Helping to offer a new start in healthcare

Helping to offer a new start in healthcare

Start-ups are using technology and support from Microsoft to democratise access to healthcare

Elly Yates-Roberts |

As the global leader of health and life sciences for Microsoft for Startups, I work as part of a team that is dedicated to accelerating the development of early-stage companies and ensuring that they have the tools to grow and scale. 

Ultimately, our raison d’être is to enable entrepreneurs to access Microsoft resources, mentors, business development experts and technical architects to achieve their business goals. I have peers leading retail, financial services and cross-industry teams and we are all responsible for developing strategies and programmes that provide value unique to each industry. 
In a year when healthcare innovation is at the forefront of the minds of patients and providers alike, it’s inspiring to work with start-ups who are laser-focused on improving the quality of healthcare and how it is delivered. 

For example, Pakistani company Sehat Kahani was founded by two women who noticed that many female doctors didn’t practice after finishing school due to social and cultural norms. In a country that needs more medical professionals to provide care, Dr Iffat Zafar and Dr Sara Saeed started Sehat Kahani as a way to empower female doctors and democratise healthcare. Through the cost-effective assignment of qualified, home-based, female doctors, they are increasing access and quality of women’s healthcare. Female patients speak with doctors through the Sehat Kahani mobile app or special company health hubs, where trained front-line workers connect patients to these home-based providers using video consultation and electronic medical record (EMR) systems.  

Microsoft has supported Sehat Kahani with a go-to-market strategy and provided advice to scale up and grow the organisation’s business. In turn, this sponsorship has facilitated the design of a digital health solution, including a mobile app and web platform to diagnose and treat a broad range of diseases virtually. 
On the other side of the world, Dr Peter Kim, a US-based surgeon and technologist, also wanted to democratise healthcare, but in a completely different way. After years of development, he and his team performed the first fully autonomous suturing of soft tissue. With that achievement, Dr Kim turned his attention to building Activ Surgical, a software that allows surgical systems to collaborate with surgeons. 

Using Microsoft Azure and the Azure IoT platform, the company recently launched ActivEdge, an artificial intelligence and machine learning platform that enables existing surgical systems to see in real time what humans cannot currently see, including blood flow.  

“Our participation in the Microsoft for Startups programme comes at a critical time in our company’s history as we prepare for the commercialisation of our first product, ActivSight, later this year,” said Tom Calef, chief technology officer at Activ Surgical. “And, given our ActivEdge platform is currently powered by Microsoft Azure, we will now have expanded access to resources, capabilities and ecosystem partners that will ensure the success of go-to-market rollout.” 

With the new vertical focus of the Microsoft for Startups team, we are going beyond technical readiness and go-to-market strategies. Ensuring that our early-stage partners also have access to vertical-specific features and templates that sit on top of our flagship products is not only important, but it can be a determining factor in a start-up’s success. 

Microsoft recently launched the new Cloud for Healthcare, which comprises data models, cross-cloud connectors, workflows, application programming interfaces (APIs) and built-in healthcare-specific components with the best of our horizontal cloud apps and services. It includes features such as our Health Bot, which builds medically oriented virtual assistants, and the API for Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (FHIR), which brings together health data from disparate systems using industry standards and enables all systems using FHIR to work together. 
Additionally, assets like Microsoft Genomics which power genome sequencing, Microsoft Teams with special features for care coordination, virtual visits and EMR integration can help start-ups accelerate the development of their solutions and be more responsive to their customers.  

One example of this is Sensoria Health. The health technology provider brought to market Motus Smart, a cutting-edge device that remotely monitors patients and ensures adherence to treatment for foot ulcers in diabetic patients to reduce amputation risk. Sensoria was able to deploy the Azure IoT Connector for FHIR to enable highly secure data exchange from the Motus device to patients, their doctors and others within their circle of care. 
Sally Frank is the worldwide lead for health and life sciences at Microsoft for Startups 

This article was originally published in the Spring 2021 issue of The Record. To get future issues delivered directly to your inbox, sign up for a free subscription.

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