What does Microsoft's updated Cloud for Healthcare offer?
Microsoft has announced a number of new industry-specific cloud offerings, among them an updated version of its cloud for healthcare. This will include support in eight new languages and new features for virtual health, remote patient monitoring, care coordination, and patient self-service.
The new capabilities have been created in response to the increased need for digital tools that aid collaboration and efficiency following a year of disruptions due to the pandemic.
"These enhanced features support healthcare customers with remote patient monitoring, helping to coordinate care across both health teams and patients, streamline virtual health processes that enable self-scheduling of virtual visits, and better guide home health patient care teams with task assignments and care plan templates" McGuinness explains.
In terms of of remote patient monitoring, it will enable healthcare providers to quickly manage and collect data from devices given to a patient, whether wearable or not. Supporting organisations to provide preventative and proactive care to patients with chronic conditions such as diabetes, helps to reduce the cost of care, as well as increase operational efficiency.
The new care management features help managers develop, monitor and follow-through on patient care plans. "Tracking activities and goals within the care plan can be shared across the clinical team, as well as sharing goals, files, and timelines directly to the patient through their health system portal" McGuinness says.
It also offers either pre-defined or customisable templates and virtual assistants so that care coordinators can create and monitor clinical events. They can also schedule patient virtual visits through the Bookings App, and set automatic queues for upcoming patient appointments.
Meanwhile the patients can pre-select either in-person or virtual visits across the care system. "Setting clear patient care plans keeps your care teams aligned and allows for each team to see the big picture along the care journey" McGuinness says. "It can help enhance care team effectiveness by setting an environment for coordination and care collaboration. Combined care teams can interact with patients more efficiently and simplify care planning workflows."
Empowering the patient
Last but not least, the virtual clinic allows care teams to book and join Teams virtual visits from the patient portal. This gives clinicians a holistic view without having to bounce between multiple systems to gather relevant information during a virtual visit. "These new features save the clinicians time, improve workflow efficiency, and create a seamless patient experience" McGuinness adds.
The pandemic has highlighted the benefits of patients taking ownership of their care. "Healthcare systems and providers across the world are under pressure to create a future where patients are engaged in their own healthcare" McGuiness says.
"Microsoft Cloud for Healthcare will support healthcare organisations to engage in more proactive ways with patients, streamline communications, enhance care coordination, and improve health team efficiency and productivity. Patients can have secure access to care information and care management on more devices than before, giving them more opportunity to interact with their care team and be more proactive in their ongoing health and wellness."
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.