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Today, we’re pleased to announce the private preview of a new AI-powered project from Microsoft’s Healthcare NExT initiative  which is designed to enable our healthcare partners to easily create intelligent and compliant healthcare virtual assistants and chatbots. These bots are powered by cognitive services and enriched with authoritative medical content, allowing our partners to empower their customers with self-service access to health information, with the goal of improving outcomes and reducing costs. So, if you’re using a health bot built by one of our partners as part of our project, you can interact in a personal way, typing or talking in natural language and receiving information to help answer your health-related questions.

Our partners, including Aurora Health Care, with 15 hospitals, over 150 clinics and 70 pharmacies throughout eastern Wisconsin and northern Illinois, Premera Blue Cross, the largest health plan in the Pacific Northwest, and UPMC, one of the largest integrated health care delivery networks in the United States, are working with us to build out bots that address a wide range of healthcare-specific questions and use cases. For instance, insurers can build bots that give their customers an easy way to look up the status of a claim and ask questions about benefits and services. Providers, meanwhile, can build bots that triage patient issues with a symptom checker, help patients find appropriate care, and look up nearby doctors.

At Aurora Health Care, patients can use the “Aurora Digital Concierge” to determine what type of care they might need and when they might need it. Patients interact with the bot in natural language – answering a set of questions about their symptoms – and then the bot suggests what could be possible causes and what type of doctor they might want to see and when. They can also schedule an appointment with just a few clicks. This is an example of how AI can have direct impact on people’s everyday lives, helping patients find the most relevant care and helping doctors focus on the highest-priority cases.

“Aurora Health Care is focused on delivering a seamless experience for our consumers and the health bot allows us to introduce technology to make that happen. The use of AI allows us to leverage technology to meet consumers where they are; online, mobile, chat, text, and to help them navigate the complexity of healthcare,” said Jamey Shiels, Vice President Digital Experience, Aurora Health Care.

At Microsoft, we believe there is an enormous opportunity to use intelligent bots to make healthcare more efficient and accessible to every individual and organization. Our goal is to amplify human ingenuity with intelligent technology, and we’re doing that in healthcare by infusing AI into solutions that can help patients, providers, and payers. 

We are incubating the health bot project as part of Healthcare NExT, a new initiative at Microsoft to dramatically transform healthcare by deeply integrating greenfield research and health technology product development, in partnership with the healthcare industry’s leading players. Through these collaborations, our goal is to enable a new wave of innovation and impact in healthcare using Microsoft’s deep AI expertise and global-scale cloud.

Today, for instance, it can be particularly difficult for our healthcare partners to build bots that address the stringent compliance and regulatory requirements of the healthcare industry, and to integrate complex medical vocabularies. Our health bot project is designed to make this simple by providing an easy to use visual editor tool that partners can use to build and extend their bots, an array of healthcare-specific configuration options, out-of-the-box symptom checker content, as well as easy integration with partner systems and with our set of cognitive services.

We are introducing a private preview program that will allow new partners to participate in the project; partners will be able to sign up on our website. The program includes built-in Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) compliance – a prerequisite for usage by any covered entity. It also includes access to the visual editor tools that partners can easily use to customize and extend bot scenarios, documentation and code samples published on Microsoft Docs, and pre-built integration with the Health Navigator symptom checker.

We’re extremely excited for the potential of our project to help people get better care and navigate the healthcare process more efficiently. Following the private preview, we will have more information to share for general availability.

For more information on the health bot project, please visit: https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/research/project/health-bot/