Harnessing big data in pediatric research to reimagine healthcare

For many of us, life begins in the hospital—and so does our health data. Health organizations worldwide are amassing more information than ever before from millions of patients throughout their lifetimes. Wrangling massive volumes of health data—from smart devices, medical devices, electronic medical records and community health systems—is no small task, but cloud computing offers researchers a promising way to tap into this resource to achieve meaningful medical progress and improved patient outcomes. Microsoft for Healthcare aims to do just that: harness the power of data to reimagine healthcare, improve the health of the population, and, ultimately, help save lives.

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Zeroing in on clues

One of the most promising examples of this is in our collaboration with Seattle Children’s Research Institute. We are working together to find clues to a persistent and tragic medical mystery that hits close to home: Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). Every year, more than 3,500 infants die of SIDS-related causes in the United States. One of these children was the son of John Kahan, my colleague and Microsoft’s chief data analytics officer. John has made it his mission for no parent to lose a child to SIDS, and with his data science team at Microsoft and our friends at Seattle Children’s, they are working toward that goal in earnest.

The team started with publicly available data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on 26 million births and deaths, and along with other data sets, studied 90 columns of data about every child born in the U.S. over a six-year period. Through this data science effort done in the cloud on Microsoft Azure, they discovered several correlations that showed statistical increases in SIDS. They then brought those findings to Seattle Children’s Research Institute, one of the world leaders in pediatric genomics and brain research— and lucky for us, right in our backyard.

Since then, we’ve been working together to expand the effort and the science, creating a collaborative genomics database for Seattle Children’s and the top SIDS medical researchers worldwide, and a world-class team of Microsoft data scientists. Together, we recently published our first manuscript from this collaboration in the peer-reviewed medical journal, Pediatrics, in which we used advanced modelling techniques to analyze the relationship between maternal smoking during pregnancy and SIDS-related deaths. Going forward, the hope is to use sequenced whole genomes as an additional data set along with the CDC data and other information in Microsoft Azure, helping to identify SIDS risk factors and, ultimately, ways to help prevent SIDS.

Similarly, we’ve been able to assist pediatric cancer researchers. Working with St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and our partner DNAnexus, we’ve been thrilled to be a part of the creation of the St. Jude Cloud—a cloud-based data-sharing and collaboration environment based on Microsoft Azure that contains an extensive public repository of pediatric cancer genomics data. St. Jude Cloud stores and shares thousands of cancer patient samples mapped against the human genome template, enabling researchers around the world to access and exchange data on a global basis. Researchers from more than 450 institutions across 16 countries now have immediate access to data that previously could take weeks to download, as well as access to complex computational analysis pipelines. The availability of this data could lead to progress in eradicating childhood cancer.

Clues like these seed future research, turning mere hints into new medical and biological knowledge, diagnostics, or therapeutics. Like John Kahan, many of our data scientists have been touched personally by medical or health issues and are exceptionally motivated to help solve these puzzles.

Reimagining healthcare

Collaborations like those with Seattle Children’s and St. Jude are just the beginning. Our technology is in virtually every healthcare organization in the world, from a nurse-led clinic in Kenya to larger organizations like Kaiser Permanente in the United States and NHS Glasgow and Clyde in the United Kingdom, putting us in a unique position to build and expand solutions with cloud computing and AI.

For us, reimagining healthcare starts with finding well-defined and well-scoped problems, then bringing together the best minds from a diverse set of disciplines and people—computer science, AI and data science, bioscience and medical—to solve them.

By analyzing masses of data with trusted cloud computing, one health concern at a time, we have a chance to extract new knowledge that could make a positive difference—empowering healthcare teams, improving operational outcomes and care coordination, and personalizing care.

Join us in reimagining healthcare. To learn more about harnessing the power of health data with cloud computing, take a look at our new e-book A New Framework for Healthcare in a Digital World. For a deeper dive on Microsoft Genomics visit here.



Health in your hands: how data and AI are empowering patients

Friendly robot looking at the camera

The Karolinska University Hospital in Sweden has a very fitting example of extra attention being paid to patients – a friendly robot is being used to significantly reduce the stress of children suffering from cancer.

The robot itself doesn’t add any medical procedures to the existing treatment, but its friendly demeanour and in-built screen with games designed to inform children of their treatment procedure ahead of time, has proven to be a great help in reducing the fear of these young patients. In addition, the robot also helps reduce the stress of parents, and saves healthcare experts both time and money, by reducing the amount of time and people required per treatment session.

Lisa Karin Bergström, practitioner, nursing manager and project lead states that “We can’t always see cancer coming, or stop it, but we can control the stress children feel, and help them feel happier and more in control.”

Healthcare in your hands
Putting patients first should provide them with newer tools to not only make their lives easier, but to also provide a more personalised level of care. Virtual hospitals provide a convenient, easy to use experience which allows patients to track their health and communicate with health professionals remotely, from the comfort of their own homes. This saves patients time, and travel, which is particularly beneficial for the elderly.

In Finland, Helsinki University Hospital’s Virtual Health Village is a prime example of bringing healthcare directly into the hands of its patients. The online cloud service, based on the Microsoft Azure and Dynamics 365, provides information and support including medical care for patients, and tools for healthcare professionals. Patients have access to virtual buildings dedicated to different life situations and symptoms, such as pain management, rehabilitation, mental health, and weight management.

Virpi Rauta, PhD, eMBA, Doctor in nephrology who is involved with the kidney-damage section of the Virtual Health Village states that “We have to get rid of old habits when we adopt these new tools. It’s multidisciplinary work – clinicians, IT workers, nurses and patients all worked together to help create our kidney app.”

