Microsoft, Duke Health launch 5-year partnership to explore healthcare AI, deploy cloud tech

Duke University Health System has tapped Microsoft to support its exploration of generative AI and cloud technologies, the academic system announced this week.

The organizations have launched a five-year partnership to “simplify and modernize IT operations” at Duke Health via a secure Microsoft Azure cloud environment, per the news release.

The collaboration will also have an eye toward innovation and learning, yielding new AI-based tools for clinical care as well as the creation of a Duke Health AI Innovation Lab and Center of Excellence, the system said.

"Our unrivaled expertise in data science, patient care and technology innovation synergizes perfectly with Microsoft's health care solutions and AI technology,” Jeffrey Ferranti, M.D., senior vice president and chief digital officer of Duke Health, said in the release. “Together, we are poised to propel Duke into the forefront of digitally-focused health systems, while simultaneously studying the reliability and safety of generative AI in health care."

As part of the agreement, Microsoft will help train Duke’s staff “to foster a cloud-savvy IT workforce,” according to the announcement.

Duke will also lean on Azure OpenAI Service—which Microsoft says offers both pre-trained and custom generative AI models “with deep understandings of language and code”—to build new tools that could potentially automate administrative tasks and better personalize patient education resources.

Researchers at the academic system and the affiliated Duke University School of Medicine previously hashed out a framework for how new clinical algorithms should be developed, evaluated and deployed to ensure safety and transparency.

Additionally, Duke Health and Microsoft are both founding members of the Coalition for Health AI, an academic system and tech industry-led group launched in early 2022 to develop guidelines on how healthcare AI should be designed to protect privacy, limit harm and achieve better health and equity outcomes.

As such, the announcement was clear that their upcoming work “adheres to the highest ethical standards” and will help promote health equity.

“Microsoft is excited to collaborate with Duke Health to operationalize responsible AI principles, helping to ensure that AI is deployed safely, effectively and in an unbiased and transparent manner,” David Rhew, M.D., global chief medical officer and vice president of healthcare at Microsoft, said in the announcement. “Together we will apply the latest Microsoft technologies to expedite and scale Duke Health’s nationally recognized model of AI governance. By sharing best practices and lessons learned, we hope other organizations will benefit from our experience.”

With all of the hype around generative AI’s potential for care, it’s little surprise that Microsoft has been racking up a slew of industry partnerships exploring the technology. Just last month, the tech giant struck a two-year deal with Teladoc to integrate AI and ambient clinical documentation tech into the virtual care platform.

Prior to that, Microsoft-owned Nuance pulled back the curtain on a fully automated clinical documentation application that combines conversational and ambient AI with GPT-4. Epic has since kicked off a collaboration to integrate the same app into its electronic health system, with systems like Stanford Health Care, UC San Diego Health, UNC Health and UW Health signing up to be early adopters.