What You Should Know:
– A new report from KLAS focuses on healthcare-specific deployments of Microsoft Cloud Technologies, especially Microsoft Azure, which is receiving strong market interest.
– This study is meant to help organizations considering Microsoft Cloud technologies understand their current use, the overall customer experience, and the impact of the solutions.
Key Healthcare Trends in Microsoft Cloud Technologies in 2022
While still early, healthcare is gaining momentum in the move to the cloud. Today, most providers and payers are at least using SaaS technologies, and many are actively exploring other areas of their IT environment that make sense to move to the cloud.
The eight customers (provider and payer organizations) interviewed for KLAS’ latest research use several different Microsoft Cloud technologies. Almost all use Microsoft’s IaaS and PaaS offerings, and all use Microsoft SaaS solutions. While no interviewed Microsoft clients have moved their entire infrastructure to the cloud, a few have made significant strides (leveraging both Microsoft and other cloud providers). One organization has moved most of their environment to the cloud, with a small on-premises footprint remaining. Another leverages significant computing resources through Microsoft Cloud and has also moved their acute care EMR to a private cloud hosted by a third-party firm. One other Microsoft customer uses a third-party firm to host their EMR in the cloud, in addition to using their Microsoft cloud services.
Listed and explained below are some of the cases reported by interviewed organisations identified by Microsoft as leading cloud customers, and the benefits they have seen as a result:
1. Core IT Operations: One of the key reasons provider and payer organizations turn to Microsoft Azure technologies is for core IT operations. This includes things like a virtual data center, virtual desktops, long-term storage for digital pathology images, computing infrastructure for AI/ ML projects, and more. An academic medical center, one of the first to move their large acute care EMR and revenue cycle deployment into production in the cloud, praised the transparency, automation, and additional value-adds they receive from having Microsoft as their cloud provider. One such value-add is the fact that they no longer have to deal with the cost and hassle of hardware refreshes. One of the executives KLAS spoke to shared, “By moving [the EMR] and many of our other applications to the cloud, we have the benefits of automation and other value-adds that come from the cloud provider’s platform and the ability to move the infrastructure. We also don’t have to deal with hardware refreshes, especially for [our EMR vendor], who prefers we do those every three years.” While acknowledging that moving to the cloud is not less expensive overall, this organization cites cost savings associated with hardware rationalization and lower usage levels on weekends.
2. Member/Patient Engagement: The next most common healthcare use case for Microsoft Cloud Technologies is to improve engagement with members and patients. A handful of interviewed customers use Azure for things like a digital front door; enhanced communication and experience management with members, providers, brokers, and employers; and vaccine registration initiatives. An academic medical center uses Azure-based PaaS solutions for their mobile-based vaccine registration solution. The interviewed leader at this organization said, “The speed and agility to scale up the mobile application for vaccine registrations during COVID-19 was incredible. In a normal non-COVID year, we might be running three or four web servers at the most on our public website. We were hitting 10 or 12 nodes during the vaccine registration time periods.”
3. Product Development: Multiple healthcare organizations use Azure for product development. One health system uses Microsoft’s development tools to create applications that have helped them respond to COVID-19, effectively shift patients to long-term facilities, and more. By using these tools, they have avoided needing to purchase niche products, and they only pay for what they use.
4. Care Coordination: A couple of healthcare organizations use Microsoft Teams for very specific aspects of care coordination. One health system created a clinical assistant platform to help put information in the hands of clinicians right when they need it so they can make informed care decisions. The foundation for this information sharing is Teams—because of its adoption by all employees, Teams has been a highly effective vehicle for communicating and coordinating patient care. Another health system created dashboards in Teams that provide visibility into what is happening across the organization in terms of COVID-19, hospital-acquired infections, vaccines, and other things. These dashboards help the leadership team to see trends in their community and to shift resources based on hospital or facility needs. They also enable on-the-ground teams to be more data driven, find information more quickly, and more easily get on the same page.
5. Automated Clinical Detection: One health system has partnered with Microsoft to use Azure AI/ML technology to automate the detection of and notification about heart issues, such as atrial fibrillation among heart patients. The health system is using similar tools to detect strokes in patients who receive a CAT scan before the patients have left the scanner. In both cases, Microsoft’s Azure AI/ML algorithms help with detection. The organization also leverages Azure’s computing power to perform the calculations, and they engage Microsoft’s AI experts along with their own clinical and AI experts.
6. Clinical Research: Another health system has their research groups “using Azure to follow the aftereffects of COVID longitudinally by moving a lot of our data and analytics within Azure.” This organization said Azure makes sense for them because “researchers probably need elasticity more than anybody in terms of computing and storage. Cloud is an attractive environment for the researchers because they can expand or contract quickly.”
7. Genomics Computing Environment: The genomics department at a large health system is using the Azure platform for computing. The interviewed executive explained that “some of the computers are on premises, but the new pipelines and infrastructure are being developed in the Azure platform so that we can do genome sequencing. . . . We are leveraging the Azure platform’s graphic processing unit (GPU) capabilities.” Because of the nature of genome sequencing, they don’t need the same level of processing power all the time, but at certain times, they need significant GPUs for several hours. With Azure, the organization only pays for high computing capabilities when they are needed, and this also ends up being much less expensive than it would be to support these capabilities constantly through an on-premises solution.
KLAS also reports certain challenges identified by corporations in achieving success with the cloud. The following include some that are more general and could apply to any cloud provider, while others are more specific to Microsoft:
1. Cost Management: Cost management is one of the more challenging aspects of moving to the cloud, regardless of the cloud provider. Two organizations shared this as an obstacle in moving to Azure.
2. Strategic Engagement: A couple of organizations want more engagement and communication from Microsoft regarding where they are going in healthcare.
3. Support Gaps: One organization described some gaps in support. For example, when the organization turns to Microsoft for development operations help, the folks at Microsoft show them several ways to do things but don’t look at the organization’s use cases and provide tailored advice for how to set things up. As a result, the organization has to pull in another party for that help. Another organization is concerned about high turnover among support personnel at the account level.
4. Services Packaging for Healthcare: Some organizations note Microsoft has put increased focus and resources in healthcare, but there is still work to be done in this area, and one organization cited this as a top obstacle.
5. Maintenance: One organization mentioned maintenance as a challenge with the cloud. They indicated that Azure must be shut down when adding or expanding storage, which causes frustration.