Empowering patients and putting their own healthcare within their control, is key. The kidney disease app in the Virtual Health Hospital shares real patient experiences and how they are coping with their treatment, to help other patients feel that their disease is manageable. Patients are more likely to listen to people going through the same experiences, and this genuine relatability helps morale, while increasing the chances of them correctly following their treatment plan.

In Scotland, technology is bringing personalised care to patients suffering from Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) – a condition which affects 1.2 million people in the UK, and is the second most common cause of emergency hospital admissions. Without treatment, the symptoms (which include breathlessness, chest infections and a persistent cough) get worse, but a new trial brings an easier way to manage the illness to patients, from the comfort of their own homes.

Patients use wearable devices combined with Microsoft’s Azure cloud platform to remotely monitor their breathing. AI algorithms, based on machine learning, are then used to monitor results, and automatically detect and predict issues, so that healthcare experts can vary their treatment accordingly, based on their individual needs.

This not only saves patients from making regular trips to the hospital, it also means that if their condition gets worse, their healthcare providers will automatically be alerted, allowing timely treatment, and a better quality of life.

Chris Carlin, a Consultant Respiratory Physician involved in the trial, states that “It’s about delivering treatment earlier by using data. If we can empower patients to self-manage their condition, we can significantly reduce hospital admissions. That self-management might be helping them with their breathing, escalating their existing treatment, recommending new treatment or reaching out to the community respiratory team.”

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In another corner of the world, one of the oldest diseases known to mankind – leprosy – is being treated with AI. The Novartis Foundation and Microsoft are developing an AI-enabled digital health tool and a Leprosy Intelligent Image Atlas to help the early detection of leprosy.

Over 200,000 people are diagnosed with leprosy every year, with Brazil, India, and Indonesia accounting for about 80 percent of new cases. The disease is made more complicated by the fact that it can be difficult to diagnose, and if left untreated, can cause other disabilities and spread to others.

Microsoft and the Novartis Foundation are collaborating with local investigators from Oswaldo Cruz Foundation (Fiocruz) in Brazil to develop a machine learning algorithm which examines anonymized images before automatically detecting if a patient has leprosy.

To save patients (who are often in remote rural areas) from travelling long distances to hospitals, they are able to instead visit local businesses and have their photos taken there, before the shots are examined by the AI programme. The imagery and AI code are planned to be made publicly accessible at a later stage to empower leprosy researchers to accelerate research excellence in this field, leading to better outcomes.

Dr. Ann Aerts, Head of Novartis Foundation states that “Bundling expertise from the health and tech sectors to pioneer innovative digital health solutions such as this one, can make it possible to reimagine the way we fight leprosy. Early detection and prompt treatment of patients remains the best way to interrupt leprosy transmission. Together with Microsoft we are pioneering an innovative digital tool to accelerate leprosy detection, to make this ancient disease history once and for all.”


Video: How social workers in Australia are making families and medicine safer

When people need help from the Department of Health and Human Services in Victoria, Australia, they are often slogging through their toughest days.

Some are grappling with prescription drug abuse. Some are recovering from violence. Some are escaping homelessness.

“The department’s vision is to improve the health and wellbeing of all Victorians,” says Fiona Sparks, assistant director of strategy and design for DHHS. “We have many clients who, at times in their lives, really struggle. Our focus is shifting the trajectory of people’s lives.

“To do that, we need our workforce and our clients to have the very best technology – good tools, good systems – that are secure and that ensure information can be shared easily,” Sparks says.

DHHS executives are relying on Microsoft Azure and Dynamics 365 to fuel an array of new initiatives, including a program to address family violence in Victoria, the most densely populated state in Australia with more than 6 million residents.

That system tracks police responses to domestic assaults, instantly dispersing the information across the government ecosystem and reducing the time needed to get victims help, Sparks says.

“For anyone who’s experienced family violence, it can be traumatizing,” she says. “We want to make that experience much less stressful by ensuring we’ve got information shared across multiple services and that people don’t have to share their story over and over again.”

A pharmacist helps a customer in Victoria
A pharmacist helps a customer in Victoria.

To improve health care, DHHS has launched a program called SafeScript. When physicians and pharmacists dispense medications like opioids, they get real-time alerts if those patients are prescribed drugs by other doctors.

“These medicines are a huge problem in our society and in many countries around the world where people are becoming addicted after medical treatment,” says Steve Hodgkinson, chief information officer for DHHS.

“A doctor or pharmacist needs to know what else is happening with this person in terms of their consumption of these medications,” Hodgkinson says. “The focus of our department is to encourage people to live the life they have the potential to live.”


With lessons learned from computers, a new platform could help boost production of lifesaving biological therapies

The power of the Station B platform lies in pulling all those pieces of the puzzle together in one integrated system, Phillips said. Both initial deployments will occur in labs that are overseen by health, safety, ethical and medical regulators.

“It marries Microsoft’s deep expertise in programming languages, modeling capabilities and machine learning with lab automation and the power of the cloud and intelligent edge — that combination of tools doesn’t exist anywhere in this industry today,” Phillips said.

To solve one key challenge, the platform uses Synthace’s lab automation system to allow users to run experiments from the cloud and precisely replicate each step in complicated scientific protocols.

Synthace’s Antha software allows the user to replace subjective instructions like “shake a test tube vigorously” with digital language that isn’t open to misinterpretation and that lab robots can execute. Building on top of Azure IoT, Antha is a high-level language for describing biological experiments that allows an array of lab machines made by different manufacturers to run them, much like printer drivers allow any make or model of printer to print PDF documents.

