- Microsoft is launching its first industry-specific cloud offering in healthcare, a move signifying renewed investment in the medical space from tech giants as payers and providers seek tools to help them navigate the COVID-19 pandemic.
- The service, called Microsoft Cloud for Healthcare, joins the computer giant's existing services like the Azure cloud platform and telecommunication platform Teams to help providers with telehealth, care management and patient engagement through apps, including using Azure's IoT to upload continuous monitoring data collected by patients' medical devices directly to the cloud.
- Microsoft is also working on rolling out other industry-specific offerings in the future, it said. Microsoft Cloud for Healthcare is available through a free trial for the next six months.
The Redmond, Washington-based tech giant made the announcement at its annual developer conference Tuesday. Cloud offerings that target specific verticals continues a trend among major cloud providers like Microsoft, Amazon and Google.
"Initially we are focused on the healthcare provider space, but we also plan to extend our capabilities across payers, pharma and life sciences," Tom McGuinness, Microsoft's corporate VP of healthcare, said at the product's launch.
Microsoft has been at the front of the movement to sell differentiated cloud offerings to the healthcare market for a while, analysts say. It's an emerging, but quickly saturated business.
Last year alone, Walgreens, Providence and Humana reached data-storage agreements with Microsoft; EHR vendor Cerner named Amazon Web Services its preferred cloud host; and nonprofit academic medical center Mayo Clinic inked a 10-year deal with Google.
Microsoft Cloud for Healthcare includes Microsoft 365, Dynamics, Power Platform and Azure aimed at managing patients and staff, deploying resources and promoting data insights.
HIPAA-compliant Microsoft Teams, for example, now includes the Bookings app for scheduling and virtual medical visits. New York City-based Stony Brook Medicine, St. Luke's University Health Network, Confluent Health and Calderdale & Huddersfield NHS Foundation Trust in the U.K. have been using Teams for virtual visits.
Microsoft also integrated Teams and Power Apps, Microsoft's app-builder tool, so providers can create their own in-house applications. For example, earlier this year, Swedish Health Services, the largest nonprofit in the Seattle area, used Power Apps to build a tool allowing hospital staff to track needed medical supplies in just two weeks amid the pandemic. Microsoft released the emergency response tool widely to providers in March.
Customers will also have access to the tech giant's partners ecosystem in healthcare, including Epic, Allscripts, GE Healthcare and Nuance, that can provide more specialized services.
One use case cited by Microsoft would be a patient with a medical concern logging into the patient portal and opening a chatbot to discuss symptoms. The chatbot can flag the conversation for a call center agent, who can schedule a telehealth visit and set an appointment, within the app.
The provider can reach out to the patient via the app in a few weeks to check whether the care plan is working. If the patient requires a follow-up appointment, their information will follow them within the EHR, even if it's a third-party system, Microsoft said.