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Microsoft Cloud for Healthcare: Unlocking the power of health data for better care

As healthcare providers have faced unprecedented workloads (individually and institutionally) around the world, the pandemic response continues to cause seismic shifts in how, where, and when care is provided. Longer term, it has revealed the need for fundamental shifts across the care continuum.

As healthcare providers have faced unprecedented workloads (individually and institutionally) around the world, the pandemic response continues to cause seismic shifts in how, where, and when care is provided. Longer-term, it has revealed the need for fundamental shifts across the care continuum. As a physician, I have seen first-hand the challenges of not having the right data, at the right time, in the right format to make informed shared decisions with my patients. These challenges amplify the urgency for trusted partners and solutions to help solve emergent health challenges.

Today we’re taking a big step forward to address these challenges with the general availability of Microsoft Cloud for Healthcare. Microsoft Cloud for Healthcare brings together trusted capabilities to customers and partners that enhance patient engagement, empower health team collaboration, and improve clinical and operational insights. It makes it faster and easier to provide more efficient care and helps to ensure the end-to-end security, compliance, and interoperability of health data.

Innovation and Microsoft Cloud for Healthcare

That starts with Azure API for FHIR, which enables the rapid exchange of data through Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (FHIR®) APIs, backed by a managed platform as a service (PaaS) offering. It makes it easier for anyone working with health data to ingest, manage, and persist protected health information in the cloud. The healthcare industry is rapidly transforming health data to the emerging standard of FHIR®, which enables a robust, extensible data model with standardized semantics and data exchange that enables all systems using FHIR to work together. Transforming your data to FHIR allows you to quickly connect existing data sources such as the electronic health record systems or research databases. FHIR also enables the rapid exchange of data in modern implementations of mobile and web development. Most importantly, FHIR can simplify data ingestion and accelerate development with analytics and Machine Learning tools. The shift from on-premises computing to the cloud in healthcare is one of the five megatrends I spoke about recently and is a one-time event happening in a more compressed period than other industries.

Another key innovation for Microsoft Cloud for Healthcare was born out of a Microsoft Hackathon and launched in 2019, but gained worldwide utilization this year during the pandemic. The Microsoft Health Bot service is an Azure cloud service that empowers healthcare organizations to rapidly build and deploy AI-powered virtual health assistants and chatbots that can be used to enhance their processes, self-service, and cost reduction efforts. The Health Bot comes with built-in healthcare AI services, such as clinical protocols and medical content from trusted industry sources, healthcare templates for rapid design, language understanding models that are tuned to understand medical and clinical terminology, and seamless hand-off to live chat and telehealth when required. The uptake of the Health Bot service has been incredible. Since March 2020, Microsoft’s Health Bot has triaged over 600 million messages and deployed 2,300 COVID-19 bots in 25 countries, to serve more than 50 million users. At a time when call centers and emergency departments were overwhelmed, this bot service has helped many hospital systems, non-government organizations (NGOs), and public health systems, including the US Center for Disease Control, to communicate up-to-date guidance, prioritize care for their most urgent patients, and receive real-time data on people’s interactions with the bot.

As we continue to expand the capabilities in Microsoft Cloud for Healthcare, our teams continue to bring forward innovations. Remote patient monitoring provides the ability to gather patient health data outside of traditional healthcare settings. Healthcare institutions can use Azure IoT Connector for FHIR to bring health data generated by remote devices into Azure API for FHIR. This data could be used to closely track patient health status, monitor patient adherence to treatment plans, and provide personalized care.

Recently released in Open Source, the Medical Imaging Server for DICOM streamlines the process of ingesting medical imaging data in the cloud. By using the Medical Imaging Server for DICOM alongside the Azure API for FHIR or other FHIR services, data references are created between imaging data and clinical data in FHIR, setting the stage for multiple scenarios which are difficult and expensive to execute in today’s on-premises systems. As a radiologist, I am excited to see the development of Microsoft’s imaging server. Imaging data makes up 74 percent of all medical data and on our quest for patient-centered care, this imaging data often provides the clues to connect the dots in disease detection as well as to guide the most effective prevention and treatment strategies. 

Text Analytics for Health, a feature of Microsoft Azure Text Analytics, is an AI service currently in preview that enables and simplifies the process of extracting insights from unstructured medical data. Trained on a diverse range of medical data—covering various formats of clinical notes, clinical trial protocols, and more—this health feature is capable of processing a broad range of data types and tasks, without the need for time-intensive, manual development of custom models. Much of today’s healthcare data is in the form of unstructured text, such as doctor’s notes, medical publications, electronic health records, clinical trial protocols, medical encounter transcripts, and more. Healthcare organizations, providers, researchers, pharmaceutical companies, and others face an incredible challenge in trying to identify and draw insights from all that information. Unlocking insights from this data has massive potential for improving healthcare services and patient outcomes.

Future enhancements of Microsoft Cloud for Healthcare will include solutions for precision medicine. Decoding the information in an individual’s genome has led to a greater understanding of the variability in disease progression and treatment response across individuals. Gaining a better understanding of these genetic variations at an individual and population level is key to development of precision medicine strategies to prevent, diagnose, and treat disease. Microsoft Genomics open source solutions (Cromwell on Azure, Genomics Notebooks) enable biomedical researchers to orchestrate scalable workflows and efficiently manage genomics pipelines and analytics using the power of the Azure cloud. Our goal is to make genomics data actionable by analyzing and interpreting data generated by modern genomics technologies. 

Unlocking the power of health data with Microsoft Cloud for Healthcare and its expanding pipeline of enhancements allow care givers to gain a holistic view of the patient with insights and actionable next steps for more informed, personalized care management.

With today’s launch, Microsoft Cloud for Healthcare lays the foundation for our customers and partners to build innovative solutions, leading to better experiences and outcomes for both patients and their providers. Collaborating with our partners to bring these innovations to life is the work that keeps me energized as we reimagine the future of health globally.