That ability to run experiments exactly the same way each time gives users confidence that the results they’re seeing are meaningful, and not just a fluke in the way the experiment happened to be set up that day.

Synthace’s system — which can handle experiments that simultaneously test dozens of different parameters or genetic constructs rather than one or two at a time — speeds up the research process exponentially. Combined with machine learning capabilities, it also gives customers the ability to pose and learn from much more sophisticated lines of inquiry.

“The near infinite power of biology can only be unlocked by bringing software abstraction and automation to biological R&D and manufacturing, and by enabling biologists to build atop their collective work. That is what the Antha platform does successfully,” said Tim Fell, Synthace chief executive officer.

Sarah-Jane Dunn stands in front a mural with her arms crossed
Sarah-Jane Dunn, scientist for Microsoft Research Cambridge, UK. Photo by Jonathan Banks.

’This could have huge reach’

The Station B platform will be tested first in the lab of Bonnie Bassler, chair of Princeton’s Department of Molecular Biology, a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator and recipient of a MacArthur genius grant, who studies how bacteria wield outsized power by acting as collectives. The Princeton team includes Bassler’s longtime collaborator Ned Wingreen, a physicist and professor in Princeton’s Lewis-Sigler Institute for Integrative Genomics.

“Historically we’ve thought of bacteria as only having harmful behaviors, like infecting us and causing disease, but more recently scientists have discovered the microbiome, a rather magical bacterial community that lives in and on us and that keeps us alive,” Bassler said. “What my lab has always wondered about is how do bacteria manage to either kill us or keep us alive? They’re so tiny.”

Bassler discovered the widespread use of a phenomenon called quorum sensing in the bacterial world. It’s a form of molecular communication that bacteria use to determine when their numbers have reached a critical mass. When they reach the “quorum,” together they trigger behaviors that are only successful when bacteria act as a coordinated group — such as unleashing virulent diseases.

In a proof-of-concept pilot, the team will deploy the Station B platform to investigate how cholera bacteria use quorum sensing to form biofilms, thin layers of bacteria that grow on almost all surfaces. Bacteria living in biofilm communities can be 1000 times more resistant to antibiotics than non-biofilm bacteria.

Princeton researchers will use the Station B platform and Synthace’s lab automation tools to construct and test different versions of two proteins that are key to biofilm formation — which are also genetically programmed to light up. The light allows the scientists to see and measure how much of each protein is produced under many different conditions and in different regions of the biofilm.

Bassler compares the working microbiologists in her lab to master craftspeople, creating elegant and complicated genetic constructs to produce a desired result. But that artisanal process yields only a few prospects at a time and doesn’t allow the team to massively attack the problem.

The Station B platform will be able to build and test dozens of engineered proteins at once — in whatever combinations a researcher can dream up and type into the system for a liquid handling robot to produce. The platform will then help the scientists learn which of the protein constructs behave most like the natural proteins and yield an accurate picture of how biofilm cells organize, Bassler said.

The goal is to build on that basic understanding and find an Achilles heel that might weaken virulent biofilms or increase their sensitivity to antibiotics.

“The platform will allow us to ask more questions, get more results and do more experiments than a graduate student or postdoc, no matter how clever, can do today. So, it gets us to the winning genetic constructs faster,” Bassler said.

Equally important, the platform will also collect and help analyze data from every single lab experiment — including ones that fail, Bassler said. By necessity, scientists have to pursue their most fruitful lines of inquiry, but that can leave an untapped trove of information about why something didn’t succeed.

“If this extra information can help us discover the underlying patterns in what works and what doesn’t work and why, that would be a transformative leap for us,” she said.

The value of deploying the Station B platform in Bassler’s lab is that those researchers have already built an extensive inventory of genetic components, chemical mixtures and models in the years that they’ve been studying bacteria like cholera.

If the team can begin to uncover the rules and principles that govern those systems, Wingreen said, they may be able to program them in transferrable ways. That could potentially enable a doctor who studies cancer or an engineer working on low-carbon fuels to imagine a genetic construct that they’d love to test and get an exact blueprint for assembling it — without spending years at a lab bench.

“From my perspective, this could have a huge reach,” Wingreen said. “Just as the tech sector was democratized by software that lets you ask for what you want in a microchip design and have someone make it, we need that same revolution in biology.”

Top image: Breech Odu works in an Oxford Biomedica lab, where the Station B platform will be deployed to accelerate discovery and manufacturing of gene and cell therapies. Photo by Jonathan Banks.


Jennifer Langston writes about Microsoft research and innovation. Follow her on Twitter.


Progress report on digital transformation in healthcare

Two scientists using digital tablet in laboratory

It’s been an incredible year so far for the health industry. We’ve seen the dream and the opportunity of digital transformation and AI start to really take shape in the marketplace.

We saw many examples of this last month at HIMSS 2019, many of our partners and other cloud providers are offering commoditized access to complex healthcare algorithms and models to improve clinical and business outcomes.


These examples show how cloud computing and AI can deliver on the promise of digital transformation. But for health organizations to realize that potential, they have to trust the technology—and their technology partner.

Microsoft has always taken the lead on providing cloud platforms and services that help health organizations protect their data and meet their rigorous security and compliance requirements. Recently, we announced the HIPAA  eligibility and HITRUST certifications of Microsoft Cognitive Services and Office 365.

