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New Microsoft Office 365 features relevant to healthcare organizations

At the 2019 Ignite conference, Microsoft announced several new innovations to Microsoft Office 365, many of which can benefit healthcare organizations and clinical staff.

Microsoft Ignite is considered one of Microsoft's most popular customer and consumer conferences, with roughly 26,000 attendees who get to hear and see some of their latest product and service releases. From new AI-based services to Microsoft tablets running Android, this year there was plenty of excitement for those in the IT space, as well as consumers.

But underneath it all, there were many Microsoft Office 365 features that are relevant to healthcare CIOs today and should not be ignored.

Microsoft Office 365 continues to make its way into hospitals and health clinics by replacing traditional exchange or email services, SharePoint installations and by also providing cloud storage for end users. Over the last five years, many healthcare CIOs have continued their migration journey to shift to the new Microsoft cloud platform to reduce their infrastructure footprint and complexity. 

This year, Microsoft announced several Office 365 features that can provide significant value to those in healthcare, with some of these enhancements spanning across multiple products and services.

Microsoft Teams is delivering a fully functional collaboration platform for clinical staff.

At Ignite, Microsoft unveiled new innovations for Microsoft Teams that can be utilized in a clinical setting to better support patients and hospital staff, including:

  • a smart camera, which can assist care providers with capturing and annotating images during a patient exam;
  • priority notifications that allow hospital staff to alert clinicians during an urgent matter; and
  • a scheduling tool that can support physician scheduling and appointment management and can also be used as part of a telehealth use case.

Additional Office 365 features are added to the PowerApps platform that hospitals can adopt.

This year, Microsoft announced enhancements to several of its products that can provide significant value to those in healthcare, with some of these features spanning across multiple products and services.

PowerApps is a popular app development platform that allows organizations to build mobile apps with or without code. During the conference, Microsoft highlighted a number of key updates to the platform that could be useful for healthcare organizations that utilize PowerApps as a "last-mile" solution that ties into their electronic medical record (EMR) or other internal systems, such as:

  • native support for delivering PowerApps directly to the Microsoft Teams channels for users to access within Microsoft Teams;
  • new support for guest users, including patients or physicians outside of the hospital that can have PowerApps access; and
  • a new PowerApps web portal that offers healthcare organizations the option to roll out an external-facing website where users can sign in and interact with data related to physician's availability, patient data, intake forms and other relevant content.

Microsoft rolls out new AI services that can be used in small clinics and hospitals.

AI is a technology that healthcare organizations have been utilizing to automate repetitive day-to-day tasks currently performed by staff, including answering patients' calls to inquire about billing information, directory information and FAQ. With the launch of the Power Virtual Agents platform, which Microsoft announced at the conference, hospitals can build powerful bots that can be used on websites, Slack, Cortana, Facebook, mobile apps and Microsoft Teams.

Power Automate can now support automation in legacy applications without APIs.

For CIOs and other IT leaders who have worked in healthcare for a number of years, it's common to find a medical application that is unable to support integration and the exchange of information, thus having to rely on data entry staff to help transfer information from one system to another. But for CIOs looking to automate business processes and eliminate human repetitive tasks, Microsoft Power Automate -- previously called Flow -- can do just that with its newly added feature.

This functionality, in a nutshell, can mimic user interactions with any software installed on their computer using the mouse and keyboard and can repeat those actions without having the user present. This can apply to workflows that require data extraction from a screen of a legacy software or possibly to trigger events in a software that can only be done through a user interface.

For CIOs who have already adopted Microsoft Office 365, new Office 365 features and updates released monthly -- and at times weekly -- have become a normal recurrence. However, at the Ignite conference, Microsoft usually announces bigger changes to its platform. While many of the Office 365 features are free, there is still the challenge of adoption of the new capabilities and ensuring that they are adding value to the organization -- that's where CIOs will need to spend more time.

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