Microsoft updates Teams communications platform with targeted messaging, telehealth appointment scheduling features

The new functionalities will be available to provider teams using both the smartphone and desktop versions of the Microsoft 365 platform.
By Dave Muoio
03:53 pm
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On Friday, Microsoft announced a handful of new capabilities coming to its Microsoft 365 platform that are designed to improve communications among care teams and facilitate low-friction telehealth visits with patients.

Chief among the new tools already rolled out to providers is targeted communication within both the mobile and desktop versions of Microsoft Teams, Kristina Behr, general manager for modern work verticals at Microsoft, told MobiHealthNews. Individual staff members can be assigned different tags based on their roles, departments or whatever other groupings might apply. With these, groups of employees can received targeted messages within the chat platform.

“We see this as a really powerful unlock in particular for healthcare, because often it isn’t that you need to reach Dr. McKenny – it’s really that you need to reach all the people who are in cardiology,” Behr said.

In the future, Behr said that the company is also looking to include targeted messaging support alongside its Shifts app, which would allow for integration with workforce management systems like AmiOn, JDA and Kronos, and automatically limit these messages to tagged on-duty staff.

Meanwhile, the company is also looking to leverage its scheduling and video conferencing platform for virtual visits. Through the Bookings app in Teams, Behr said that providers will be able to schedule video consultations with their patients. An API will incorporate these bookings into existing healthcare workflows, while the calls themselves have added features such as background-image changes and automated transcription. The tool also looks to reduce the burden on patients by requiring them only to click on a provided link to join the video call in their browser.

“What we’ve heard from our healthcare providers is it’s partly that we need to make these virtual consults and virtual-visit capabilities possible for them, but also that scheduling is a pain,” Behr said. “We have in Microsoft this product called Bookings. It’s part of Outlook, and it makes it easier to do that B2C scheduling of appointments. What we’ve done, and we’re excited to announce, is this Bookings integration into Teams, where customers can create these virtual visits and virtual appointments, have that exist on their provider’s calendar, and then the patient in turn gets a formatted email with a one-click-join experience into this virtual visit.”

The company wrote in its announcement of the new features that a small handful of provider organizations, including Northwell Health and the UK National Health Service’s Calderdale and Huddersfield foundation trust, has already rolled out the Teams platform to employees. Behr also noted partnership agreements between the tech giant and healthcare tech vendors like Innovaccer and Andor Health working toward integrating the features of their respective products.

WHY IT MATTERS

These new features seek to streamline provider communication between providers, and to cut down on the number of healthcare workers turning to insecure chat apps or SMS when they deliver sensitive health information, Behr said. In this case that means housing a number of workflow-friendly communication and coordination capabilities within a single app interface.

“Sometimes it’s making it really easy for people to communicate with each other. That’s what’s really going to improve length of stay and decrease cost – and improve the quality of care that patients receive,” she said. “AI and those sort of more advanced workloads are super important, but so is the ability to make sure that wheelchair dispatch is notified as quickly as possible when lab results are ready,” she said.

THE LARGER TREND

Targeted messaging and virtual visit scheduling both come roughly a month after Microsoft pushed its Teams messaging platform into healthcare with EHR data integration, priority notifications and message delegation. And it was around that same time that Slack’s Enterprise Grid service for cloud-based collaboration was updated to include HIPAA compliance certifications. Other platform offerings for provider organizations include Careteam and Spok.

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