Sep 07 2018

Microsoft Seeks to Enlighten Providers on the Ways of the Cloud

The company wants to educate clinicians on the benefits of the cloud and artificial intelligence as a way to make the most of healthcare data.

The cloud can offer healthcare organizations major benefits, and Microsoft wants to make sure they are armed with the knowledge necessary to make the most of it.

While the tech giant has been working for several years toward programs aimed at harnessing the power of healthcare data through emerging technology, an effort from the newly formed Microsoft Healthcare team will work with organizations to help them move their systems to the cloud, The Verge reports.

Microsoft Banks on Cloud, AI to Make the Most of Healthcare Data

The creation of the new team combines many of the company’s recent moves in the healthcare IT space, including the Healthcare New Experiences and Technologies initiative, launched last year, which seeks to usher in a new wave of healthcare tech innovation using Microsoft’s artificial intelligence expertise, as well as its recent research efforts to empower care teams with cloud architectures.

The company has also partnered with the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center on several AI and cloud-based initiatives, as well as on a larger project to build three specialty hospitals with a digital focus. And Microsoft recently announced its Azure Security and Compliance Blueprint, a collaboration with HITRUST to provide an application-development foundation for healthcare AI.

To help lead the new team, Microsoft has enlisted the help of two industry veterans. Jim Weinstein, the former CEO of the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Health system, will serve as the vice president of the new team. Joshua Mandel, who previously worked at Google’s life sciences arm, Verily, and is a member of the research faculty at the Boston Children’s Hospital Computational Health Informatics Program, where he served as lead architect for SMART Health IT, will serve as the chief architect for the Microsoft Healthcare team.

The main aim of the team, for now, will be to help providers figure out how to integrate the cloud and other tools, like AI, into their underlying IT infrastructures to make the most of healthcare data.

In a blog post announcing the two new team members, Peter Lee, corporate vice president of Microsoft Healthcare, says:

As healthcare processes undergo a digital transformation … This transformation has created a wealth of healthcare data that has potential to help identify diseases earlier, create and improve treatments and improve the lives of patients across the globe. Unfortunately, even with advances in data protection and governance, healthcare data is not easily accessible by the researchers and doctors who need it to help us all realize the potential. And so, for a variety of regulatory, technological and political reasons, we see what is called the “health data funnel,” which holds back the case of scalable innovation in healthcare.

The goal of the team, however, will be to see how tools like the cloud can help to “unlock the innovation potential in healthcare data” and help the healthcare industry work to break down many of the data silos that have already developed.

“We’re confident that many aspects of the IT foundations for healthcare will move from on-premise doctors’ offices and clinics to live in the cloud,” Lee adds. “We are taking concrete steps with an initial ‘blueprint’ intended to standardize the process for the compliant, privacy-preserving movement of a patient’s personal health information to the cloud and the automated tracking of its exposure to machine learning and data science.”

Cloud Moves Forward in Healthcare to Enable Emerging Tools

Cloud is, in many ways, what is making AI possible for healthcare organizations everywhere, due to its ability to host and compute the massive amounts of data necessary to train and use AI and machine learning tools.

“The cloud is the reason AI is moving forward after so many years in the wilderness. We had deep learning methods back in the late ‘80s, but there was no computational power that anyone could even think about implementing a deep learning system,” David Teich, a technology analyst and consultant, told HealthTech in a previous interview.

The University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, for example, has several projects underway that will use cloud infrastructure to tap AI to streamline problems that naturally lend themselves to the tech, often ones that offer large computational challenges.

One example is a project to detect bladder cancer earlier and more precisely, which is already reducing the time clinicians need to spend on diagnoses, as well as cutting costs and increasing accuracy.

“These needle-in-a-haystack problems are what we’re trying to automate,” Adam Berger, CTO at UPMC Enterprises, the health system’s commercial arm, told HealthTech. “It’s not necessarily replacing clinicians, but streamlining the tedious part of diagnosis.”

The flexibility and scalability that cloud infrastructure provides has been instrumental in making projects like these possible.

“We have found that, for a lot of our innovative projects, we don’t know up front what the compute, storage and bandwidth needs will be. The cloud lets us adjust on the fly without having to go out and purchase new servers,” Berger told HealthTech. “That’s pretty liberating.”

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