Who would have thought when I made my 2020 health trends and predictions in January that our world would be upended by COVID-19? In a year marked by the health and economic crisis posed by a global pandemic, we’ve seen countless examples of the U.S. health and life sciences community rising to each new challenge and demonstrating resiliency, agility and commitment to address the most demanding requirements in over 100 years. I wanted to take this opportunity to express heartfelt thanks to all in our field for going above and beyond anyone’s expectations – and for the opportunity to partner on some transformative initiatives.
Accelerating the response
One of my 2020 predictions that proved true in this extraordinary year is the critical role of the cloud and artificial intelligence in health and life sciences. In a sense, the coronavirus served as an accelerator for many of our existing cloud and AI solutions, including the Microsoft Azure-powered Cloud for Healthcare, AI in health, Healthcare Bot service, Azure Front Door, Azure API for FHIR, HoloLens 2 and Microsoft 365 (including Teams). These capabilities are enabling:
- Virtual health, including visits, hospital rounds, delivery of key information to help the public assess COVID-19 risks, and scalable, secure entry points for fast delivery of applications.
- It’s worth noting that between March 1 and Dec. 7, our trusted health-bot service has been used by 75 million global customers to develop 2,311 COVID-19 bots, supporting 769 million conversations.
- Virtual clinical trial coordination and the internet of medical things, or IoMT.
- Remote assist and mixed reality for faster diagnoses, reducing time-to-care and more.
- Virtual or hybrid work and medical/science remote learning to further “social determinants of health” (SDOH), which are the conditions in places where people live, learn, work and play that affect their health and quality-of-life risks and outcomes.
- Microsoft Teams is integral in this area, providing chat, video, voice and healthcare collaboration tools in a single hub that supports compliance with HIPAA, HITECH and other regulations.
- Ventilator splitting and diagnoses.
- Vaccine design, development and clinical trials.
- We recently released our COVID-19 Vaccine Eligibility Checker, allowing healthcare organizations to help the public assess their eligibility for vaccines. Built on our Healthcare Bot service, the checker uses the latest CDC guidelines for prioritizing patient populations for the first vaccine waves.
We are very proud to collaborate with U.S. health and life sciences organizations, helping empower their progress on several fronts. Here are just a few examples of how Microsoft spurred momentum on COVID-19 challenges:
- Early in the pandemic, Johns Hopkins University used Power BI integrated with Esri mapping software to create their now famous interactive, web-based COVID-19 dashboard, providing the most comprehensive, up-to-date picture of the virus’s global scope and spread.
- In early March, we announced that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) was among the first to use our Healthcare Bot service to release its Coronavirus Self-Checker, with numerous U.S hospitals and health providers following.
- In that same blog, we highlighted Providence, one of the largest U.S. health systems, for building a coronavirus assessment tool in just three days to help people determine their coronavirus risk. This news was quickly followed by a report about Providence collaborating with Microsoft in mapping adaptive immune responses, including COVID-19.
- In May, Dartmouth announced a study by the Dartmouth Atlas Project in collaboration with Microsoft on public health mapping of COVID-19 on vulnerable populations.
- In this Year of the Nurse and Midwife, we joined Johnson & Johnson, SONSIEL (Society of Nurse Scientists, Innovators, Entrepreneurs and Leaders) and dev up to host two virtual NurseHack4Health hackathons to develop ideas to solve pandemic and other health challenges.
- In June, Microsoft AI for Health was acknowledged in an Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation press release about modeling efforts to predict the outbreak’s course.
- In September, we featured a story about critical care doctors at St. Luke’s University Health Network using Microsoft Teams to create a COVID-19 protocol aimed at saving lives and improving recovery time. We later followed up by showing how St. Luke’s is taking care of the future of health with Microsoft 365.
- On Nov. 10, Children’s Hospital Los Angeles announced it is partnering with schools across Los Angeles County to provide access to a digital COVID-19 symptom assessment tool built on our Healthcare Bot service. This resource will play an important role when LA schools prepare to reopen.
- Just recently, we highlighted an inspiring story of how Duke University and Microsoft AI for Health raced to create a crucial ventilator splitting solution to help COVID-19 patients.
Vaccinating the nation
Health organizations are currently focused on managing the surge in COVID-19 cases as well as vaccinating the nation. Our team is working with many U.S. hospitals and healthcare providers to develop new Healthcare Bots to answer public questions on when, where and how to get vaccinated.
We’re also collaborating on vaccine deployment through our Microsoft Vaccination Registration and Administration Solution, or VRAS. This comprehensive, end-to-end solution facilitates the entire process, from helping people self-assess, register and schedule vaccinations to enabling providers to administer and monitor operations, record vaccination data, and create reports and dashboards.
Our Health and Life Sciences team is looking ahead to prepare for a post-COVID environment. We are gathering lessons learned about responding to and recovering from this pandemic so that we can reimagine the future with a lasting framework to deal with public health crises. These efforts include:
- Microsoft Premonition to prepare for pandemics through scalable monitoring of the environment to detect disease threats early, using robotics and genomics.
- Microsoft AI for Health, our five-year program launched in January to use AI and data to help improve the health of people and communities worldwide – later updated to mobilize efforts to assist researchers and organizations responding to COVID-19. In November, John Kahan announced more AI for Health news, while Harvard announced joining forces with AI for Health to create a COVID-19 live tracker that monitors the status of COVID-19 cases and deaths as well as the reduction of new cases.
- Assessing the spectrum of remote, hybrid and on-site work scenarios. For example, Microsoft Teams and other secure Microsoft 365 Government solutions enable virtual and hybrid continuity of work, while our Power Platform return to the workplace solution allows enterprises to prepare facilities and employees to return to their physical workplaces.
- A focus on mental health through efforts like Project Talia, where we are exploring how to best leverage AI to improve the effectiveness of vital mental health services.
- Identifying ways to manage virtual patient visit reimbursement, now that the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services recently ruled on telehealth and remote services.
- Continued work to improve health equity and SDOH conditions nationwide through Microsoft AI for Health and our Airband Initiative to bring high-speed internet connectivity to rural areas.
Collaborating in health and life sciences
In addition to delivering trusted cloud and AI solutions, our team has partnered on several health and life sciences initiatives this year to address COVID-19 issues and boost other worthy endeavors. We:
- Invested and collaborated with the CDC Foundation to launch the Global Health Crisis Coordination Center. This public-private partnership, announced April 16 and located in Atlanta, is helping the world respond to COVID-19 and future health crises.
- Supported The APANDEMIC Initiative to combat the global effect of COVID-19.
- Sponsored the inaugural AIM-HI Accelerator Fund’s Women’s Venture Competition, a first-of-its-kind initiative combining extensive opportunities for women-created and -managed oncology startups.
- Partnered with the American Hospital Association (AHA) to present a free virtual training course called “Microsoft AI in Health Care: Leading Through Change.”
Supporting the front lines
In reflecting on this tumultuous year, I’m often reminded of what Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella reiterated in July: “We’ve focused on acting as digital first responders to the world’s first responders, supporting those on the front lines of this pandemic.” Our team is honored and grateful to serve in this capacity for U.S. health and life sciences professionals. I’m also thrilled that we’ve remained dedicated to enabling better experiences, insights and care, passionate about driving innovation and committed to living Microsoft’s mission of empowering others. Going forward, we will advance these ideals so that health and life sciences organizations across the country can continue achieving more for everyone.