Why Microsoft and Google's health plans are sick

Microsoft and Google are getting into the healthcare business, according to Steve Lohr, the New York Times' most reliable transcriptionist of big tech companies' plans. Both tech giants want to put patients' health records online and help them search for medical information on the Web. But Lohr entirely misses the point. Tech and healthcare have a long, parlous history, intertwined with the industry's laborious regulations. If change in the industry comes about, it's going to emerge from hospital halls and the lobbies of Congress, not from Silicon Valley. So why are Microsoft and Google putting some of their biggest brains on the project?


To get them out of the way, of course. Yes, yes, Adam Bosworth, the former Microsoft engineer, was a glorious hire for Google back in the day. Yes, yes, he invented XML and the Access database and so on and so forth, and he sort of invented Ajax, the set of technologies used by most modern websites (but not really). But what, exactly, has he done for us lately? Exactly. So it makes perfect sense for Google to get him out of the way by putting him on an obscure, sure-to-fail healthcare project.

It's a time-honored tradition in tech: If you have an executive you can't stand but can't get rid of, put him in charge of your "healthcare initiative." That's what Intel did to Steve McGeady, after all. When he was in charge of the chipmaker's software business, McGeady frequently sparred with Microsoft, and even testified against the software giant in the Department of Justice's antitrust lawsuit. Stripped of his software job, he was put in charge of Intel's Internet Health Initiative, and quit a few years later.

As for Microsoft's Steve Shihadeh, look no further than his resume: He's a salesman, not a technologist. His goal is to sell Windows server licenses to hospitals, and if some patter about revolutionizing healthcare means he can sell more software, of course he'll add that to his spiel. Like any good salesman, he doesn't really believe it.

So keep that in mind when you read about any tech company with high-minded healthcare plans, and its "health architect" wants to schmooze you up. Either you're dealing with someone who's got something to sell — or someone who's got nothing but time on their hands. Either way, their career's not looking healthy.