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Microsoft adds telehealth features to Teams

Microsoft's latest Teams features try to ease the confusion and some of the difficulties patients face when using telehealth technology to meet with doctors.

Microsoft has simplified joining telehealth sessions in Teams and improved the process for meeting with healthcare providers.

The company recently introduced a feature that lets patients join a virtual visit from their mobile phone's browser. The capability makes joining appointments more straightforward and reduces the need for healthcare providers to instruct patients on downloading and installing an app. Zoom released a similar mobile feature in the summer.

Microsoft has placed a waiting room feature for Teams in private preview. A queue page provides office staff with real-time information on how long patients have been waiting and whether anyone has missed an appointment. Providers can send text messages and emails to patients directly from the queue.

Healthcare providers can personalize the waiting rooms with their logo and a customized message. Microsoft said the branding will assure patients they're in the right place.

Microsoft integrated Teams with the Cerner and Epic electronic health record (EHR) systems. The integration lets patients and doctors launch Teams appointments directly from those platforms.

 Microsoft said integrating Teams with health records systems makes it easier for doctors to access and enter patient information during the visit. The Epic integration is generally available, while the Cerner integration is in private preview.

The integrations with EHR systems will help healthcare providers share information, said Hugo Manassei, healthcare group VP for consulting firm Publicis Sapient. Patients often deal with more than one healthcare provider.

"We need to incorporate multiple relationships into this new care model," Manassei said.

Aaron Miri, CIO, Baptist HealthAaron Miri

Aaron Miri, chief digital and information officer for Florida-based Baptist Health, said the Teams features would be helpful. However, there is still much room for improvement in collaboration software not initially designed for telehealth.

"We found out during COVID-19 that [telehealth-specific products] really weren't made for mass telemedicine and that type of volume," Miri said.

Miri said Teams, Zoom and Webex need to be easier to use and access for doctors and hospitals. He said health professionals often must train patients on using telehealth services, taking time away from providing care.

Patient surveys have found that telehealth complexity is a barrier to care. A 2020 J.D. Power study found that 52% of 4,302 telehealth users surveyed found the technology confusing and challenging to use.

Beyond the healthcare features, Microsoft announced other Teams capabilities aimed at frontline workers. Next month, the company will release a Viva Connections mobile app. It will let workers see company news, access schedules and view to-do lists.

The company has added DocuSign to Teams' Approvals. The app will work with Microsoft Word to let managers approve all or part of a document and then lock it to prevent changes.

Mike Gleason is a reporter covering unified communications and collaboration tools. He previously covered communities in the MetroWest region of Massachusetts for the Milford Daily NewsWalpole TimesSharon Advocate and Medfield Press. He has also worked for newspapers in central Massachusetts and southwestern Vermont and served as a local editor for Patch. He can be found on Twitter at @MGleason_TT.

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