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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.”

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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)

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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.

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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:

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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.

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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.

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Walgreens Boots Alliance and Microsoft establish strategic partnership to transform health care delivery

Companies aim to improve health outcomes and lower overall costs with enhanced digital and retail experiences and an R&D commitment to build health care solutions through seven-year agreement

Stefano Pessina, executive vice chairman and chief executive officer of WBA, and Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella
Stefano Pessina, executive vice chairman and chief executive officer of WBA (left), and Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella.

DEERFIELD, Ill., and REDMOND, Wash. — Jan. 15, 2019 Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc. (WBA) and Microsoft Corp. have joined forces to develop new health care delivery models, technology and retail innovations to advance and improve the future of health care. The companies will combine the power of Microsoft Azure, Microsoft’s cloud and AI platform, health care investments, and new retail solutions with WBA’s customer reach, convenient locations, outpatient health care services and industry expertise to make health care delivery more personal, affordable and accessible for people around the world.

Logos for Walgreens Boots Alliance and Microsoft

Current health care systems are a complex combination of public- and private-sector organizations, providers, payors, pharmaceutical companies and other adjacent players. While there has been innovation in pockets of health care, there is both a need and an opportunity to fully integrate the system, ultimately making health care more convenient to people through data-driven insights. This is what brought WBA and Microsoft together. Through this strategic partnership, the companies will deliver innovative platforms that enable next-generation health networks, integrated digital-physical experiences and care management solutions.

“Improving health outcomes while lowering the cost of care is a complex challenge that requires broad collaboration and strong partnership between the health care and tech industries,” said Satya Nadella, CEO, Microsoft. “Together with Walgreens Boots Alliance, we aim to deliver on this promise by putting people at the center of their health and wellness, combining the power of the Azure cloud and AI technology and Microsoft 365 with Walgreens Boots Alliance’s deep expertise and commitment to helping communities around the world lead healthier and happier lives.”

As part of the strategic partnership, the companies have committed to a multiyear research and development (R&D) investment to build health care solutions, improve health outcomes and lower the cost of care. This investment will include funding, subject-matter experts, technology and tools. The companies will also explore the potential to establish joint innovation centers in key markets. Additionally, in 2019 WBA will pilot up to 12 store-in-store “digital health corners” aimed at the merchandising and sale of select health care-related hardware and devices.

“Our strategic partnership with Microsoft demonstrates our strong commitment to creating integrated, next-generation, digitally enabled health care delivery solutions for our customers, transforming our stores into modern neighborhood health destinations and expanding customer offerings,” said Stefano Pessina, executive vice chairman and chief executive officer of WBA. “WBA will work with Microsoft to harness the information that exists between payors and health care providers to leverage, in the interest of patients and with their consent, our extraordinary network of accessible and convenient locations to deliver new innovations, greater value and better health outcomes in health care systems across the world.”

Connected, consumer-centric health care delivery and management platform

The companies will focus on connecting WBA stores and health information systems to people wherever they are through their digital devices. This will allow people to access health care services, such as virtual care — when, where and how they need it.

The integration of information will enable valuable insights based on data science and artificial intelligence (AI) that can allow for fundamental improvements such as supporting the transition of health care data into more community-based locations and sustainable transformation in health care delivery.

Working with patients’ health care providers, the companies will proactively engage their patients to improve medication adherence, reduce emergency room visits and decrease hospital readmissions. Core to this model is data privacy, security and consent, which will be fundamental design principles, underscored by Microsoft’s investments in building a trusted cloud platform.

By better connecting people, providers and the systems in which they work, the industry will be able to provide better quality patient care.

Personalized health care services

WBA and Microsoft will also focus on enabling more personalized health care experiences from preventative self-care to chronic disease management. WBA will pursue lifestyle management solutions in areas such as nutrition and wellness via customers’ delivery method of choice, including digital devices and digital applications or in-store expert advice.

Through a combination of dedicated R&D and external partnerships, a suite of chronic disease management and patient engagement applications are planned for development, alongside a portfolio of connected Internet of Things (IoT) devices for nonacute chronic care management, delivered by Microsoft’s cloud, AI and IoT technologies.

