The Leading Virtually Digest, January 9, 2009

What: NYTimes article about Microsoft’s research in emerging markets
Post to which it is related: Leading Virtual Communities: Do We Have the Answers?
Bottom line: This article talks about some of the projects Microsoft teams are working on in emerging markets such as India.  I love the idea of applying technology in creative ways to help social problems in countries that don’t have many of the luxuries we have here.  For example, one team is using technology in creative ways to disseminate information about increasing milk production to dairy farmers in India.  I’m particularly intrigued by one idea they talk about – one project allows people to submit data to a central computer by using their cellphone.  In places where cell service is available, but computers and Internet connections are scarce, this is a clever way of creating a virtual community and gathering information from a dispersed group of people.  I’ve read before that in many developing nations cell phone service has become available even where regular phone lines haven’t been installed.  This makes for a whole different understanding of virtual collaboration and community in other parts of the world.

What:  NYTimes article about a new system allowing patients to have a virtual appointment with doctors.
Post to which it’s related: Leading in Face-to-Face Versus Virtual Teams.
Bottom line:  There seems to be a theme emerging here, as this is another great use of technology to help underserved populations.  The service allows people to meet with a physician using an Internet connection and webcam.  The patient and doctor both use webcams, so they see each other, and they talk online.  While this may not become a replacement for office visits for the general population, it offers those without insurance a great alternative to either not getting care or ending up in the emergency room.  The article discusses that the system tries to maintain continuity of care.  Patients can see the same doctor again if they are available online.  But if a patient has to see a different doctor, a copy of the report is forwarded to the doctor they usually see.  I wonder whether some of our previous work about leading virtual versus face-to-face teams might apply to the doctor-patient relationship.  At a time when we as a nation are faced with a health care crisis (and an incoming administration dedicated to doing something about that crisis) this application of collaborative technology might make reform possible. 

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