Empowering public health services with Microsoft

In the face of a global pandemic and increasingly demanding patient needs, Microsoft’s David Rhew shares how technology can deliver virtual care experiences and accelerate the distribution of a vaccine for Covid-19

Elly Yates-Roberts
By Elly Yates-Roberts on 28 January 2021
Empowering public health services with Microsoft
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Between 2015 and 2050, the proportion of the world’s population over 60 years of age will nearly double from 12 per cent to 22 per cent, according to the World Health Organization.  

“As we age, our ability to live independently, safely and confidently in our home diminishes,” says David Rhew, global chief medical officer and vice president of healthcare at Microsoft.  

This change can occur gradually, over several years, due to progressive decline of physical and cognitive capabilities. Or it can be sudden and dramatic, such as after a stroke, heart attack or major fall. Either way, ageing in a safe and familiar location continues to be one of the most important goals for those affected and their caregivers. Rhew believes that technology can enable this.   

But he says there are important barriers that need to be addressed for technology to be widely adopted by seniors.  

“The first involves making adjustments to the technology to accommodate decreased functional capabilities due to age, injury or illness,” says Rhew. “Microsoft has increased its focus on accessibility in recent years, developing digital tools that are designed to assist individuals with decreased function due to diminished vision, hearing, cognition, mobility, and/or mental well-being. 

“The second barrier involves shifting the setting of the care delivery from the clinic to the home. This is not only a matter of convenience, but with more frequent assessments of the health status through home monitoring and virtual visits, the care team can closely assess the progress that seniors are making towards their healthcare goals and intervene when necessary.” 

Rhew says Microsoft Cloud for Healthcare, launched in October 2020, provides a highly secure platform that enables remote patient monitoring, virtual visits and streamlined and coordinated care across the care continuum.  

“Microsoft Cloud for Healthcare is designed around the principle that the best healthcare experiences start with understanding you and where you are on your healthcare journey,” explains Rhew. “And through that understanding comes actionable insights, which need to be coordinated across the care team and care continuum.  

“One of the key use cases of Microsoft Cloud for Healthcare is the enablement of a digitised patient journey by enabling virtual care navigation. Every person who interacts with the patient would know exactly where the patient is on their journey and would be empowered to help them advance to the next stage. Enabling improved patient workflows will have direct relevance to all segments of the healthcare market.”  

The platform is one of a number of solutions born out of the Covid-19 pandemic. At a time when service providers of every kind are being asked to reimagine their operating landscapes in response to the global pandemic, Microsoft technology has been a key enabler for greater levels of innovation.

During the pandemic, Microsoft has rapidly deployed new solutions with its partners in the government, public health and healthcare sectors to address urgent needs.  

Microsoft developed AI-based chatbot technology to provide personalised recommendations for users concerned about Covid-19 infection. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention launched a Covid-19 assessment bot powered by Microsoft’s Azure-based Health Bot service. It provided individuals with medical information about the virus and how to self-care to prevent health systems from being overwhelmed.  

Microsoft also refocused its efforts in AI and performance computing to accelerate research efforts surrounding the virus, and entered data platform collaborations to facilitate sharing of data and allocation of critical resources including personal protective equipment, intensive care unit beds and ventilators. In addition, Microsoft has helped develop solutions with its partners in both public health agencies and governments to aid in preventing further spread of the virus, as well as with companies and institutions in enabling a safer return to the workplace and school. 

Over the past year, Microsoft Teams showed its value as a communication tool as many workforces migrated to working from home. Teams daily users grew from 20 million in November 2019 to 115 million in October 2020. It has enabled better remote collaboration and become a key to delivering virtual healthcare.  

“Teams and other Microsoft technologies have facilitated digital communications between patients and clinicians throughout the pandemic,” says Rhew. “HoloLens has also been a key tool. A study by the Journal of Medical Internet Research reported that the UK’s NHS demonstrated a 51 per cent reduction in exposure to Covid-19 and an 83 per cent reduction in use of personal protective equipment, by using Hololens2 as part of in-hospital rounds.” 

At a time when healthcare resources are stretched to limits, Microsoft is also helping in the worldwide vaccine effort. 