It’s crucial for health organizations to feel utterly confident not only in their technology partner’s ability to help them safeguard their data and infrastructure, and comply with industry standards, but also in their partner’s commitment to help them digitally transform their way—whatever their needs or objectives are. Our mission is to empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more. So whether you’re a health provider, pharmaceutical company, or retailer entering healthcare, your mission is our mission. Our business model is rooted in delivering success rather than disruption for our customers.


Another point of vital importance as we support the movement of healthcare as an industry—and healthcare data specifically—to the cloud is ensuring that we avoid the sins of the past, specifically data silos.

To that end, we jointly announced with other leading cloud providers that we’re committed to healthcare data interoperability among cloud platforms and supporting common data standards like Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (FHIR). And I was particularly thrilled to see the excitement in the health industry in reaction to our launch last last month with Azure API for FHIR and our commitment to develop open source FHIR servers. I hope you’ll join the huge movement behind health interoperability fueled by FHIR and encourage your technologists to start actively using the open-source project to bring diverse data sets together—and to build systems that learn from those data sets.

As my colleague, Doug Seven, recently wrote, interoperability helps you bring together data from disparate sources, apply AI to it to gain insights, and then enrich care team and patient tools with those insights to help you achieve your mission. That’s a crucial step in the digital transformation of health.


Another crucial step is supporting health teamwork. With the changing nature of care delivery, health services increasingly require coordination across multiple care settings and health professionals. So we launched a new set of capabilities to our Teams platform that provides workflows for first-line clinical workers such as doctors and nurses that they can use to access patient information and coordinate care in real time.

The end game

Why does all of this matter? To answer that question, I always come back to the quadruple aim, which all of us in the health industry strive for: enhancing both patient and caregivers’ experiences, improving the health of populations, and lowering the costs of healthcare.

Empowering care teams and patients with data insights and tools that help them coordinate care—and that they and your health organization can trust—will help bring about the desired outcomes of the quadruple aim. Not only will this systemic change improve clinical and business outcomes, but also, at an individual level, enhance the day-to-day and digital experiences of clinical workers and patients alike—creating better experiences, better insights, and better care across the delivery system.

Learn more about real-world use cases for AI in the e-book: “Breaking down AI: 10 real applications in healthcare.”


How GOJO Industries helps hospitals monitor hand hygiene with secure IoT dispensers

GOJO Industries may be best known as the inventor of PURELL Hand Sanitizer, but the Ohio-based company is also a growing digital innovator in public health. In recent years, the company has deployed about 25,000 connected dispensers that help more than a hundred health care facilities monitor hand hygiene, a simple, effective way to prevent infections.

Traditionally, human observers tracked hygiene compliance in health organizations by watching if you washed your hands when you were supposed to. PURELL SMARTLINK Technology, a set of technology solutions from GOJO, streamlines that process with motion sensors, internet-connected dispensers and a cloud platform that collects and analyzes data.

The system’s infrared sensors detect hand-cleaning “opportunities’’ – every time someone goes in and out of a patient’s room, regardless of whether it’s a health professional or family member. Connected PURELL dispensers detect soap and sanitizer use, a recommended practice before and after seeing a patient. All the data funnels into an easy-to-use analytics portal, a helpful tool powered by the Microsoft Azure IoT platform for health care facilities that monitor thousands of dispensers and millions of “opportunities” a month.

Two health care workers look at a computer screen
Health care professionals look at hand hygiene data with a PURELL SMARTLINK Technology solution.

“Being able to quantify behaviors helps you understand your baseline for implementing interventions. At the end of the day, it comes down to trying to reduce the spread of disease through hands that aren’t clean,” says Jason Slater, technology solutions architect for PURELL SMARTLINK Technology.

One customer, a large health organization, saw an 82 percent increase over baseline in its hand hygiene compliance rate during an 18-month period of working with GOJO. “It’s all been pretty positive results,” Slater says.

Launched in 2012, PURELL SMARTLINK Technology is now undergoing an upgrade with Azure Sphere, a solution that enables highly secured, connected devices powered by a microcontroller unit, a small computer on a chip.

Announced last year, Azure Sphere will deliver end-to-end, internet of things (IoT) security for GOJO’s connected dispensers, which often become network endpoints in hospitals. The company is committed to comprehensive data security for customers and says it has never had a data breach with its devices.

“We work hand-in-hand with hospital IT staff and take a defense-in-depth approach,” says Slater. “We use best practices for security up and down our stack. Azure Sphere will allow us to really button up that last leg of our stack – hardware – to ensure we have the best protection against any potential security risks.”

The re-architecture continues GOJO’s innovative work with Azure IoT Hub, the cloud platform enabling PURELL SMARTLINK products. The platform’s “ready-built, command-and-control capabilities” allow GOJO to focus more on business use cases and less on technical “plumbing,” says Slater. “IoT Hub has been a great thing for us,” he says.

Recent innovations include a new system available this year to monitor hand cleaning of individuals and job roles. Instead of aggregating data of everyone going in and out of patient rooms, the solution will associate hand hygiene with employee badges via Bluetooth communication.

Health care worker in scrubs washes hands at a sink near a soap dispenser
A health care worker cleans her hands with a PURELL SMARTLINK solution.

“You can see how individuals or specific job roles are performing, whether it’s nurses, doctors or physical therapists, to improve coaching and interventions,” Slater says. “It was borne out of us listening to customers and their evolving needs.”

The system highlights GOJO’s continuum of solutions for different customers, including a solution that sends predictive alerts on refill and battery levels. The alerts help hospitals ensure product availability in critical hand hygiene moments.

