Healthcare Organizations Trust the Cloud to Enhance Mobile Productivity and Care Team Communications While Reducing Operating Costs

02 April 2013 | Dr. Dennis Schmuland, Chief health strategy officer, U.S. Health and Life Sciences, Microsoft

​More and more healthcare organizations are realizing the mobile productivity, care team communications, regulatory compliance, and cost savings benefits of cloud computing.  According to a report issued by MarketsandMarkets in 2012, the cloud computing market in healthcare is expected to grow to $5.4 billion by 2017.  With payments falling and operational budgets shrinking, it’s fortunate for healthcare organizations that the economic, team productivity, and security advantages of the cloud have created a unique moment in history where it's actually possible for mobile, virtual teams to share more and collaborate better within and beyond their four walls at a lower cost by moving their on premise productivity and communication platforms to the cloud. 

If you haven’t yet heard of Microsoft Office 365, think of it as an always up-to-date, cloud-based communications (instant messaging, presence awareness, voice, video, email, calendar) and collaboration (workspace, workflow, audio-conferencing, desktop file/app sharing) service that can work alongside and integrate with your EHR and enable your staff to continuously communicate and work together as a team anywhere, anytime, and on any device.  Your employees and clinicians can still use the older analogue methods of communication – phones, paper, fax, and meetings – but with Office 365 they now have many more online methods to communicate and collaborate while they're on the move, whether from a tablet, computer or smartphone. 

There are three unique advantages that Microsoft’s cloud services brings to the health & life sciences industry table.  First, Microsoft is the only major cloud-based productivity and collaboration service provider that offers a HIPAA Business Associate Agreement (BAA) that was built by the industry, for the industry.  To ensure broad industry acceptance, Microsoft developed a BAA for the health industry through a collaborative effort with top academic medical centers, government entities, large health plans, and provider organizations.  Second, healthcare delivery organizations from large multi-state care delivery organizations down to solo practices can use the same BAA for a broad spectrum of cloud-based offerings:  productivity, communication, collaboration, application and data hosting, backup and disaster recovery, and customer (patient) relationship management.  This enables healthcare delivery organizations to consolidate their cloud strategy under one BAA and eliminates the need to negotiate and manage a portfolio of unique BAAs across multiple vendors.  And last, Microsoft enables healthcare delivery organizations to move to the cloud on their own terms – by providing a range of plans that provide the right features for healthcare users at the right price; and through flexible delivery options, including the choice of public, private, or hybrid cloud offerings in addition to implementing the software on premise. 

For example, award winning 5-physician family practice Mihills Webb Medical deployed Office 365 and improved their communication and collaboration, while meeting security, privacy and other regulatory requirements under HIPAA and HITECH Acts.  Dr. Cody Mihills explained, “because Microsoft cloud services are HIPAA-compliant and came with a HIPAA business associate agreement, we’ve used Office 365 to unify communications across the office with confidence.  Tasks like coordinating schedules between employees and collaborating with peers outside the office who support patients now can be executed in an efficient, HIPAA-compliant manner.”

As detailed in a recent eWEEK case study, Mihills Webb Medical’s implementation of Office 365 has enabled the physicians to move patients in and out of the office faster and remain in an exam room with patients without having to walk to another part of the 12,000-square-foot facility to communicate with their team. Using Office 365 also saved the practice 30 days of medical assistance time, allowing the physicians to see more patients, and also improved office morale. 

Healthcare organizations are taking advantage of all that Office 365 has to offer and many of our customers have reported great success after migrating to the platform.  Here is how we heard Office 365 is making an impact in health recently:

  • Mobile clinician productivity.  Kindred Healthcare, Inc. had experienced technological challenges in the past when acquiring and integrating healthcare companies and business portfolios, but with Office 365, they are now able to continually improve productivity and manageability across the company.  In addition to enhancing network security, reducing remote access support calls by about 35 percent, and conserving network bandwidth, employees now have a more productive work experience.  John Vorreiter, senior director of technical services at Kindred, explained, “Kindred has 78,000 dedicated employees providing IT and healthcare services to 527,000 patients and residents on an annualized basis, with more than 2,200 locations across 46 states.  Having the latest cloud technology that supports a wide range of clinical and business applications, user collaboration and compliance enforcement tools are essential.”
  • Care team communication.  When Illinois’ largest healthcare provider, Advocate Health Care, wanted to integrate their 35,000 employees with healthcare professionals working across 250 care sites, they trusted Microsoft’s cloud-based email service, Microsoft Exchange Online, and Microsoft Lync to provide seamless, real-time communications among and between care teams and among administrative staff across each care site.  

As a result of moving their communication services for every site to the cloud, Advocate is positioned to ensure that everyone can communicate clearly, quickly and accurately to reduce the waits, delays, missed handoffs, and medical errors that often result from poor communications.  According to Rance Clouser, VP IS Support Services & Communication, “prompt, unambiguous communication is critical in healthcare.”  By just moving their email services to cloud-based Exchange Online alone, Advocate Health Care expects to realize $4 million in cost avoidance over the next five years. 

  • Immediate cost savings and new agility.  With one in nine Americans receiving coverage for their medical care through its affiliated plans, leading health benefits company, WellPoint, is leveraging the security-enhanced cloud advantages of Office 365 to achieve new levels of collaboration internally and reduce their operational costs of managing their productivity services and more than 65,000 email boxes.  By moving to Office 365 WellPoint immediately reduced their operational expenses of running their email and collaboration tools by 30 percent and increased email storage for their 35,000 employees 66-fold.

WellPoint’s 37,000 associates are now able to communicate seamlessly via chat, video and audio, hold virtual meetings, share desktop screen views, and streamline communications to ensure their customers receive prompt, efficient service.  And by shifting the focus of their ITdepartment from “keeping the lights on” to rolling out new and strategic applications, WellPoint now has the agility they need to respond quickly to market changes and strategic opportunities that are critical to future growth.

  • Competitive advantage.  When they needed the ability to collaborate remotely without having to travel, Gwinnett Hospital System chose Microsoft Lync Online as its cloud solution to integrate with its existing technologies.  Rick Allen, executive director of IT at Gwinnett, explained, “in general, hospitals tend to be behind in deploying new technologies…But we are competing for talent, and new technologies help attract young employees. With Lync and the cloud, we can provide easy collaboration regardless of location at a cost we can handle.”

For more information on Office 365 in health or compliance visit the Office 365 Trust Center or the Office 365 health page.  For a free trial of Office 365, visit www.microsoft.com/office365/trial.  If you’re considering moving to the cloud, here arefive things healthcare organizations should keep in mind when evaluating vendors

Dr. Dennis Schmuland
Chief health strategy officer, U.S. Health and Life Sciences, Microsoft