HIMSS 2022: Microsoft rolls out Azure Health Data Services to unify clinical, imaging and medical device data

Microsoft is stepping up its healthcare cloud services with a new platform that brings together diverse data sets like clinical, imaging and streaming data from medical devices in the cloud.

Announced Tuesday in conjunction with the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) Global Conference in Orlando, Florida, the tech giant said the platform as a service offering is purpose-built for protected health information and uses global interoperability standards of Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (FHIR) and Digital Imaging Communications in Medicine.

According to Microsoft, Azure Health Data Services is the only generally available solution of its kind to ingest, manage and transform a combination of clinical, imaging and medtech data. While other solutions exist for clinical and imaging data, Azure Health Data Services provides the most holistic view of the patient by unifying all three types of health data.

The cloud technology builds on Microsoft's interoperability data services for the health and life sciences industry as the company introduced Azure API for FHIR in 2019.

“There are several areas where cloud technology like Azure Health Data Services can help enhance healthcare. I believe it will play a critical role between various systems, allowing us to take data from health records and other data sources and combine it together in a centralized place where it can be used to inform and deliver patient-centric care,” said Matthew Kull, chief information officer, Cleveland Clinic, in a statement. “It also can enable real-time complex deep learning—by normalizing data from different systems in a way that allows complex algorithmic analyses to occur via AI or ML—and integrate research-based insights back into a clinical workflow.”

With Azure Health Data Services, metadata from medical images and medical devices can be read alongside clinical information, yielding better results when a provider or researcher searches and queries patient information. The service also features a suite of tools that supports the de-identification and connection of data for computation and analytics, according to Microsoft.

Microsoft recently announced the completion of its acquisition of conversational artificial intelligence technology company Nuance Communications for $19.7 billion.

"The scale, security and power of Microsoft Cloud for Healthcare and Azure Health Data Services’ strong cloud foundation for managing data, combined with Nuance’s deep domain expertise, give customers access to the broadest and deepest set of advanced AI solutions that will help drive better decision-making, create more meaningful connections and produce tangible outcomes," executives said in a press release.

Updates to Microsoft Cloud for Healthcare to support telehealth

The tech giant rolled out its Cloud for Healthcare service in October 2020 that brings together existing services such as Microsoft Teams, Azure IoT and chatbots to help healthcare organizations manage operations.

Microsoft, Google and Amazon Web Services (AWS) are all pushing deeper into healthcare in a battle to provide cloud computing and AI and analytics services to providers.

In February 2021, the company announced updates to its healthcare cloud offering with new virtual care capabilities, remote patient monitoring and care coordination.

Microsoft announced this week at HIMSS new features and solutions for Teams to support virtual appointments and better clinician experiences. 

Microsoft reports that monthly use of Teams in healthcare grew 560% from March 2020 to November 2021.

“The past two years have starkly revealed the pressing challenges facing healthcare and life sciences across the globe,” said Tom McGuinness, corporate vice president for global healthcare and life sciences at Microsoft, in a statement. “At a time when healthcare systems are strained to capacity and researchers are racing against the clock, we believe that data and AI hold the keys to a new world of health and discovery for patients, clinicians, researchers and administrators. Microsoft is bringing together the solutions the industry needs in a cohesive way.”

The new features include the ability for patients to request on-demand appointments with their provider along with new analytics capabilities that give providers key insights into the performance of virtual appointments. 

Microsoft also rolled out its Teams EHR connector for Cerner, which enables clinicians to launch virtual appointments and consult with other providers in Teams directly from their health record system. Additionally, the Teladoc app for Teams is now generally available, which brings the Teladoc Health Solo platform directly into Teams.

Other features designed to enhance patient engagement include updates to the patient view, which allows customization of care scenarios via low-code PowerApp solutions and enhancements to Health Bot templates, enabling self-reporting for quality-of-life measurements and chronic condition management.