The individual-monitoring solution also showcases the culture of ongoing innovation at GOJO, founded in 1946 by a couple that invented a waterless hand cleaner for factory workers.

“Technology can be an amazing enabler of all sorts of great services,” Slater says. “Ultimately, we’re always looking for a unique way to drive the GOJO purpose of saving lives and making life better through well-being solutions.”

Top photo: A nurse sanitizes her hands with a PURELL SMARTLINK solution before seeing a patient. (All photos courtesy of GOJO Industries)


Microsoft for Healthcare Innovation Award Winners at HIMSS 2019

Health innovation award trophies

The winners of the 2019 Microsoft for Healthcare Innovation Awards were announced at HIMSS19 yesterday during the Microsoft Health Forum.  Each year, the awards acknowledge health and life sciences organizations and their technology solution partners that are achieving innovation excellence with a Microsoft-based solution.

We’re always excited to highlight the achievements of our forward-thinking customers and partners as they advance digital transformation in health. Here are the winners in each of the submission categories:

Award Category:  Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning

NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde and KenSci

To better understand which patients are at the highest risk of COPD, NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde worked with KenSci to leverage AI and Machine Learning to predict long-term hospital stays based on clinical history, socio-economic factors and risk to stratify the top 20% high risk patients likely to admit for the first time due to COPD, in order to drive preventive intervention.

Award Category:  Empower Your Care Teams and Employees

Vision Source, LP and Kno2

To meet the needs of populations with diabetes, Vision Source needed to establish a nationwide interoperability network for their 3,350 independent locations. As a result, Vision Source selected Kno2’s Interoperability as a Service, enabling immediate access to over 2 million referring providers through the nation’s major health information networks: Direct, referral networks, care quality, and those connected through Commonwell Health Alliance.

Award Category:  Engage Your Patients & Enable Personalized Care

Premera Blue Cross

Premera Scout™ is an intelligent virtual assistant that helps customers find the information they need to make the most of their health plan. Premera powers this solution using advanced AI from Microsoft Healthcare. Guided by a customer-centered strategy, Premera transforms complicated and confusing experiences to simple and easy ones.

Award Category:  Optimize Clinical Operational Effectiveness & Improve Outcomes

Prediction of Patient Placement (POPP) Team at Boston Children’s Hospital

Boston Children’s Hospital uses Prediction of Patient Placement (POPP), a real time forecasting tool to predict incoming admissions from the Emergency Department. This tool enables proactive coordination of downstream operations in order to reduce transfer wait time. The model uses hospital-specific, historical data and is EHR- and hospital-agnostic.

Award Category:  Outstanding Innovation

St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and DNAnexus

A partnership between St. Jude, DNAnexus, and Microsoft developed the St. Jude Cloud, a secure cloud-based data-sharing and collaboration environment, to provide researchers access to an extensive public repository of pediatric cancer genomics data, accelerated data mining, analysis and visualization capabilities.

Award Category:  Transform the Care Continuum & Reimagine Healthcare

Johns Hopkins Medicine

Johns Hopkins Medicine developed the Precision Medicine Analytics Platform (PMAP) to empower faculty to make discoveries; improve diagnosis, treatment, and outcomes; and lower the cost of care. PMAP is comprised of two parts: Discovery – for faculty researchers to fuel the discovery of new insights and algorithms; and Care Delivery – after discovery medical validation, promoted for use by other physicians.

Thank you to our judges

In addition to acknowledging the innovative solutions of the award recipients, we would like to thank each of the distinguished judges who reviewed this year’s entries:

  • Ahmad Hashem, MD, PhD, CEO, Boston Biopharma, Inc.
  • Benjamin Rooks, Managing Director, ST Advisors, Inc.
  • Gienna Shaw, Senior Writer, Amendola Communications
  • Jane Sarasohn-Kahn, MA (Econ), MHSA, Health Economist and Advisor, THINK-Health and Health Populi blog
  • Jay Srini, FHIMSS, Chief Strategist, SCS Ventures; Adjunct Associate Professor, SHRS, University of Pittsburgh
  • Keith Fraidenburg, MBA, EVP & COO, CHIME
  • Melinda Richter, Global Head, Johnson & Johnson Innovation, JLABS
  • Michael Docktor, MD, Gastroenterologist, Clinical Director of Innovation @ Boston Children’s Hospital / Harvard Medical School
  • Taren Grom, Founding Partner/Editor, PharmaVOICE
  • Victoria (Vicky) L. Tiase, MSN, RN-BC, Director – Informatics Strategy, New York Presbyterian Hospital

What’s your story?

Congratulations again to our winners. We would love to hear how your health organization is creating better experiences and delivering better care, please share with us through emailFacebook, or Twitter.


Microsoft Business Applications for Healthcare: Empowering teams for exceptional patient experiences

This week at the HIMSS 2019 conference, the healthcare IT community will explore solutions to the most urgent challenges facing modern health. Microsoft will share new innovations to help health organizations navigate the complex technology transformations needed to deliver modern patient experiences that promote successful treatments and well-being.

The Microsoft Healthcare team will showcase intelligent healthcare solutions that connect health data and systems securely in the cloud, improve communication with teams and patients, and advance precision healthcare. These featured solutions—powered by Microsoft 365, Azure, and the new Microsoft Healthcare Bot service—interoperate with Microsoft Business Applications to enable personalized care, empower care teams, and advance precision healthcare.

