Patients turned to virtual care in droves this year amid the pandemic and friendly Trump administration policies, though telehealth utilization has moderated somewhat from April and May highs. Still, analysts predict COVID-19 will lead to a long-term shakeup of the healthcare delivery system, with digital pathways to care accounting for a larger share of medical visits and spend.
Telehealth isn’t just about patients looking to check urgent care needs in the comfort of their home. Hospitals are getting in on the action too, investing in capabilities like digital post-surgical followups, teleICU and telestroke. About 76% of hospitals used telehealth in some way before the pandemic, but that number has likely snowballed in 2020, experts say.
Just a few years ago, hospitals contracting with most telehealth vendors would have to download yet another EHR. Toggling between the two can steal valuable effort from doctors and could contribute to record duplication. Large telehealth vendors like MDLive, Amwell and Teladoc have worked to integrate with their portals with the biggest EHR providers, like Epic and Cerner, to streamline the visit process.
Teams is now following suit.
“We’ve been kind of thinking about integration into various workflows for a year,” Kristina Behr, general manager of Teams for Healthcare, said. “Covid helped crystallize the urgency for us.”
Behr said Microsoft’s health system clients pushed the tech giant to integrate with Epic, but Teams is currently working to integrate with a number of other EHR vendors. Privacy and security was top of mind for the company when creating the video platform, especially when it transitioned to healthcare, Behr said. For example, patients can send their doctor a sensitive photo via Teams, which is encrypted in transit and not stored on the physician’s mobile device.
The platform, which has a workplace chat, file sharing and web conferencing, is HIPAA-compliant. And it’s seen rapid uptake amid the pandemic. In the month of July, providers ran 46 million Teams meetings, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said in an investor call on the company’s fourth quarter results. That’s compared to 34 million in April.
Teams healthcare clients include Washington-based Providence, the third-largest nonprofit in the U.S.; New York systems Stony Brook Medicine and Northwell Health; St. Luke’s University Health Network in Pennsylvania; physical therapy provider Confluent Health; Minnesota system Allina Health; and the U.K.’s National Health Service.
In May, Microsoft launched its first Cloud healthcare-specific cloud offering as it forays deeper into the industry amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The service links Microsoft’s existing services like its Azure cloud platform and Teams to help hospitals with telehealth, care management and patient engagement through apps.
Tuesday’s news comes about a week after Microsoft announced it was integrating Teams with AI-enabled speech-to-text software from medical speech recognition company Nuance. The technology, built in partnership with Microsoft, automates physician note taking during the patient’s virtual visit.
Digital clinical assistants like Nuance’s are meant to ease administrative burden on providers by streamlining the time-intensive and rote process of inputting data into patient records. Following an intense buildup of health system demand, Massachusetts-based Nuance decided to expand its business nationwide in February.
The eventual goal of the software is to pull structured data from the transcribed notes and input it into the correct EHR field without the need for human review. The software being peddled by multiple players isn’t quite there yet — though Nuance says it’s close — and there’s rising competition in the space, including from Google-backed, voice-enabled digital assistant Suki, AWS’ Transcribe Medical and Apple Watch-supported platform Notable.
Related: Cloud Healthcare