Unlocking the Power of Health Data with Microsoft Cloud for Healthcare

Healthcare providers globally have faced unprecedented workloads since the outbreak of COVID-19 last year. The pandemic response has additionally altered how, where, and when care is provided, revealing the need for fundamental changes across care-related industries.  

To address these and other challenges, Microsoft, which has long been at the forefront of the big-tech push into healthcare, is expanding the availability of its Microsoft Cloud for Healthcare. This innovative service enhances patient engagement, promotes health team collaboration, and improves clinical and operational insights.  

Transforming health data

The healthcare industry is swiftly moving toward the emergent standard of Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (FHIR®), an application programming interface (API) for exchanging electronic health records (EHR). This API enables a robust data model with standardized semantics and data exchange, allowing all systems that use it to work together. 

Transforming data to FHIR allows users to connect various existing data sources nearly instantly. FHIR also enables rapid data exchange in modern mobile and web development implementations, facilitating simplification of data ingestion and accelerating development with analytics and machine learning tools. 

Microsoft’s Azure API for FHIR makes it easier for anyone working with sensitive health data to ingest, manage, and store such information in the cloud. The system enables the rapid exchange of data through FHIR® APIs, backed by a managed platform as a service (PaaS) offering.  

Microsoft also offers services for remote patient monitoring. For example, Azure IoT Connector for FHIR gives healthcare institutions the ability to incorporate health data generated by remote devices into Azure API for FHIR. This data could then be used to closely track patient health status, monitor patient adherence to treatment plans, and provide personalized care. 

Managing and analyzing data  

A significant challenge presented to physicians is acquiring the appropriate data, at the right time, and in the correct format to make informed shared decisions with patients. Imaging data makes up 74% of all medical data and often provides vital information for disease detection, guiding the most effective prevention and treatment strategies. Microsoft’s Medical Imaging Server for DICOM, which was recently released in Open Source, streamlines the process of ingesting medical imaging data in the cloud. The server creates references between imaging data and clinical data in FHIR, quickly and cost-efficiently creating multiple healthcare scenarios that can be utilized by professionals. 

In addition to imaging data, a large portion of healthcare data is stored as unstructured text, in the form of health records and other various documents and protocols. As a result, healthcare professionals face a huge challenge in identifying and drawing insights from the vast amount of existing information. Getting a more complete picture from this information could improve healthcare services and patient outcomes. 

To resolve this issue, Microsoft has developed the Text Analytics for Health AI service, which is currently in preview mode. This feature is trained on a diverse range of medical data and can process an array of data types and tasks in a time-saving manner, making it easier to extract insights from unstructured medical data. 

Streamlining information  

The Microsoft Health Bot is another crucial innovation included in Microsoft Cloud for Healthcare. The service, which was created at a Microsoft Hackathon and launched in 2019, is an Azure cloud service that empowers healthcare organizations to develop AI-powered virtual health assistants and chatbots. These can be used to enhance users’ processes, self-service, and cost-reduction efforts.  

Adoption of the Health Bot has accelerated in the wake of the outbreak and global spread of COVID-19. Since March 2020, Microsoft has deployed 2,300 COVID-19 bots in 25 countries, serving more than 50 million users. The service has helped hospital systems, NGOs, and public health systems communicate relevant guidance, prioritize care, and receive real-time data on how individuals interact with the bots. 

The Health Bot also includes built-in healthcare AI services, including medical content from verified industry sources, healthcare templates for rapid design, and language-understanding models that analyze medical and clinical terminology. It also offers seamless transfer to live chat and telehealth when required.  

Future outlook: innovative solutions  

The ability to decode individuals’ genome information has improved understanding of the variability in disease progression and treatment response for different patients. Gaining improved insights into genetic variations at an individual and population level is vital to developing precision medicine strategies for the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of diseases. That is why Microsoft plans to implement future enhancements of Microsoft Cloud for Healthcare that include solutions for precision medicine. 

Microsoft Cloud for Healthcare will continue to provide the tools for customers and partners to build innovative solutions that will bring improved experiences and outcomes for patients and providers, making healthcare as we know it faster, more accurate, and more reliable than ever before.