Today, people want the same level of access and engagement with healthcare providers as they get from other digital brand experiences. Case in point: a recent survey by Transcend Insights found that 93 percent of patients expect care providers to provide access to information about their medical history, and 71 percent want to digitally provide status updates to better inform diagnoses and decisions.

Dynamics 365 unifies operations and patient engagement, breaking down silos created by the patchwork of business systems and databases within the organization. As patients interact with web portals and clinicians, providers can access a 360-degree view of the patient for more personalized service. And by using solutions like the Microsoft Dynamics 365 Health Accelerator, healthcare providers can more easily create new use cases and workflows using the Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (FHIR) based data model.

Improving patient engagement with virtual clinics

As the healthcare industry shifts to value-based care, many providers focus on face-to-face patient experiences at the clinic or hospital. Now imagine the challenge of improving care for patients scattered across remote, difficult-to-reach villages.

Helsinki and Uusimaa Hospital (HUS) are solving the issue by using Microsoft cloud solutions to create a virtual hospital that provides remote, virtual health services throughout Finland, including sparsely populated regions.

HUS moved to the cloud with Microsoft Azure and Microsoft 365 to create digital hubs for its medical specialties, and then added Dynamics 365 for Customer Service. Now providers have tools to access a 360-degree view of patients across departments and care givers to improve treatment. Patients can access self-service portals for medical information and self-help therapies, plus receive virtual one-on-one treatments from specialists. It’s a win-win for everyone. Patients are empowered to feel more in control of their health which boosts confidence and support, and providers can provide personalized care to more patients.

HUS is also conducting pilot programs with artificial intelligence and machine learning algorithms to direct patients to the right place right away and improve digital healthcare services. Providers will be able to gain insights from complex data to develop precision medicine and treatments for different patients and groups.

Learn more about the HUS Virtual Hospital in this customer story, as well as in the short video below.

Empowering care teams for exceptional at-home services

Another way Dynamics 365 is improving patient care is by enabling care teams to remotely monitor patients, share knowledge across health teams, and coordinate the right level of care.

In Australia, more older citizens are choosing to live at home, rather than a nursing facility. For residential wellness provider ECH, this means making life simple for 15,000 clients while providing support for the domestic healthcare workers. ECH deployed Dynamics 365 to streamline the onboarding of new clients, helping to match them with the right specialists. They also adopted Dynamics 365 for Talent to attract and onboard skilled care providers and set them up for success which is critical in a field with high stress and turnover. They’re helping to reduce burnout and attrition by using Dynamics 365 to promote continuous learning, track employee accomplishments, and help workers get certified and trained.

Improving operational outcomes with no-code apps

A key to exceptional patient experiences is empowering staff to streamline care processes, reduce redundancy, and gain insights to make decisions faster.

New York’s largest healthcare provider, Northwell Health, is streamlining patient care processes using Dynamics 365 for Customer Service and the Microsoft Power Platform to give employees tools to optimize patient care, reduce costs, and ensure regulatory compliance.

Using PowerApps, a Northwell Health doctor with no technical expertise created an app that gives physicians, nurses, and administrators visibility into tasks that need to be completed like patient requests to ensure a patient gets a needed X-ray. The app takes data entered into Dynamics 365, stored in the PowerApps Common Data Service, and augments it with attributes from the Microsoft Dynamics 365 Healthcare Accelerator, which makes it easier to create new use cases and workflows using a FHIR-based data model.

By connecting the app to the Microsoft Bot Framework, clinicians and administrators can leverage predictive insights and automated workflows to quickly get fast answers about patients. Plus, all data is on the trusted Azure cloud that helps ensure the compliance, confidentiality, integrity, and accessibility of sensitive data.

Get the full story at HIMSS

These three stories are just a peek at how Microsoft Business Applications are helping transform patient experiences. If you are attending HIMSS, be sure to visit our booth (#2500) and attend sessions to learn more from our healthcare technology experts. Find more information about our location and sessions in this schedule, and be sure to check out the resources below:


Microsoft for Healthcare: technology and collaboration for better experiences, insights and care

The healthcare industry’s leading minds are getting ready to educate, intrigue, and inspire attendees next week at the HIMSS19 conference—a leading healthcare IT event in the US. We expect to see many innovative ideas and solutions to the most prevalent and persistent challenges in modern health, and we are excited to show new technologies making a real difference in people’s lives and demonstrate Microsoft’s commitment to transforming how healthcare is experienced and delivered.

Over the last few years, we have been learning alongside industry experts and making steady progress in helping health organizations navigate complex technology transformations. We have been so pleased by the enthusiastic response of the providers, payors, software developers, device manufacturers and pharmaceutical companies we’ve been working with.

But what drives us most is the profound impact on people. As we all look for more personalized and transparent approaches for healthcare services, technology transformation will help providers deliver modern patient experiences that promote patient engagement, satisfaction, and well-being while increasing the chances of more successful treatment.

This year at HIMSS, we will talk about how Microsoft’s technology and partnerships are helping empower care teams, improve clinical and operational outcomes and advance precision healthcare, with a specific focus on putting people’s privacy at the center. To kick things off, today we’re announcing several new innovations supporting the industry’s transformation:

  • Microsoft 365 for health organizations: New capabilities in Microsoft Teams that enable healthcare teams to communicate and collaborate in a secure hub for teamwork, and ultimately improve patient care.
  • Microsoft Healthcare Bot: Now generally available, this service helps organizations create AI-powered, compliant virtual assistants and chatbots for a variety of healthcare experiences.
  • Azure API for FHIR®: A new tool to help health systems interoperate and share data in the cloud.

