will provide regional healthcare organizations and technology partners with access to an online forum to facilitate the development of healthcare solutions.

The MS-HUG forum is a venue for what Microsoft and HIMSS term "influencers" and developers of healthcare technology solutions to collaborate and contribute to aspects of solutions built on Microsoft software platforms.

They said the forum "allows the healthcare technology community to discover new uses for existing technology, provide development support, network with peers, and to discuss needs and desires arising from the current use of healthcare IT."

MS-HUG is currently accessible to healthcare organizations and technology partners in North America and in Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA).

"Extending Microsoft HUG to the [Asia-Pacific] healthcare community provides an expanded forum for collaboration and the sharing of knowledge and experience across a growing ecosystem of health organizations and technology partners," said Gabe Rijpma, health industry director at Microsoft Asia Pacific (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia).

He added, "Collaboration enables the ecosystem to better demonstrate how technology can help solve healthcare challenges in the region and improve health costs, quality, and access for citizens."

The forum is designed to allow technology partners to gain insight into healthcare-specific requirements, improve their ability to target technology innovation, help health organizations improve service delivery, and achieve a stronger return on technology investments.

"This is brought about by sharing knowledge with others in the MS-HUG community who have overcome similar challenges," Rijpma said. "Our priority is to enable better and further collaboration between technology and people to break down the information barriers that exist between the disparate IT environments across the healthcare and pharmaceutical industries. Through solution accelerators that enable interoperability in key areas such as secure messaging, clinical information worker and clinical data manipulation, we can enable solutions that are otherwise not available to existing healthcare IT environments."

MS-HUG's membership has grown to include more than 5,000 members and 31 corporate supporters across North America and the EMEA region. This community is united by a shared interest in implementing vendor- and user-developed software based on Microsoft technology to improve healthcare quality and efficiency, while reducing complexity and cost.

Steven Yeo, vice president and executive director for HIMSS Asia Pacific, said, "MS-HUG enables us to further promote our mission to lead change in the healthcare information and management systems field through knowledge sharing, advocacy, collaboration, innovation, and community affiliation. Our goal is to drive better patient care, and this is another step in that direction."

HealthLanguage (Denver), a health IT applications developer, shares the vision for broder development opportunities. Speaking at the launch of MS-HUG Asia-Pacific, Marc Horowitz, senior vice president, said: "The diverse nature of healthcare requires partners to collaborate effectively to respond to the various needs of professionals involved. By offering healthcare professionals the ability to simply, quickly, and accurately enter and access clinical information, this combination of technologies supports [the] shared goal of providing easy-to-use, standardized solutions that enhance patient care and safety."

Joint UK offering by Boots, WebMD

WebMD Health (New York), a provider of health information services in the U.S., has reported a long-term strategic relationship with Boots UK, a pharmacy-led health and beauty retailer, to jointly develop a consumer health and wellness information portal in the UK.

The new joint offering will leverage WebMD's online consumer health assets and expertise with Boots' brand as a leading trusted healthcare source and pharmacy provider in the UK.

WebMD and Boots UK will work together exclusively to provide a healthcare information web site to consumers in the UK, which has one of largest Internet audiences in Europe with more than 40 million people, or two-thirds of all households, having access to the internet.

The UK also has the largest advertising market in Europe, estimated at $30 billion per year, with roughly 15%, or $4.5 billion devoted to online advertising.

"We are excited to be working with Boots UK as an important part of our strategy to expand WebMD's presence internationally," said Wayne Gattinella, president/CEO of WebMD. "Boots is the recognized leader in pharmacy and healthcare in the UK. Together we will build a powerful new health information resource designed to help UK consumers lead healthier lives."

Boots UK plans to market the new health portal through in-store promotion, links on its current e-commerce site, outreach to its affinity customers and promotion in its health and beauty magazine.

The new service is planned to launch in the second half of 2009. WebMD and Boots UK will jointly share in the development costs and benefits of the site, while WebMD will directly manage the sales and revenue operation for the site.

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