Collaborating with payors, providers and pharmaceutical manufacturers to implement solutions to improve health outcomes at lower cost

Additionally, the companies will work to build a seamless ecosystem of participating organizations to better connect consumers, providers — including Walgreens and Boots pharmacists — pharmaceutical manufacturers and payors. Microsoft and WBA will leverage each other’s market research and identify the right partners to develop solutions.

For example, major health care delivery network participation will provide the opportunity for people to seamlessly engage in WBA health care solutions and acute care providers all within a single platform.

WBA to transition its IT platforms to Microsoft

Through this agreement, Microsoft becomes WBA’s strategic cloud provider, and WBA plans to migrate the majority of the company’s IT infrastructure onto Microsoft Azure. This will include new transformational platforms in retail, pharmacy and business services, new capability in data and analytics, as well as certain legacy applications and systems. The company also plans to roll out Microsoft 365 to more than 380,000 employees and stores globally, empowering them with the tools for increased productivity, advanced security, internal collaboration and customer engagement.

WBA’s transition to Microsoft’s platform will enable WBA to accelerate its speed to market, gain deeper customer understanding and insights, and ultimately provide better and more personalized care, products and services to its customers and communities. In addition, the move to Microsoft Azure accelerates the modernization and cost effectiveness of technology across WBA.

About Walgreens Boots Alliance

Walgreens Boots Alliance (Nasdaq: WBA) is the first global pharmacy-led, health and wellbeing enterprise and the largest retail pharmacy, health and daily living destination across the U.S. and Europe. Walgreens Boots Alliance and the companies in which it has equity method investments together have a presence in more than 25 countries and employ more than 415,000 people.

The company’s portfolio of retail and business brands includes Walgreens, Duane Reade, Boots and Alliance Healthcare, as well as increasingly global health and beauty product brands, such as No7, Soap & Glory, Liz Earle, Sleek MakeUP and Botanics.

Walgreens Boots Alliance is proud to be a force for good, leveraging many decades of experience and its international scale, to care for people and the planet through numerous social responsibility and sustainability initiatives that have an impact on the health and wellbeing of millions of people.

More company information is available at

About Microsoft

Microsoft (Nasdaq “MSFT” @microsoft) enables digital transformation for the era of an intelligent cloud and an intelligent edge. Its mission is to empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more.

All statements in this release that are not historical are forward-looking statements made pursuant to the safe harbor provisions of the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995. These forward-looking statements are not guarantees of future performance and involve risks, assumptions and uncertainties, including, but not limited to, those related to the timing and effectiveness of collaboration plans, the ability to realize the anticipated benefits of the collaboration, competitive actions in the marketplace, and the ability to achieve anticipated financial and operating results in the amounts and at the times anticipated, as well as those described in Item 1A (Risk Factors) of Walgreens Boots Alliance, Inc.’s Form 10-K for its fiscal year ended August 31, 2018, Microsoft Corporation’s Form 10-K for its fiscal year ended June 30, 2018 and subsequent documents that Walgreens Boots Alliance, Inc. and Microsoft Corporation file or furnish with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Should one or more of these risks or uncertainties materialize, or should underlying assumptions prove incorrect, actual results may vary materially. These forward-looking statements speak only as of the date they are made. Except to the extent required by law, each of Walgreens Boots Alliance, Inc. and Microsoft Corporation does not undertake, and expressly disclaims, any duty or obligation to update publicly any forward-looking statement after the date of this release, whether as a result of new information, future events, changes in assumptions or otherwise.

For more information, press only:

Microsoft Media Relations, WE Communications for Microsoft, (425) 638-7777

Walgreens Boots Alliance Media Relations, Jim Cohn, (224) 565-1967,

Walgreens Boots Alliance Investors: Gerald Gradwell, Jay Spitzer, (847) 315-2922

Note to editors: For more information, news and perspectives from Microsoft, please visit the Microsoft News Center at Web links, telephone numbers and titles were correct at time of publication, but may have changed. For additional assistance, journalists and analysts may contact Microsoft’s Rapid Response Team or other appropriate contacts listed at


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Curing diseases and delivering effective treatments with the cloud

Researchers trying to cure some of the world’s least-understood diseases, such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, are discovering new and exciting opportunities in the cloud. With the ability to instantly access vast amounts of computing power, and without the burden of large initial investments or ongoing costs, cloud technology is making it easier for healthcare organizations to study complex disorders and develop innovative new treatments. This is helping lead to an era of more precise and effective medicine.

