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Microsoft coughs up for health care software

It acquires Azyxxi, database software for patient records, and lays plans to spread the technology nationwide.

Microsoft has bolstered its health care lineup with the purchase of Azyxxi, database software for patient records, and with an alliance with the MedStar Health hospital group.

The software giant said on Wednesday that it will create a new division in its health solutions group to work on Azyxxi, which aggregates all of an individual patient's data--from routine visits to ultrasound images--into a single record that is quickly accessible to doctors and nurses.

This is one of several recent image-softening initiatives Microsoft has taken, promoting technology as a way to improve the quality of life.

Two of the original developers of the software, Craig Feied and Mark Smith, will move to the Microsoft division, along with 40 development team employees from MedStar's Washington Hospital Center, in Washington, D.C, where Azyxxi was created.

"We believe in the vision of (Azyxxi's) founders that information technology can improve health care," Peter Neupert, vice president of Microsoft's health solutions group, said Wednesday at a Washington, D.C., press conference to announce the deal. The financial terms of the acquisition were not disclosed.

Currently, the Azyxxi software is used in seven MedStar hospitals in the Washington, D.C., and Baltimore metropolitan areas. Microsoft said it plans to spread the technology nationwide.

The company also forged a strategic alliance with MedStar related to Azyxxi. The hospital group will put newly developed technology to use in its patient care units, and its Washington Health Center will remain the testing ground for prototypes and new features of the tools, Microsoft said.

Feied gave a presentation at the press conference that demonstrated Azyxxi's interface, highlighting the software's potential to aid in life-or-death hospital matters. A central problem for health care professionals today, he explained, is that time-consuming information searches take away from the actual attention given to treatment.

In addition to its use as a tool for keeping track of individual patients' medical histories, the Azyxxi software is also capable of compiling statistics: Feied's examples included tracking flu cases from year to year, and charting drug resistance patterns within a hospital.

The issue of privacy is likely to arise somewhere amid Microsoft's Azyxxi push, especially when it comes to the transferral of such an information-laden electronic record from one hospital to another. The panelists emphasized that all MedStar hospitals have access to the entire Azyxxi database, but when the software is employed by other medical centers, the patient's consent will be required before his or her records can be transferred between institutions.