Microsoft, Humana ink 7-year strategic partnership to leverage cloud, AI and voice technologies

Insurance giant Humana and Microsoft announced a seven-year strategic partnership to use cloud and artificial intelligence technologies to build predictive solutions and intelligent automation to support Humana members and their care teams.

Humana plans to use Microsoft's technology muscle, specifically its Azure cloud, Azure AI and Microsoft 365 collaboration technologies, as well as interoperability standards like Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (FHIR) to provide care teams with real-time access to information through a cloud platform, the companies said.

Providers can use these technology tools to have a more holistic view of their patients to enable better preventive care, keep up with patients' medication schedules and refills and identify social barriers to health such as food insecurity, loneliness and social isolation, Humana said.

Humana's goal is to leverage technology to improve members' health outcomes and make their healthcare experiences simpler to navigate.

The partnership will address two core innovation areas for Humana. The insurer will harness the capabilities of Microsoft Azure and Azure AI to develop on-demand and virtual medical services. Humana also wants to use Azure AI and voice capabilities like speech recognition to personalize patient care and improve administrative and clinical workflows to make healthcare easier for members and clinician partners.

RELATED: Humana's chief strategy officer: Insurance giant is shifting to be a healthcare company

The collaboration is part of a growing trend of healthcare providers, payers and technology vendors migrating to cloud platforms offered by big tech giants. Earlier this month, Vishal Agrawal, chief strategy and corporate development officer at Humana, said the company is shifting from "an insurance company with elements of healthcare to a healthcare company with elements of insurance."

Innovative technology will be critical to help support these healthcare services, Agrawal said.

"We're using technology to enable better care for members. We're creating a holistic platform for our members, and Medicare Advantage is a financing model that helps to do that, and technology is a key enabler of that journey," he said.

Last year, Humana announced it was launching a new digital health and analytics unit, Studio H, in Boston, and executives said voice recognition tools would be an area of focus.

Leveraging cloud and AI tools

As part of the partnership, Microsoft is now Humana’s preferred cloud provider, and the payer will aggregate data on Microsoft's Azure cloud platform, enabling a "truly longitudinal view" of its members’ health histories.

"The next step for medical records is to go beyond the collection of information to the delivery of insights," William Shrank, M.D., chief medical and corporate affairs officer at Humana, said in a statement. Microsoft technologies offer Humana the ability to apply sophisticated analytics to members’ records and then provide clinicians and care teams with the opportunities to make a difference in patients’ health, Shrank said.

"Achieving our goal to provide better care experiences and improve our members’ health requires strong partnerships that allow us to be smarter, safer and faster in delivering care," Heather Cox, chief of digital health and analytics at Humana, said in a statement.

RELATED: Humana launches digital health studio, appoints new chief digital and analytics officer

With an estimated 10,000 people joining the Medicare system daily, Microsoft has an opportunity to address the growing demands on the healthcare system by improving health outcomes and lowering costs, according to Greg Moore, M.D., Ph.D., corporate vice president of health technology and alliances at Microsoft.

"We’re excited to combine Humana’s industry expertise with Microsoft’s Azure cloud, Azure AI and voice capabilities to remove barriers, promote health care data interoperability, and create solutions to ensure this growing population gets the right preventative, acute and long-term care for the best health outcomes," Moore said.

Humana plans to use Microsoft's cloud and AI technologies to "translate" the many different languages of an individual’s electronic health record and decipher nonelectronic parts, such as socioeconomic determinants of health, and store them alongside the rest of the patient’s information. 

RELATED: Humana, Doctor on Demand launch virtual primary care health plan

The insurer wants to develop healthcare-specific clinical intelligence capabilities, such as equipping home health solutions with voice technologies that enable care workers to be more productive and enable Humana to proactively capture and address important barriers to health.

Microsoft also announced the general availability of its Azure API for FHIR, an open-source platform that enables healthcare organizations to work with machine learning on protected health information in the cloud. With this announcement, Microsoft becomes the first cloud to offer customers and partners a fully managed, first-party service in the interoperable data standard FHIR, according to the company.

As part of the strategic partnership, the companies have committed to a multiyear research and development investment to build new insights and advance Humana’s focus on value-based care. This investment will include direct funding, dedicated R&D teams and specific co-developed projects.