Although the healthcare industry has used distributed computing networks to tackle large-scale health challenges before—such as the Folding@Home project, which allows individual PC users to contribute unused computing cycles to study how protein misfolding can lead to disease—there are a number of benefits to using a modern cloud computing solution. Cloud-based artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) tools, for example, are helping healthcare organizations become more efficient and medical researchers develop better treatments for diseases.

Here are a few ways the cloud is powering healthcare research that’s leading to new cures, while also making the industry more efficient and secure.

Curing Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s using the cloud

Together, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s afflict over 50 million people worldwide. Although the complexity of these disease processes has made finding cures elusive, the cloud’s ability to effortlessly scale resources and instantly tap into significant amounts of computing power is helping researchers gain a better understanding of these diseases faster.

One example: Researchers have built a comprehensive digital model of the human neurological system at comparatively low cost through quicker, on-demand access to high-performance technology stacks. Biotech startup NeuroInitiative uses virtualized GPUs in the cloud to create a general model of the nervous system, a strategy that has proved 40 times faster than using physical GPUs. “The need for lots of GPUs in a pay-as-you-go, easy-to-use model led us to the cloud from day one,” said Andy Lee, co-founder of NeuroInitiative. “We can spin up a 100,000-core cluster in minutes and stop paying for it after experiments finish.”

Using this technology, researchers have been able to simulate a variety of different treatments for neurological diseases. NeuroInitiative alone has identified more than 25 promising drug targets for Parkinson’s. They’ll be ready for human clinical trials in two to three years—half the time it typically takes for preclinical work.

Speeding up treatments with AI and ML

As more healthcare organizations embrace digital technology, they are dealing with increasing volumes of data, which must be quickly processed and analyzed in order to be meaningful. This is just the sort of work cloud-based AI and ML tools are designed to do. Just like on-premises AI and ML systems, these cloud-based tools can help humans handle routine and time-consuming tasks with unmatched speed and accuracy. Plus, these tools don’t require any special knowledge or equipment to set up, making data processing more cost-effective.

However, there’s more to be saved than money. When it comes to the development and distribution of new treatments, fast data analysis can also help combat diseases and save lives. Genomics researchers at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, for example, needed a way to analyze and sequence large sets of genomic data with a limited set of resources. Using cloud-based AI tools from Microsoft Genomics, as well as Azure Data Lake Analytics, they were able to download their data, and then use AI to quickly process and archive it. “The tool can uniformly realign everything and let me do the variant calling for the analysis I want,” said Dr. Robert Klein, head of the Klein Lab at the Icahn School. They are scaling up their research as a result.

Likewise, Intelligent Retinal Imaging Systems (IRIS) wanted to build a platform that could detect diabetic retinopathy, a form of vision loss that can develop rapidly. To help make tests more accessible, they designed a system doctors can use to quickly analyze images of retinas and detect anomalies using ML algorithms. All doctors have to do is send a retinal image to IRIS, which then processes it using Azure Service Bus and Azure Machine Learning Package for Computer Vision. Within 24 hours, doctors receive an enhanced image back with anomalies identified, making it easy for them to give a final diagnosis. “We went from zero to 300,000 patients examined in under five years,” said Jonathan Stevenson, chief strategy and information officer at IRIS. “There is no way we could have done that without Azure.”

Automatically securing healthcare data

Privacy and security have long been concerns in healthcare, and they’ve taken on a much larger significance with the digitization of the industry. Organizations that want to modernize their operations without sacrificing security can use the cloud as an alternative to siloing all their patient records on site.

One of the most effective ways to do this is by choosing a cloud solution that comes with HIPAA and HITRUST compliance. Instead of having to worry about properly storing, accessing, and analyzing sensitive health data, an organization can simply transfer patient information to their cloud, where it will automatically adhere to secure data regulations. Another layer of protection is to use cloud services that emphasize security from the ground up. This includes introducing security elements at every phase, from the initial hardware components to the final transfer of information.

