Microsoft, Mercy unveil multiyear deal to explore 'more than four dozen' healthcare AI use cases

Microsoft and Mercy are the latest big tech-health system pairing to explore generative AI, cloud technology and other tools that could lighten the load on employees.

The new multiyear collaboration builds on prior “investments” Mercy made into the company’s secure cloud platform that paved the way for real-time clinical decision-making, Joe Kelly, Mercy executive vice president of transformation and business development officer, said in the Wednesday announcement.

“With Microsoft, we are exploring more than four dozen uses of AI and will launch multiple new AI use cases by the middle of next year to transform care and experiences for patients and co-workers,” he said. “This is predictive, proactive and personalized care at its best.”

The organizations’ release outlined a few “immediate” use cases Mercy plans to implement using Microsoft Azure OpenAI Service.

The system will use “generative AI-assisted” patient messaging to answer questions about lab results or other care topics in a conversational format, per the announcement. Mercy will also tap the technology to help with patient calls “for actions like scheduling appointments” as well as with follow-up recommendations during the call to cut down the need for follow-ups.

Internally, Mercy employees will have a chatbot to guide searches about the system’s policies, procedures and other human-resources-related information so “they can spend more time on patient care,” the organizations said.

Further down the line, Mercy could use a secure, centralized data platform built on Azure to drive insights that “reduce many unnecessary patient days in the hospital by giving care teams smart dashboards and better visibility into the factors that impact how soon patients can return home,” the companies wrote in the announcement.

“With the latest advances in generative AI, this moment marks a true phase change where emerging capabilities can help healthcare organizations address some of their most pressing challenges, create needed efficiency and transform care,” Peter Lee, corporate vice president of research and incubations at Microsoft, said in a release. “Mercy has a reputation for ongoing innovation and—through our years working together—has been a leader in the industry in creating an intelligent data platform on which to launch this kind of transformation.”

St. Louis-based Mercy is among the nation’s largest health systems with more than 40 acute care, managed care and specialty hospitals. The nonprofit, which also runs one of the country’s largest ACOs, employs more than 45,000 people and provides care across Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, Mississippi and Texas.

Mercy is now among the growing list of healthcare partners Microsoft has recruited for its Azure-powered AI efforts. Last month, it struck a similar arrangement with Duke Health and, in July, announced a two-year deal with Teladoc to integrate AI and ambient clinical documentation tech into the virtual care platform. Ochsner Health also announced the launch of a pilot using generative AI to draft patient messages that’s built on Microsoft’s Azure OpenAI Service.

Broadly speaking, provider executives have frequently cited generative AI and similar innovations as areas of interest for their growing tech budgets—though relatively few had a formal strategy or framework in place as of this summer.