At its virtual Build conference today, Microsoft announced it is launching industry-specific cloud offerings, starting with one designed for healthcare. Microsoft Cloud for Healthcare is now available in a public preview and as a free six-month trial. In general, the Industry Clouds are sets of tools that bring together Microsoft’s existing services like chatbots, Teams and Azure IoT. The company also promised that a “robust partner ecosystem” will be available to make the platform more useful.
Think of Microsoft Industry Clouds as something like Google’s G Suite for businesses, except with access to far more Microsoft tools and catering specifically to designated industries. Cloud for Healthcare, for example, will focus on what Microsoft has identified as important needs for the field, like engaging patients, facilitating health team collaboration and improving operational efficiency, all with strict security measures.
An important component of healthcare is aftercare, where medical professionals need to keep in touch with patients to follow up on their recovery. But the tools available to do so are generally limited to follow-up phone calls and emails, which are not only tedious but can sometimes not meet security standards.
Microsoft’s Healthcare Bot Service will be available as a piece of this package, which the company said is behind more than 1,500 instances of COVID-19-based bots that have gone live since March. These bots can help alleviate the strain on emergency hotlines for medical providers while addressing common questions that people might have.
Another service Microsoft is making available is the Bookings app in its Teams collaboration platform, which will allow healthcare workers to schedule, manage and conduct provider-to-patient virtual visits without leaving Teams. Like most similar telehealth services today, Bookings (for Healthcare, at least) will send patients a customized email to go to their appointment in one click on a desktop, or in the Teams app on iOS or Android. A Microsoft spokesperson confirmed to Engadget that Teams “supports HIPAA compliance and is HITRUST certified.”
Cloud for Healthcare will also offer “enhanced patient engagement portals,” according to Microsoft, which lets patients and providers manage appointment booking, reminders and bill payments across various devices. Similar portals already exist, but Microsoft’s will likely make for a more seamless experience on the medical provider’s end since it can tie into other behind-the-scenes part of the infrastructure.
Microsoft’s service is also designed to make it easier for care teams to work across the many parts of America’s dizzying healthcare infrastructure. It includes tools for medical workers to easily create referrals, look up providers, as well as “understand physician spend, satisfaction and enhanced analytics on referral categories,” according to the company’s news release.
With Cloud for Healthcare, organizations can use Dynamics 365 Marketing and Customer Service tools to deploy individualized care plans for patients or groups of patients. Providers can also use the service to proactively reach out to patients on any device with preventative and care management programs, as well as conduct secure virtual visits and remote health monitoring via Azure IoT. The latter lets organizations receive data from medical devices to facilitate more-complete monitoring in real time so they can react quickly to emergency situations or escalate care in a timely manner, as well as reduce readmissions.
Microsoft will also offer an integration between Teams and Power Apps to help organizations create apps and workflows swiftly, without requiring a ton of code or weeks of work. According to the company, thousands of organizations are now relying on the new integration to manage their coronavirus response, including Swedish Health Services in Seattle, the Chicago Dept of Public Health and Rush Hospitals. Microsoft is also working with health system providers like Allscripts, GE Healthcare, Nuance, Epic and Adaptive Biotechnologies, as well as pharmacies and other medical organizations like Walgreens Boots Alliance, Humana and Novartis to allow easier collaboration across Cloud for Healthcare.
It’s clear that our healthcare infrastructure is about to evolve into a system facilitated by technology, and Microsoft wants to be a part of that movement with Cloud for Healthcare. Given the many moving pieces that make up America’s medical industry, it’s heartening to see a product that aims to make consolidating all those components easier.
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