Microsoft showed just how seriously it takes its ambitions in the health sector when it announced its second most expensive purchase in history after LinkedIn – that of Nuance Communications. Nuance, which specializes in speech recognition, will enable Microsoft to develop technology that can process patient/doctor consultations and incorporate relevant information into a patient’s electronic health record, thus reducing the amount of time clinicians need to spend typing up reports and notes.
The Nuance engine is driven by artificial intelligence (AI), a technology Microsoft is keen to lead in the health space. Earlier this year, the company announced that it was moving its AI-powered Healthcare Bot to its cloud-computing platform, Azure, and said that over the last year the technology delivered more than one billion messages to over 80 million people worldwide.
Last month, Microsoft announced it will work with 13 U.K. startups to help “develop artificial intelligence solutions that can be used by organizations to improve people’s lives and the world around us.” Among those startups is CanSense, a company that enables a rapid blood test for the early detection of cancer; Medicspot, a rapid-treatment clinic provider; and CarelQ, a data analytics platform specializing in chronic disease management.
Head in the Cloud
But AI is just one branch of Microsoft’s healthcare ambitions. It is also clearly seeking to take on Amazon, and to some extent Google, as a major cloud provider. According to a report by technology research firm Canalys, as of the last quarter of 2020, Amazon Web Services (AWS) owned 32 percent of the market, while Microsoft’s Azure held 20 percent, followed by Google Cloud at 7 percent. The report also said that Microsoft’s growth rate in the $40 billion cloud infrastructure market equaled 50 percent, so it’s clear that they’re coming on strong.
Microsoft has said that this month will mark the first update for its Microsoft Cloud for Healthcare service, which it first became available last fall. Updates include the ability for patients to access telehealth services more easily and with more flexibility by self-scheduling both virtual and in-person visits; the integration of the Azure Health Bot as a virtual health assistant; and the use of Microsoft’s Dynamics 365 patient insight program to pull together patient data, including which appointments are scheduled and who is waiting in virtual clinic patient queues.
Plays Nice With Others
While companies such as Amazon seem to be concerned with becoming a provider in the healthcare space, as evidenced by the nationwide rollout of their telehealth services, Microsoft’s approach seems to be based more on partnering with existing organizations rather than competing with them.
This includes partnerships with government organizations, such as the company’s announcement earlier this year of a tie-up with the Washington State Department of Health, in which Microsoft provided a vaccine dashboard to show data on the administering of COVID-19 vaccines. Microsoft also worked with the Oklahoma Department of State to create a vaccine scheduling app.
The tech behemoth has also partnered with higher education and research institutes to advance its presence in the healthcare sphere. It announced last month that it will build a Center for Computational Thinking at Carnegie Mellon University. Earlier this month, a member of Microsoft Research co-authored a paper announcing a platform that can determine pulse or respiration rate from a smartphone or computer camera, which can be a significant step in moving telemedicine forward.
What’s even more striking is Microsoft’s partnership with other companies looking to get into healthcare. If there was more evidence needed that the company is seeking to have a “king-maker” effect in the healthcare world rather than play a provider role, its partnership with Best Buy Health is a clear example.
“Using its unique assets, including Best Buy stores, caring centers, technology products including Lively devices, and virtual care capabilities, Best Buy Health supports care delivery in the home and provides independence and safety for active aging adults and people living with chronic conditions,” said President of Best Buy Health Deborah DiSanzo on the Microsoft blog. “Its partnership with Microsoft Cloud for Healthcare helps power these healthcare offerings, resulting in more personalized care, better virtual health opportunities and deeper patient insights, by using Power Platform, Dynamics 365 and Azure API for FHIR.”
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