Eyeing healthcare providers, Microsoft updates its team coordination platform with interoperable EHR support, messaging features

The new features seek to streamline communication between mobile hospital clinicians, as well as boost collaboration with the wider hospital staff.
By Dave Muoio
11:16 am
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Roughly a month after introducing customizable mobile features for its workplace messaging platform, Microsoft announced this morning new features for Microsoft Teams that are specifically aimed at improving communication and coordination between healthcare providers.

The service is now able to integrate FHIR-enabled EHR data so that care teams can quickly access and view a patient’s records on their mobile device, while still having immediate access to secure messaging or video chat capabilities. The capability — enabled through partnerships with healthcare data interoperability firms including Datica, Dapasoft, Kno2, Redox and Infor Cloverleaf — is currently available to those in Microsoft’s private preview program, and will be made more widely available to customers soon.

“You don’t have to switch apps, as you’re moving into the ward … you don’t have to go to a kiosk, log in, badge in, log into the EHR, look at the data and then walk away,” Emma Williams, CVP of office verticals at Microsoft, told MobiHealthNews. “We know so many nurses, what they’re doing today, is they do that in the morning, they take a bunch of notes on paper and they carry those paper notes around with them during the day, or they have to leave their work to go back to the EHRs. In this way, you’ll just be able to keep in flow, with your team, focused on the patient, and we think it will dramatically increase high-bandwidth teamwork.”

Additionally, the company unveiled two new messaging features aimed at addressing the need for quick and efficient communication between clinicians and other healthcare staff, the first being priority notifications. Currently deployed to private preview customers, the feature will highlight messages designated as urgent by the sender every two minutes, for up to 20 minutes or until a response is received.

“Think of this as an amber alert — it will just plaster on your phone [or desktop] every two minutes for 20 minutes until you answer and deal with that critical issue,” Williams said.

The other, which the company said is launching soon, is the ability for team members to delegate messages to another recipient if they are busy — for instance, in surgery.

“A lot of doctors have told us … ‘hey, I might be in surgery for three hours. I really want to … get the messages after I come out of surgery [so] that I can understand how my other patients are doing in the recovery room. But I can’t answer messages for the next three hours so I’m going to authorize someone as my delegate, and that person will take care of those critical communications for me,’” Williams said.

Each of these services will accompany a handful of mobile features for first-line workers that were announced by Microsoft in January. These added secure location sharing, audio message recording and sharing, smart camera support and new APIs.

Microsoft will be domonstrating the platform and its healthcare-specific features next week at HIMSS19 in Orlando, Florida. 

Why it matters

Healthcare providers are sacrificing billions of dollars each year due to inefficiencies and poor collaboration among hospitals, Williams explained. Keeping in mind the breadth and penetration of Microsoft’s other software offerings, a mobile product that offers value to an individual care team and connects them to the wider hospital workforce could be a substantial benefit to healthcare systems, she said.

“The people who are information workers — the people who sit at their desk and work with Word, Powerpoint, Excel, Powerpoint, etc., and Microsoft Teams — for the first time they will be able to communicate seamlessly with clinical staff,” Williams said. “Clinical staff are first-line workers. They’re mobile, they’re shift based, they’re moving from ward to ward and they’re in need of the same digital tools, but they’re just not enabled and empowered with those today. So, for the first time, you’re able to bring together both arms of your hospital to dramatically improve hospital efficiency by having everyone on the same communication platform.”

Further, a number of practitioners or hospital staff who don’t have a means of easy mobile communication may instead rely on unsecured consumer messaging apps. Replacing these apps with a purpose-built, employer-sanctioned platform can cut down security and privacy risks, Williams said, as well as help practitioners draw a more firm line between work and their personal lives .

“When you clock into Microsoft Teams on your shift, you get everything you need to do your job and be effective that day,” she said. “But when you clock off that shift and go home, all those messages stop and you know that finally you can separate your work and life, and dedicate time to your life and family.”

What’s the trend

Many hospitals eager to move away from decades-old communications technology find themselves shackled by data security roadblocks, so it’s little surprise that enterprise messaging providers are interested in offering a solution. For instance, Slack’s Enterprise Grid service for cloud-based collaboration was recently updated to include HIPAA compliance certifications, while others consumer and enterprise data sharing platforms like Dropbox or Box have held certifications for some time.

But despite the clear intentions of other employee collaboration platforms to dip into healthcare, Williams said that her company doesn’t expect these players to penetrate the market quite like other mobile-focused apps and consumer chat platforms already have.

“When I look at competition, it’s not Slack that I’m looking at there, it’s these unsanctioned consumer chat apps that are really more the competition for first-line workers and for clinicians in hospitals. And yet, they’re not secure. They’re not compliant, they don’t come with the ability to integrate the files you need and the information you need at the right time.”

On the other hand, a number of similar messaging services have been built from the ground up with healthcare in mind. New York-based Klara landed $11.5 million in Series A funding last summer, while November saw Medici acquire fellow health communication platform DocbookMD.

Here again, Williams spoke to the scale of Microsoft’s platform and its integration with other services as a differentiator in the “very fragmented” medical messaging market.

“There’s lots of small startups and players out there and many of them focus on messaging only,” she said. “We just believe there’s so much value being offered here [with the integration of other Microsoft 365 products]. It’s just really hard for a smaller player to offer that level of capability."

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