“Microsoft is leaning in to provide the technology infrastructure to enable a fair, equitable and efficient distribution of a vaccine globally.” Rhew says that Microsoft aims to support some of the many challenges in this area, including cold chain requirements for the vaccines that require super freezing, booster doses that need to be administered three to four weeks after the first dose, increasing the number of individuals who register for vaccination, and phased scheduling of vaccinations.  

“Microsoft and our ecosystem of partners remain deeply committed to ensuring the success of this global vaccination effort,” says Rhew. “As our CEO Satya Nadella has said, ‘We are adopting a first responder mindset across the company, working with so many customers on the front lines, including governments, health providers, schools, food suppliers and other commercial customers critical to the continuity and stability of services in every country.’” 

But Rhew also emphasises that disparities in care remain widespread, they have been exacerbated during the pandemic and continue to require comprehensive solutions. 

“During the pandemic, we have seen a tremendous uptake in and benefit from virtual care visits,” he says. “However, according to the Pew Research Center, approximately 113 million people in the USA do not have broadband access, which deepens the digital divide. Many of the individuals who do not have access to broadband will also need digital and healthcare literacy training and support in order to take advantage of the virtual care services.” 

Through its AirBand initiative, Microsoft is working to address this digital divide and democratise access to virtual healthcare alternatives.  

But more needs to be done.  

“In terms of managing disease, social determinants and social influencers of care remain major impediments for positive behaviour change for many individuals,” says Rhew. “Programmes that address the lack of access to healthy foods, stable housing, affordable transportation and job insecurity have shown promise, but relief is often temporary. We need large scale community-based programmes that can address the core issues and that have the financial backing to ensure sustainability.”

Partner Perspectives
We asked a selection of organisations how they are using Microsoft solutions to empower the workforces of health and social care organisations and improve the lives of patients. Below are extracts from their responses, which you can read in full from page 123 of the digital edition of the Winter 2020 issue of The Record.

Richard Cramer, chief healthcare strategist at Informatica, says: “By combining the capabilities of Informatica Intelligent Data Platform with the Microsoft Cloud for Healthcare, we have created a solution that enables healthcare organisations to unleash the power of data across on-premises, multi-cloud and big data environments.”

Suresh Krishnan, chief technology officer at Mazik Global, says: “Mazik Global’s suite of healthcare applications, MazikCare, revolutionises the relationships between patient, provider and supplier.”

Sunny Neogi, chief growth officer at KenSci, says: “KenSci is able to parse millions of rows of data to help healthcare professionals identify patient risk, veracity of operations and improve the way they deliver better outcomes.”

Vijay Magon, managing director at CCube Solutions, says: “Within the health sector, text analysis solutions leverage new technology to deliver the capability to read free-form text in health records to discover both content and context.” 

Mike Pietig, vice president of healthcare experience at Avtex, says: “We have been deploying and customising the Microsoft stack for years to solve gaps in care by leveraging components of Customer Insights, customer relationship management, Power BI and Azure.”

Lisa Khorey, executive vice president of Allscripts, says: “Microsoft solutions integrated with Allscripts health IT products enable customers to enjoy cyber-safety, increased productivity, improved financial and clinical outcomes and a simpler, more integrated clinical workspace.”

Anna van Poucke, global head of healthcare at KPMG International, says: “By digitally enabling our health sector capabilities, we’re excited to co-create an array of solutions that help health systems improve operational performance, from front-to-back office to delivering more engaging patient experiences and enabling data-driven population health strategies with ‘Care Control Towers’.”

Joe Petro, chief technology Officer at Nuance Communications, says: “Developed by Nuance and Microsoft, the Nuance Dragon Ambient eXperience (DAX) solution extends the power of Nuance Dragon Medical that is already trusted by over 550,000 physicians worldwide to create a fully voice-enabled and intelligent ambient exam room environment.”

Sammy Wahab, founder and CEO of Aztute, says: “Aztute has built a powerful public platform that seamlessly connects public health agencies with their communities, businesses and healthcare organisations to provide a centralized command centre to manage public health crises.”

This article was originally published in the Winter 2020 issue of The Record. To get future issues delivered directly to your inbox, sign up for a free subscription.

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