GE, Microsoft in Health-Care Software Joint Venture

General Electric Co and Microsoft Corp are forming a joint venture to develop and sell software systems to make it easier for healthcare providers to to store, access and share patient information.

The 50-50 venture, which is yet to be named, will initially employ about 700 people and be based near Microsoft's headquarters in Redmond, Washington, the companies said Thursday.

The goal is to develop open software systems that would allow multiple healthcare providers to track patients -- for example, allowing a diabetic patient's primary care physician to see how recently he or she has been to the podiatrist to check blood flow to his or her feet.

"Part of the problem in healthcare is there's so many doctors; there's so much information to bring together. There's not a single place for that," said Michael Simpson, a GE Healthcare executive who will serve as chief executive of the new venture when it begins operations next year. "When you talk about how do you bend the cost curve, it's not about making big monolithic systems; it's about joining systems and aggregating the data together so that people can make better decisions."

The two companies, who would not disclose the financial terms of the deal, said they are rolling Microsoft's Amalga, Verence and Expresso systems, as well as GE's eHealth and Qualibria systems.

GE, whose core healthcare business is making medical-imaging devices, has been stepping up its presence in healthcare computer systems in recent years. The largest U.S. conglomerate in 2009 formed a joint venture with chipmaker Intel Corp to develop devices to allow doctors to monitor patients' health remotely. (Reporting by Scott Malone in Boston, editing by Gerald E. McCormick)