Cloud technology means better treatments are on the way for some of humanity’s most difficult diseases. By giving researchers easy and scalable access to computing resources, cloud technology is helping to reduce the time it takes to test hypotheses, increase the iteration of promising ideas and treatment methods, and develop new cures. It’s also allowing healthcare organizations to modernize without neglecting security. All this is helping to make medicine more effective, accessible, and timely. For doctors, researchers, and patients, the future of healthcare is in the cloud.

To stay up to date on the latest news about Microsoft’s work in the cloud, bookmark this blog and follow us on TwitterFacebook and LinkedIn.

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How Narayana Health uses data analytics and AI to provide affordable, high-quality healthcare

Making healthcare affordable for patients

The ability to visualize data from across the group opened new avenues to ensure patients get the best care possible at the most affordable prices. The team at Narayana Health is now unlocking insights from historic data as well as data generated in real-time to optimize costs from the perspective of both patients and business goals.

Faster lab turn-around times: One team looked at how they could minimize the visits a patient has to make to the hospital by ensuring they get their lab test reports on the same day. Using Power BI, they were able to compare the performance of different labs across the network and identify roadblocks as well as best practices. They implemented changes in the clinical processes at one of the units and noticed a 60 percent improvement and close to 95 percent of lab tests were turned around in less than two hours. In many cases, this meant that a patient could consult a doctor, get tests done, and get diagnosis done by the doctor on the same day.

Monitoring consumables and antibiotic use: A Power BI dashboard provides insights about the consumables used by doctors for different surgeries. Thanks to this, the management team has been able to establish an average of consumables used for any kind of surgery and can quickly identify trends and cases of even slightly higher usage, which can impact the cost incurred to the patient.

Another parameter monitored is the administration of antibiotics by doctors. This is an important aspect of patient care to ensure that the antibiotics usage is within the limits prescribed by the internal policy at the hospital, which in turn is aligned to WHO standard recommendations. With this, they can quickly identify any aberration and rectify it across the group.

Predicting blood requirement: Thanks to data being available in the system in real-time, hospitals are now able to predict blood requirements on any given day. This has led to optimal stocking and reducing wastage of blood, which is a critical and scarce component.

Reducing the time spent by patients in the ICU: Narayana Health runs one of the world’s busiest cardiac programs and the world’s largest pediatric cardiac care facility. A constant challenge at the organization is to optimize throughput to match the demand of patients with the limited manpower, assets, and capacity available. With real-time analytics they can monitor patients in the ICU and are able to identify any outliers, who have a longer than average duration of stay for any given surgery. This also allows them to identify any bottlenecks and reduce the patient wait time and stay at the hospital.

Better prediction of surgery costs: All this data analysis eventually circles back to Narayana Health’s core mission of providing affordable, high-tech healthcare. Before the implementation of data analytics, the quotes were updated periodically. Now, they can formulate a very narrow band of the expected cost of a treatment, based on multi-year data of the relevant procedures and costs.

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Microsoft unveils genomics innovation and new partners at ASHG 2018

The world’s leading geneticists will converge in San Diego October 16-20 for the American Society of Human Genetics (ASHG) Annual Meeting. This year’s event will showcase some amazing new advances in genomics, and Microsoft Genomics will have exciting news and updates to share.

The latest in genome analysis

The strength of any analytical insight will always depend on the strength of the data used to generate it. If you want to perform repeatable genomic analysis that generates durable datasets, you should rely on industry standards that are constantly validated, versioned and properly curated.

With that in mind, Microsoft is deepening its commitment to genomics with the fourth iteration of the open source Genome Analysis Toolkit (GATK4). The toolkit update is designed to optimize performance for researchers as they strengthen data pipelines and power successful genomic analyses, so they can reduce the risk of noise or artifacts within the data set and extract more insight from the genome.

