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Microsoft Industry Blogs

This week, more than 40,000 health professionals from the around the world gathered in Las Vegas, Nevada, for the annual conference of the Health Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS). This event is one of the largest and most influential conferences in the healthcare IT space. Microsoft representatives showcased a number of solutions for health organizations and talked with industry leaders about digital transformation. Discussions centered on a number of trends, including the shift to value-based care, evolution of patient engagement, opportunities enabled by big data, and Internet of Health Things.

At Microsoft, we have a clear mission: to empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more. To accomplish this in the realm of healthcare, we are working to enable an evolving landscape of people, environments, and data, and are using technology to help solve the most challenging global health issues—now and in the future. Our goal is to empower healthcare organizations by helping to connect people and technology, harness the power of data and research, and apply advanced intelligence to the care of every person around the world. I’d like to share a little of how we’re achieving these goals today and what I think the future of healthcare will look like tomorrow.

Enterprise class security and privacy protection

There are few industries where security and privacy are more important than healthcare. Yet, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), more than 113 million U.S. health records were exposed in 2015, a fact which is inexcusable given the options available today to safeguard patient data.

While security has always been a focus for Microsoft, we recognize that the evolving digital world in which we live requires a new industry-wide approach—one that focuses on how we protect, detect, and respond to security threats that reflect the realities of our world.

We’ve created a dedicated group of worldwide security experts, the Microsoft Enterprise Cybersecurity Group, to deliver solutions, expertise, and services for Microsoft customers. We’ve also opened a Cyber Defense Operations Center that works around the clock to protect, detect, and respond to threats in real time. Our intelligent security graph brings together data points from billions of sources to give us unique insights into the threat landscape, and it’s our mission to use those insights to better protect our customers and their data.

In addition to these protections, we’ve made it our job to think about how clinicians access information, interact with software and services across devices and platforms, and derive insights from machine-driven intelligence. As a result, our products have built-in security technologies across devices, software, and services—all working in tandem to deliver technologies with greater security for health organizations. Such technologies include Windows 10, Office 365, Dynamics CRM, Microsoft Azure, and Enterprise Mobility Suite—all core Microsoft products that provide customers with a holistic, agile, and more secure platform. Healthcare organizations can feel confident taking advantage of new technologies and trends, knowing that our technologies help keep their data safe and secure.

Applying cloud and machine learning technologies in healthcare

Bioinformatics specialists at Spain’s Institute of Medical and Molecular Genetics (INGEMM), working on behalf of the Dravet Syndrome Foundation, are using a next-generation sequencing (NGS) solution built on Microsoft Azure to sequence millions of DNA strands in an effort to help uncover the causes of genetic diseases such as severe epilepsy and other disorders. The foundation is using the system to reduce the time to diagnose patients’ genetic disorders. Previously, specialists could test for only a single gene, causing patients to suffer through multiple tests to determine the root cause of their condition. But now, with the new solution, specialists can analyze hundreds of genes in a single test and reduce the time to diagnosis from years to just one month.

An exciting and pioneering new solution that heralds the future of healthcare is in use at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Health System in Connecticut. The solution, ImagineCare, is built on Microsoft Azure Machine Learning and big data technologies, and Cortana Analytics Suite. Nurses and specialists use the always-on, cloud-based system to track changes in patients’ health status in real time. Data from devices such as blood-pressure cuffs, glucose monitors, pulse oximeters, and activity trackers like Microsoft Band are transmitted via smartphone to the cloud, where they are incorporated into a dashboard running on Cortana Analytics Suite. When changes occur in an individual’s health status, an alert is sent to the correct care provider, who then reaches out to the patient—often before the patient is even aware of a problem. I firmly believe that solutions like ImagineCare will become the norm as the industry moves to more fully embrace healthcare without walls.

Forecasting the future of healthcare

Thanks to innovations like mobile, cloud, and machine learning technologies, there is a seismic shift that is driving a new era of healthcare. Consider how technology has changed the lives of thousands of families with children who have Type 1 diabetes. Nightscout, created by a group of parents and people with Type 1 diabetes, uses an open-source solution and the Pebble smartwatch, running on Microsoft Azure, to allow patients and their families to remotely and dynamically keep watch over glucose levels. By virtually monitoring their children’s glucose levels, parents can enjoy increased peace of mind, and children can experience a newfound independence and the chance to have a more carefree childhood.

In a similar vein, Swedish medical devices company Aerocrine, maker of asthma monitoring tools, turned to Microsoft Azure to help improve device performance. Asthma devices are sensitive and prone to performance issues caused by dry weather or humidity and can stop functioning as a result. Aerocrine is using Azure Event Hubs and Azure Stream Analytics to detect an instrument’s humidity level and whether devices are functioning outside normal limits. Eventually, it will create alerts for customers so that they experience no interruption in service.

In addition to giving patients a more active role in their own care, the increase in entry-level Windows 10 devices available to clinicians—thin, ruggedized, long-battery-life devices, all with enterprise class security—is enabling healthcare workers to provide care in the communities where people live and work. This “healthcare without walls” movement is improving the quality of care that providers are able to deliver—moving from a healthcare industry that focuses on “sick care” or management of chronic issues to one that’s characterized by preventative care. Best of all, by using mobile devices and cloud technology to store and access data safely and securely, care providers are better able to focus their time and energy on caring for patients.

To illustrate this model, we go to Dr. Brian Levine, a fertility doctor in New York City, who uses Microsoft technologies running on a Surface tablet to interact with patients and provide education about care plans. Having the device with him in consultation enables Dr. Levine to be a “portable doctor,” with the freedom to dictate and annotate information directly onto the device, retrieve patient records, and share ultrasound images with colleagues at the click of a button. Best of all, the Surface does all of this with accuracy, speed, and performance, allowing Dr. Levine to do what he does best and provide quality care for his patients.

Toward healthcare without walls

Today, innovations from Microsoft, our partners, and our customers are empowering health organizations, communities, and people around the globe to improve healthcare by helping them better understand and share information, and to provide care in real time, based on actionable data. Many patients who sat in hospital beds yesterday are receiving telemedicine-enabled care in their homes today. Big-data techniques are guiding the treatment of patients. Clinicians are communicating and working with patients outside of healthcare facilities. And that’s just the beginning. The digitization of healthcare promises to be game changing. At Microsoft, we know that the strides we are making with our partners and customers will enable even greater transformation in the future.