Health IT

Microsoft refocuses in healthcare, teams with UPMC on innovation

Microsoft chose UPMC Enterprises as its initial innovation partner for Healthcare NExT as the Redmond Empire takes aim at the growing influence of IBM Watson Health, Salesforce, Apple’s ResearchKit and other tech heavyweights.

Microsoft Healthcare NExT

Taking aim at the growing influence of the likes of IBM Watson Health, Salesforce, Apple’s ResearchKit and other tech heavyweights, Microsoft is refocusing its healthcare efforts in a series of new initiatives. The new branding is perhaps even a tip of the hat to the late Steve Jobs.

The Redmond Empire on Thursday unveiled Healthcare NExT, a collaborative effort between Microsoft AI, Microsoft Research and big healthcare industry players. (NExT ostensibly stands for New Experiences and Technologies, though the name and stylization evoke NeXT, the computer company Jobs started after being forced out at Apple in 1985.)

“Our goal is to enable a new wave of innovation and impact using Microsoft’s deep AI expertise and global-scale cloud,” Peter Lee, corporate vice president for Microsoft Research NExT, wrote on the company’s blog. “It’s a big challenge. But we believe technology — specifically the cloud, AI and collaboration and business optimization tools — will be central to healthcare transformation.”

In that sense, Microsoft is responding to the growth of predictive analytics and “deep learning” technology from IBM Watson, Health Catalyst and NantHealth, plus cloud aggregation platforms such as Salesforce Health Cloud and SAP’s new Connected Health division.

“Making a difference in healthcare will require all that Microsoft can bring, fused with the industry expertise and experience from our partners: leading healthcare organizations and the companies that serve them,” Lee added.

As its first partner in Healthcare NExT, Microsoft chose UPMC Enterprises, the innovation and commercialization arm of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. Essentially, “UPMC will be Customer Zero,” UPMC Enterprises President Tal Heppenstall said.

“Microsoft is committing these technology tools to help us invent new technologies,” Heppenstall continued. UPMC will be focusing on projects to improve healthcare for patients and practitioners alike and to help people live healthier lives, he said

Heppenstall declined to discuss specific projects the two entities were considering. “We are disclosing the problems we want to solve,” he said, however. These include the heavy paperwork burden on physicians as well as sorting out immunology research, according to Heppenstall and a UPMC blog post.

“Despite UPMC’s efforts to stay on the leading edge of technology, too often our clinicians and patients feel as though they’re serving the technology rather than the other way around. With Microsoft, we have a shared vision of empowering clinicians by reducing the burden of electronic paperwork and allowing the doctor to focus on the sacred doctor-patient relationship,” UPMC Chief Medical and Scientific Officer Dr. Steven D. Shapiro said in a press release.

Microsoft also introduced some new products as part of Healthcare NExT. HealthVault Insights is intended to help researchers glean insights from patient records — much like Apple’s ResearchKit and Google’s ResearchStack. It also can be used for patient engagement, HealthVault is a personal health record, though PHRs have a long history of consumer apathy.

Telehealth vendor MDLive and Premera Blue Cross in Washington state will use Microsoft’s just-released AI health chatbot technology to aid in consumer engagement. MDLive will incorporate chatbots into its automated triage engine, while Premera will upgrade its benefits search capabilities for members, according to Lee.

Microsoft also is incorporating its Skype for Business service into a series of “virtual health templates” for Office 365, among several new releases made in conjunction with the Healthcare NExT announcement.

Photo: Microsoft