Microsoft updates Cloud for Healthcare with new virtual care, patient monitoring features

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

Microsoft announced the first updates for its healthcare cloud offering with new virtual care capabilities, remote patient monitoring and care coordination.

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

The first update will be available in April and includes services for care plan management and will support eight additional languages.

Virtual health has helped expand access to care at a time when the pandemic has restricted patients’ ability to see their doctors. This requires providers to think about ways to improve patient experiences, enhance care management workflows and ensure secure health information exchanges, according to Tom McGuinness, corporate vice president, worldwide health at Microsoft in a blog post.

"We’re introducing new Microsoft Dynamics 365 patient access features to streamline the virtual experience for patients by allowing more flexibility in self-scheduling both virtual and in-person appointments through their existing patient portal and integrating virtual health assistants, like the Azure Health Bot service, for triaging, scheduling, and making it seamless to receive follow-up and wellness guidance from their care team," he wrote.

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"It will allow patients to be more central to their own care," he told Fierce Healthcare.

Through Microsoft Teams, clinicians and patients can schedule and launch virtual visits in Teams or ​from within the Epic electronic health records (EHRs) system.

Teams, which is a virtual chat tool, integrates into already existing workflows to improve collaboration while protecting sensitive patient information. During virtual clinic visits, physicians and caregivers can use Dynamics 365 patient insights to see a holistic, 360-degree view of their patients’ care plans without having to bounce between multiple systems to gather relevant patient information, according to Alysa Taylor, corporate vice president, business applications and global industry at Microsoft. 

The tech giant also is offering tools offering new home health care plan management applications and remote patient monitoring features. 

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As an example, Mary Washington Health System is working with Microsoft partner Avtex to deploy a solution built on Microsoft Cloud for Healthcare that connects providers with patients who have canceled or deferred elective procedures, helping them reach patients digitally, more effectively than with traditional marketing campaigns. 

Healthcare providers can also use the tools to track and manage their device inventory such as wearable or remote monitoring devices. Care coordinators can enable integrated access between physicians, care managers, and at-home caregivers to deploy digital coaching or care plan navigation tools tailored to patient needs, the tech giant said.

Microsoft's Cloud for Healthcare tools also are specifically designed to support data exchange with Azure API for FHIR, tools built to meet the requirements that health organizations need in the health care industry for GDPR, HITRUST, CCPA and HIPAA.

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Microsoft made the announcement while rolling out three new cloud offerings for financial services, manufacturing companies, and nonprofits.

Microsoft, Google and Amazon Web Services (AWS) are all pushing deeper into healthcare in a battle to provide cloud computing and data storage technology to hospitals.

The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated cloud adoption in healthcare, McGuinness said.

"The pandemic has heightened a lot of challenges facing healthcare providers and organizations and created challenges related to scalability and managing patients in the ICU and telehealth itself," he said.

The capabilities offered through the healthcare cloud service helps organizations scale up digital health technologies while also providing tools to improve data interoperability, workflow efficiency and streamline interactions.