From Video Games to Digital Health


Joanne M. Hackett, Movement Health European Board Member,

The professional life of Dr. David Rhew, a new member of the regional board of the Movement Health Foundation, is like something out of a movie.   Here we tell you how this physician made his way to Microsoft and what he does there for patients. David Rhew often sums up his professional career as an unexpected journey, just like one of "The Hobbit" movies. That journey began in 1984 when he decided to study computer science. However, his interest in computers was less about a future career in technology, but more out of curiosity on how to develop video games. His thesis at the time was "Artificial Intelligence in Medicine." From there, he pivoted and entered medical school to start a career as a physician, not thinking at the time that computers would have any relevance in his future plans. Today, due to life's twists and turns, Rhew is the Global Chief Medical Officer at Microsoft, a position that has allowed him to combine those two passions to transform healthcare with digital solutions. "Doctors can also be geeks or engineers, and I probably fall into that category", he says with conviction. The moment Rhew knew he would dedicate his life to digital health was in 1990 when he was a junior clinical researcher. Back then, he was looking for ways to help physicians base their practice on scientific evidence. The major obstacles were the overwhelming volume of data and the resistance among doctors to follow evidence-based recommendations. "My journey truly began when I tried to do this manually, and I realized I couldn't do it without technology." Over time, and with the development of mobile telephony, artificial intelligence, and machine learning, he and many others were able to synthesize information and deliver it to clinicians to help them make better healthcare decisions. For him, technology is key in the sector, not only for there to be greater coordination within a hospital or for clinicians to make more timely decisions, but also to achieve a greater impact in terms of increased access and sustainability in the world's health systems. Finding ways in which he could provide high-quality care to everyone, regardless of country, was his goal when he took up his position at Microsoft. It was precisely this close alignment of personal goals with the objectives of the Movement Health Foundation that led him to decide to join the Latin American regional board of this organization, of which Microsoft is a co-founding partner. According to him, partnerships are important for making things happen in health. The best example to illustrate this is with the pandemic. During that health crisis, he and many other experts thought that having a COVID vaccine available would be enough. However, many individuals did not get vaccinated due to a lack of trust or distrust, whether it was with the government, the scientific community, or their healthcare provider. The way they solved it was by turning to community-based organizations such as churches, schools, and NGOs that had strong ties among citizens. "That union was the most important factor in achieving engagement'. During the pandemic, Rhew and the Microsoft team also worked with Avanade to help develop the WHO's World Health Data Hub, the "world's first comprehensive, end-to-end data solution for global health." This data platform has now been launched and will help support the WHO's Three Billion Goal, which aims to improve access to high-quality healthcare for one billion people, improve well-being for another billion, and prevent emergencies for yet another billion. That is just one example of how the technology we work on will have a global impact on billions of people. “If I were a doctor in a hospital I would be thrilled to have cared for maybe thousands. But at Microsoft I accomplish more than I could have ever imagined."