Empowering health organizations with secure messaging and AI-powered tools

People are at the heart of healthcare – physicians, nurses, clinicians and of course, their patients. We are committed to empowering care teams with the tools they need to deliver their best care as well as empowering people as they interact with various aspects of the healthcare system.

When it comes to secure communications, many clinicians report having to choose between convenience and compliance. Adhering to compliance has often meant having to wait for critical information at the point of care. Conversely, many clinicians have turned to consumer messaging apps that facilitate communication but can compromise security.

Microsoft is working hard to ensure convenience and compliance are no longer a zero-sum equation. Today, we are announcing new capabilities in Microsoft Teams, a secure hub for teamwork that enables secure messaging and collaboration workflows that tap the wealth of patient information housed in electronic medical records.

Enable secure workflows in Microsoft Teams: The new priority notifications feature in Teams alerts a recipient of an urgent message on their mobile and desktop devices until a response is received, every two minutes for up to 20 minutes; message delegation enables clinical staff members to delegate their messages to another recipient when they are in surgery or otherwise unavailable. We are also announcing the ability to integrate FHIR-enabled electronic health records (EHR) data with Teams. The ability to view EHR data is enabled through partnerships with leading interoperability providers, including Dapasoft, Datica, Infor Cloverleaf, Kno2 and Redox. Clinical or hospital staff can securely access patient records in the same app where they can take notes, message with other team members, and start a video meeting, all in a single place to coordinate care.

For health organizations looking to optimize operational processes or create new experiences for their people and patients, we are also announcing the Microsoft Healthcare Bot general availability.

Microsoft Healthcare Bot: The Microsoft Healthcare Bot service is now generally available after first being introduced as a research project in 2017. It is designed to empower healthcare organizations to build and deploy compliant, AI-powered virtual health assistants and chatbots, and includes important features like healthcare intelligence, medical content and terminology, and a built-in symptom checker. The Microsoft Healthcare Bot service is fully extensible to help organizations adjust the bot to solve their own business problems, and can connect to health systems, like EHRs. In addition to partners like Premera, today we are announcing bots available, or available soon, from Quest Diagnostics, Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta and Clalit Health Services.

Securely connecting data for better clinical and operational outcomes

Our bodies are a lot like complex computers, and each interaction with today’s health system creates a new data point. These data points are often spread across multiple records, with valuable insights somewhat hidden in siloes. Microsoft is committed to helping address this opportunity by developing technology that connects data and surfaces important insights at exactly the right time, with privacy and security at the core.

A better-connected healthcare system would provide clinicians with more complete profiles of their patients, researchers with more complete data to study, and individuals with more information to take ownership over their health. I hear this often from leading experts in the research and care delivery communities.

With this in mind, today we’re announcing the Azure API for FHIR, a tool to help health organizations better connect systems and harness the power of data in the cloud.

Azure API for FHIR: The Azure API for FHIR will provide a method for health systems and data to ‘talk’ – what is known as interoperability – so for example, health records can connect to collaboration tools, pharmacy systems, fitness devices and others far more seamlessly. Data and insights from this more connected system can then be served up when and where they’re needed most.

API is a term for technology that links software programs together. Similar to electrical outlets and plugs, APIs can most easily be compared to the adapters you need to use electronics while traveling in foreign countries. Though technical, its functionality is important to everyone who interacts with today’s healthcare systems, as interoperability is a foundational health technology need.

The Azure API for FHIR is available in public preview, and we have more than 25 technology partners in our early access program that can help health organizations build FHIR-enabled services today.

Advancing precision healthcare

Some of the most exciting breakthroughs at the intersection of science and technology are in precision healthcare. We all stand to gain from a health system that can precisely care for us based on our unique biology, environments and ailments. Cloud and advanced AI are the key tools that will help achieve that future.

To advance precision care, Microsoft continues to invest in a series of services and computational biology projects, including research support tools for next-generation precision healthcare, genomics, immunomics, CRISPR and cellular and molecular biologics.

For example, Microsoft Genomics, which provides accelerated sequencing and secondary analysis, enables research insights for organizations like St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital with the St. Jude Cloud, the world’s largest public repository of pediatric cancer genomics data.

Earlier this year, we published an update on our partnership with Adaptive Biotechnologies, announcing we’ve opened up our joint research to immunosequence 25,000 individuals, targeting ovarian cancer, pancreatic cancer, celiac disease, type 1 diabetes and Lyme disease.

Work also continues on several Microsoft Research projects, including intelligent scribe Project EmpowerMD, medical imaging Project InnerEye, machine reading Project Hanover and metagenomics Project Premonition. These projects are pushing the boundaries of how technology can be applied in healthcare and we are excited to see how they might be used by health organizations in the future.

Working with the experts

Improving healthcare is not a singular or silver bullet effort. Microsoft’s ambition is not to be a healthcare provider, but to enable and empower those who are doing good things for people around the world. We see strategic alliances with leaders like Walgreens Boots Alliance, Allscripts, Hill-Rom, Novarad and others leading the way, with support from our thousands of technology partners. Here are a few examples:

