The COVID-19 pandemic fast-tracked the shift towards digital health care, with providers pivoting to virtual visits and e-prescriptions to accommodate physical distancing measures.
Physicians and patients are embracing virtual care technologies for their convenience and speed but there are concerns about data privacy and security, including how patient information is stored and shared.
Virtual health care will continue long after the pandemic subsides and the industry is looking for solutions to make continuous improvements, according to Peter Jones, industry lead for health care at Microsoft Canada.
“The question becomes: ‘How do we build a single system that is used universally across a province, or better yet nationally, that allows the sharing of information about the patient and enables the full care team to collaborate and communicate effectively?’” he said during a recent webinar about digital health care presented by the Globe and Mail. “The answer will absolutely save lives.”
Digital transformation across the health care industry
Digital platforms offered by companies like Microsoft can help health care providers find transformational solutions that enhance patient care, empower health team collaboration and ease concerns around providing services that are secure, compliant and allow for the interoperability of patient data.
A growing number of health care providers rely on the Microsoft Cloud for Healthcare platform, Mr. Jones said, including the cloud computing service Microsoft Azure to store and manage data, as well as Microsoft health solution, which features a Bookings app that allows providers to schedule, manage and conduct virtual visits with patients.
“We are helping to transform the way care is delivered,” Mr. Jones said.
While the pandemic has sped up the use of virtual health care services, the digital foundation was already in place for many health care providers, enabling them to quickly pivot and adapt to the changing environment, he said.
An example is Lakeridge Health — including five hospitals and 11 clinical outpatient facilities in Ontario’s Durham region — which was able to offer an 800-per-cent increase in virtual care during the pandemic and limit patient and staff exposure to the virus by adapting multiple Microsoft 365 and Microsoft Power Platform solutions. It created more than 30 new virtual clinics in a matter of weeks.
Microsoft Canada also collaborated with Vancouver’s Providence Health Care (PHC) and computer vision researchers at the University of British Columbia to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. Together, these organizations have developed an artificial intelligence (AI) powered solution to anonymize and monitor the effectiveness of social distancing policies and guidelines at the St. Paul’s Hospital campus in Vancouver. Although they enable real-time compliance, the cameras do not collect personally identifiable information.
Microsoft’s Internet of Things, edge computing and AI platforms are also helping medical researchers across Canada scale their work in a more secure and compliant way.
“It allows them to be better researchers,” Mr. Jones said.
Meantime, cloud and AI services help health care providers improve triage, testing, diagnosis and treatment and share information if the patient is moved to another facility, such as a long-term care home.
“Communication across the care team is critical for patient care,” Mr. Jones said.
Virtual services not only improve care but also save money in the health care system that’s under extreme financial duress, especially due to the pandemic.
“We are starting to see a shift in the health care system to provide virtual care in the community and home care,” Mr. Jones said. “That’s really where I think it’s transformational and how it will have a big impact on cutting costs in health care.”
Improving patient care for physical and mental health
The adoption of digital solutions in health is also making care more patient-centric, according to Azadeh Dindayal, vice-president of marketing at Toronto-based digital identity and access company Identos Inc.
Related: Microsoft Health Solution