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Microsoft pushes forward on healthcare communication and data capabilities

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Not looking to be outdone by competitors like Amazon and Google, Microsoft has taken another major step into healthcare with new communication and data features meant to boost the use of its software platform among healthcare providers.

The Redmond, Washington-based company has already been a leading cloud provider in healthcare with its Azure platform competing head to head with rivals like Amazon Web Services and Google Cloud and earning around a-third of market share.

Now, as part of its bid to make its system even more attractive to healthcare organizations, the company has released a serious of industry-specific tools enabled by its cloud platform, according to a blog post.

A few of the new innovations meant to ease clinical burden include the launch of new HIPAA-compliant secure communications tools for healthcare teams to better coordinate and collaborate, as well as a customizable bot that can be used to build healthcare-oriented virtual assistants and chatbots.

The new communication tools are being introduced into Microsoft Teams and will allow clinicians to more easily see and respond to urgent messages or delegate messages to other staffers when they are otherwise unavailable.

Additionally, through partnerships with clinical data integration companies like Datica, Dapasoft and Redox, clinicians can use Microsoft’s single platform to take notes, start video meetings, message colleagues and securely access FHIR-enabled patient health data.

Madison, Wisconsin-based Redox is integrating with communication platform Microsoft Teams, thereby enabling data exchange with EHR software at provider organizations using the FHIR standard.

Through the integration, a care team can be in a chat room of sorts to discuss a specific patient. In it, providers can see basic information, like who the patient is, why they’re in the hospital, their diagnoses and their treatment plan. The whole care team — from the specialist to the nurse — can use the platform to communicate about the patient’s overall health.

“It allows teams to build context around the patient they’re discussing,” Redox co-founder and president Niko Skievaski said in a phone interview.

Skievaski said he’s not able to disclose any users at this time.

Microsoft will offer a demo of the capability at the Redox booth at HIMSS on February 12 at 1 PM ET.

The tech giant isn’t alone in trying to be the communication platform for healthcare. San Francisco-based Slack recently joined enterprise tools like Box, Dropbox and Stitch in earning HIPAA-compliance.

Microsoft Healthcare Bot – which was first launched as a research project in 2017 – has now been enhanced with features including knowledge about medical content and terminology and a built-in symptom checker.

“You don’t have to start from scratch,” Hadas Bitran, head of Microsoft Healthcare Israel, said in a statement “It has language models trained to understand healthcare terminology. It understands if you are complaining or if you are asking about what doctor you should see or if you are thinking about side effects of a medication.”

The bot can also be honed for specific use cases and can plug into internal systems like EHRs. One chatbot released last year in partnership with insurer Premera Blue Cross served to direct members to specific information about claims, benefits and services. Another example is a service created with Quest Diagnostics to help visitors to the company’s website answer questions, schedule appointments and find locations.

As part of its previous commitment to help remove the technical barriers to interoperability, the company has also released a new tool called Azure API for FHIR to help healthcare organizations connect previously siloed systems and take advantage of cloud computing power to analyze and harness that combined data set.

One application enabled by the technology has been improving Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center’s ability to monitor and manage chemotherapy patient data across a range of hospitals utilizing different EHR systems.

Picture: Don Emmert/AFP, Getty Images

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