Microsoft releases new health solutions utilising cloud tech
The Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society, medical IT conference is set to be underway next week, but Microsoft has already set the health-tech industry alight with its new cloud solutions for the health industry.
Following on from its Healthcare NExT initiative, launched last year, as well as the termination of its HealthVault Insights application, the company has acquired key information to better support medical professionals in providing exceptional connected care and gain increased revenue.
“We really want to make what doctors and nurses do, and their day-to-day working lives, better and more satisfying and more effective,” explained Peter Lee, Corporate Vice President at Microsoft Research and Head of the Healthcare NExT initiative.
“Really, everything starts from there.”
Consequently, the tech giant has launched four new cloud solutions to cater to an array of healthcare divisions.
Advancements in genomics
Launching its Microsoft Genomics service will harness Microsoft Azure to support those within the field of precision medicine and genomics, providing an essential platform to undertake genetic analysis.
Partnering with St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital has seen the company focus on developing essential solutions within a number of rare cancers, particularly within paediatric care, utilising vital data to support personalised treatment and diagnosis of such diseases.
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Complex regulatory challenges
Whilst undertaking genetic analysis, it is essential for the company’s work to remain in accordance with ongoing complex regulations within the healthcare sector, such as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA, 1996).
Its second product is its Azure based Security and Compliance Blueprint. Developed with HIPAA in mind, the tool advises healthcare providers in moving patient data to the cloud, adopting maximum security, ensuring minimal risk within daily health operations and abiding by all privacy regulations.
The technology will also provide healthcare providers with the knowledge and expertise to build personalised cloud-based and machine learning tools to continually meet the needs of patients to a consistent high standard.
Partnering with the University of Pittsburgh Medical Centre (UPMC) has also seen Microsoft develop new solutions to support teams in the delivery of connected care.
Its new templates under its “Microsoft 365 Huddle Solution” banner, will enable users to use Microsoft Teams to further develop and enhance existing ways working, supporting its existing chat tools, and support the emerging use of virtual collaboration.
Its HIPAA compliant Azure infrastructure will provide peace of mind, and allow medical professionals to utilise a secure platform across a number of devices.
Microsoft is also collaborating with UPMC within its "Project Empower MD" system. Implementing machine learning, the project aims to eliminate the need for note taking, and automatically transcribes patient-professional conversations, reducing the time needed to input essential data into a patient’s medical record.
Its machine learning capabilities through the AI scribe tool will also enable the technology to provide suggestions for the future.
Getting ready for cloud data-driven healthcare
As healthcare continues to recognise the value of data and digital transformation, many organisations are relying on the cloud to make their future-forward and data-centric thinking a reality. In fact, the global healthcare cloud computing market was valued at approximately $18 billion and is expected to generate around $61 billion USD by 2025.
At the forefront of these changes is the rapid adoption of cloud-based, or software-as-a-service (SaaS), applications. These apps can be used to handle patient interactions, track prescriptions, care, billing and more, and the insights derived from this important data can vastly improve operations, procurement and courses of treatment. However, before healthcare organisations can begin to dream about a true data-driven future, they have to deal with a data-driven dilemma: compliance.
Meeting regulation requirements
It’s no secret that healthcare is a highly regulated industry when it comes to data and privacy – and rightfully so. Patient records contain extremely sensitive data that, if changed or erased, could cost someone their life. This is why healthcare systems rely on legacy technologies, like Cerner and Epic EHRs, to manage patient information – the industry knows the vendors put an emphasis on making them as secure as possible.
Yet when SaaS applications are introduced and data starts being moved into them, compliance gets complicated. For example, every time a new application is introduced into an organisation, that organisation must have the vendor complete a BAA (Business Associate Agreement). This agreement essentially puts the responsibility for the safety of patients’ information — maintaining appropriate safeguards and complying with regulations — on the vendor.
However, even with these agreements in place, healthcare systems still are at risk of failing to meet compliance requirements. To comply with HIPAA, U.S. Food and Drug Administration 21 CFR Part 11 and other regulations that stipulate the need to exercise best practices to keep electronic patient data safe, healthcare organisations must maintain comprehensive audit trails – something that gets increasingly difficult when data sits in an application that resides in the vendor’s infrastructure.
Additionally, data often does not stay in the applications – instead healthcare users download, save and copy it into other business intelligence tools, creating data sprawl across the organisation and exposing patient privacy to greater risk.
With so many of these tools that are meant to spur growth and more effective care creating compliance challenges, it begs the question: how can healthcare organisations take advantage of the data they have without risking non-compliance?
Yes, healthcare organisations can adhere to regulations while also getting valuable insights from the wealth of data they have available. However, to help do this, organisations must own their data. This means data must be backed up and stored in an environment that they have control over, rather than in the SaaS vendors’ applications.
Backing up historical SaaS application data directly from an app into an organisation’s own secure cloud infrastructure, such as AWS or Microsoft Azure, makes it easier, and less costly, to maintain a digital chain of custody – or a trail of the different touchpoints of data. This not only increases the visibility and auditability of that data, but organisations can then set appropriate controls around who can access the data.
Likewise, having data from these apps located in one central, easily accessible location can decrease the number of copies floating around an organisation, reducing the surface area of exposure while also making it easier for organisations to securely pull data into business intelligence tools.
When healthcare providers have unfettered access to all their historical data, the possibilities for growth and insights are endless. For example, having ownership and ready access to authorised data can help organisations further implement and support outcome-based care. Insights enabled by this data will help inform diagnoses, prescriptions, treatment plans and more, which benefits not only the patient, but the healthcare ecosystem as a whole.
To keep optimising and improving care, healthcare systems must take advantage of new tools like SaaS applications. By backing up and owning their historical SaaS application data, they can do so while minimising the risk to patient privacy or compliance requirements. Having this ownership and access can propel healthcare organisations to be more data-driven – creating better outcomes for everyone.