A growing partner network

To ensure that genomics researchers have access to a broad array of tertiary analysis and orchestrated cloud technology options, Microsoft is working with several new partners:  BizData, Eagle Genomics, Genoox, Gentera Biotechnology, L7 Informatics, Parabricks, Qiagen and Veritas Genetics. They will be with us at ASHG 2018, sharing their insights and demonstrating how their data tools and services will help broaden and deepen what researchers can achieve in genomics. We continue to expand our genomics partner ecosystem, with now more than 20 partners, from wet lab sequencing prep out to interpretation.

“We are very excited to partner with Microsoft Genomics and utilize Whole Genome Sequencing and the Arvados platform to answer the most interesting and difficult questions in genomics.” notes Ward Vandewege, Veritas’ VP of Engineering,  “Running on Microsoft Azure, we can demonstrate the possibilities of genomic analyses at scale by taking advantage of Veritas’ sequencing capabilities and Arvados’ open-source federated platform bringing the analyses to data.”

Anthony Finbow, CEO of Eagle Genomics commented: “We are delighted to partner with Microsoft Healthcare on its Genomics service and look forward to working together to unlock the potential of the microbiome and solve some of the grand challenges of our age. We are seeing strong demand for our knowledge discovery platform amongst enterprise customers in the biotech and pharma, food and personal care industries as they embrace the digital reinvention of Life Sciences R&D. Microsoft Genomics will help tackle the computing and scaling challenges, accelerating the adoption of the technologies and the launch of new products and therapies, heralding a new era in scientific discovery.”

A promising research study at The Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai

Dr. Robert Klein from the Klein Lab at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai is leading a team of bioinformaticians and geneticists seeking evidence for how our genes are involved in cancer risks, assisted by new technologies and the cloud to analyze the largest “big data” sets.

The Mount Sinai research team had been successful in gene sequencing, but they were starting to run into a bottleneck. “We weren’t getting enough space on the computer to store the data as we’re downloading it, running it, and working with it,” Dr. Klein said. “The data was just getting too big.”

With the Microsoft Genomics service, Dr. Klein added, “I give it the input data that would come from the sequencers, it can uniformly realign everything and let me do the joint calling for the analysis I want.” Microsoft Genomics enables “a way to try the large re-analysis of whole genome sequencing data.”

A powerful new way to analyze long-read bio data

In what’s likely to be our most exciting development at the event, we plan to demonstrate a completely new method for analyzing long-read genomic data and capturing major structural rearrangements.

Through collaborative research with Stanford University, we’ve developed a powerful new genomics algorithm that runs on an Intel Altera field-programmable gate array (FPGA) infrastructure within Microsoft Azure. It is an entirely new way of utilizing and understanding long-read genetic data, and will also be one of the first public-facing services based on FPGAs—the same board-level architecture that underpins the incredible machine learning capabilities of Microsoft Project Brainwave.

This revolutionary genomics service will make it easier for researchers to build and complete a whole new set of explorations using long-read data in the cloud. We can’t wait to see what the genetics community makes of it and hear how you plan to apply these powerful new capabilities when the service formally launches.

An exciting genomics success

At last year’s ASHG annual meeting, we presented a summary of how Microsoft Genomics was supporting collaborative pediatric cancer research at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

This year, Microsoft and St. Jude are pleased to share early global adoption of the hospital’s global data sharing and research initiative. The St. Jude Cloud is using Microsoft cloud technology to successfully deliver pediatric cancer data to more than 2,000 clinicians and researchers among 300 organizations in 28 countries. St. Jude is using collaborative research in the cloud to make the genome more actionable, and it’s taking powerful steps forward in the understanding and treatment of pediatric cancer.

What the future holds

At ASHG, you can hear a poster presentation from Microsoft data scientist Erdal Cosgun, Ph.D. on research he conducted with his intern Min Oh. They explored the consistency of the quality scores with machine learning for next-generation sequencing experiments. He will present a machine learning approach for estimating quality scores of variant calls derived from BWA+GATK best practice powered by the Microsoft Genomics service.

You can also try out our Public Preview of Microsoft Genomics service GATK4. Between now and December 31, 2018, bring your Azure account and 20 whole genome samples to run with Microsoft Genomic Service at no cost. Let us know if you need to open a free trial Azure account and we can help you get started.

Stop by Microsoft Genomics at ASHG 2018 and find out more how we’re making deep genomic analysis easier and more accessible.