  • Walgreens Boots Alliance: Walgreens Boots Alliance (WBA) and Microsoft announced a strategic partnership aimed at transforming health care delivery. Our companies will combine the power of Microsoft’s cloud and AI technologies, health care investments, and retail solutions with WBA’s customer reach, convenient locations, outpatient health care services, and industry expertise with the goal of making health care delivery more personal, affordable and accessible for people around the world.
  • Veradigm: Veradigm, an Allscripts company, and Microsoft announced a collaboration focused on implementing an innovative, integrated model for clinical research, aiming to enhance clinical research design, conduct studies more efficiently and improve the research provider and participant experience.
  • Hill-Rom: Hill-Rom and Microsoft announced a collaboration to bring advanced, actionable point-of-care data and solutions to caregivers and healthcare provider organizations. Our collaboration will combine Hill-Rom’s deep clinical knowledge and streaming operational data from medical devices with Microsoft’s cloud, IoT and AI technologies to help drive enhanced patient outcomes.
  • Novarad: Novarad, a healthcare enterprise imaging company, recently obtained 510(k) clearance from the FDA for the OpenSight Augmented Reality System for Microsoft HoloLens. OpenSight received pre-operative clearance for augmented reality usage in surgical planning, giving physicians access to a new solution that can improve surgical procedures by enhancing accuracy and shortening operative times.
  • ThoughtWire: ThoughtWire, is helping save lives with its EarlyWarning application, designed to preempt and prevent patients from suffering cardiac arrest in hospitals. This solution has already reduced code blue calls, which signals a risk of cardiac arrest, by 61 percent at Hamilton Health Sciences, a medical group of seven hospitals and a cancer center. ThoughtWire will deliver the EarlyWarning app, running on Microsoft Azure, to health systems at scale.
  • Innovaccer: Innovaccer is a healthcare data activation platform company working towards solving data interoperability challenges in healthcare and helping health systems enhance their clinical and financial outcomes with a data-first approach. Innovaccer is a portfolio company of M12, Microsoft’s venture fund.

The future is bright – a more connected future to deliver better experiences, insights and care. We are looking forward to meeting many of you next week at HIMSS19 and sharing more about what we are working on. Please be sure to stop by our booth No. 2500 to see our solutions in action, and follow our HIMSS19 story on @Health_IT to learn more.


New bot service helps organizations develop and deploy virtual health assistants

Every year, tens of millions of adults in the U.S. are asked to contact Quest Diagnostics for healthcare-related services that range from routine blood work to complex genetic and molecular testing. In today’s increasingly self-service healthcare industry, details such as where to go when and what to do beforehand are typically up to patients to figure out for themselves.

“They are really learning how to drive their healthcare experience and they have a lot of questions,” said Jason O’Meara, senior director of architecture for Quest Diagnostics in Cary, North Carolina. “To find answers to their questions,” he added, “many people don’t want to browse websites anymore if they can get to their answer more directly using a bot.”

Quest Diagnostics recently built and deployed a bot using a preview of the Microsoft Healthcare Bot service that helps people who visit the Quest Diagnostics website during call center hours find testing locations, schedule appointments and get answers to non-medical questions such as whether to fast before a blood draw or when to expect results. If the bot is unable to answer a question, or the user gets frustrated, the bot will transfer the user, along with the context of the conversation, to a person who can help – all without having the user pick up the phone.

Microsoft announced Thursday that the Microsoft Healthcare Bot service is now generally available in the Azure Marketplace. The cloud service includes out-of-the-box healthcare intelligence such as the ability to triage complex medical questions and a set of prebuilt services including the handoff feature and a symptom checker. Customers can extend and customize the bot to solve their unique business problems. Built-in privacy controls include the ability for bots to learn and adapt to user preferences and for users to ask bots what they know about them and to ask to be forgotten.

“You don’t have to start from scratch,” said Hadas Bitran, head of Microsoft Healthcare Israel. “It has healthcare content knowledge such as a symptom checker and information about conditions, medications and procedures. 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.”

Virtual assistant for healthcare

Bitran, who worked on Microsoft’s virtual assistant Cortana prior to joining the health group, and her team, launched the Healthcare Bot service as a research project in 2017 to determine the feasibility of a toolbox that would allow healthcare organizations to quickly and efficiently build virtual assistants tuned to their brands, along with the workflows and terminology unique to the healthcare industry.

“We were asking ourselves, ‘What are the biggest pain points of healthcare customers? How can we best help self-serve healthcare users? What would be the use cases that would be most interesting for customers,’” Bitran said.

Premera Blue Cross, a customer who used the service during the private preview stage of the project, built and deployed a bot, Premera Scout, to help consumers easily look up the status of claims and find answers to questions about benefits and services available from the health insurance provider.

“People didn’t need to call the call center and wait on the line anymore,” Bitran said. In turn, she added, customer-service employees at Premera Blue Cross now have more time to focus on complicated requests.

Building compliant health assistants

The Microsoft research and development team also knew that any bot service for the healthcare industry would need to leverage a secure cloud platform with built-in privacy controls and tools to support the user’s compliance with regulations such as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, known as HIPAA, and the General Data Protection Regulation, or GDPR.

The compliance support helps the healthcare industry keep pace with a larger trend of companies deploying conversational AI as a go-to interface for consumers to seek and find information. Quest Diagnostics, for example, found in a user-experience survey that about 50 percent of their clients would prefer to engage with a chatbot instead of a search box or frequently-asked-questions feature on a website, said O’Meara.

The Microsoft Healthcare Bot service enables organizations in the healthcare industry to meet the demand for bots that provide timely information, freeing up medical professionals to treat and care for their patients, noted Bitran.

“Virtual assistants will never replace medical professionals,” she said, adding that bots built with the Microsoft Healthcare Bot service never make a diagnosis or offer treatment. “That is not what they are for. Rather, virtual assistants help ease the burden from the healthcare system, helping medical professionals optimize their time.”


John Roach writes about Microsoft research and innovation. Follow him on Twitter.