Microsoft Office 365 Cloud-Based Productivity Service Now Helps Customers Comply with HIPAA Privacy and Security Standards

14 December 2011 | Dr. Dennis Schmuland, Chief health strategy officer, U.S. Health and Life Sciences, Microsoft

With reimbursements falling and medical loss ratio minimums rising, hospitals, physicians, and health plans are under unprecedented pressure to drive down operating costs while still improving the quality and safety of patient care. The economic advantages of cloud-based productivity solutions to drive down operational costs and complexity are well understood, but for most health organizations, HIPAA security and privacy concerns have been a showstopping barrier to realizing the full anywhere, anytime productivity potential of cloud-based technologies.

That is, until now. Today, we are excited to announce that Microsoft is helping remove that barrier by embedding privacy and security capabilities in Office 365, our next-generation cloud productivity service. This means that Office 365 is now a cloud-based platform that complies with leading information privacy and security standards for customers operating in the United States and European Union. As part of its contractual commitment to customers, Microsoft will now sign business associate agreements under the U.S.-mandated Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).
Why is this such a monumental step in our commitment to the health industry? Because communication and collaboration is the lifeblood of the health industry and Office 365 makes it easier for people and teams to be efficient and productive anytime and anywhere. By embedding HIPAA privacy and security capabilities in Office 365, Microsoft is enabling health organizations to confidently empower their staff to communicate and collaborate anytime, anywhere and substantially lower their IT operating costs.
And the return on investment on putting Office 365 to work is hard for any health organization to pass up. In fact, a commissioned 2010 Forrester Consulting study of Office 365 customers found the return on investment from implementing the productivity platform was 301 percent with a payback period of just 7.4 months after deployment. The study also found that using Office 365 could save organizations more than $13 million in savings, on average, over a three-year period.
Clinical teams--doctors, nurses, pharmacists, and care coordinators--spend about 80 percent of their time communicating and the ability to easily and quickly communicate on the move between patients and departments and the office and hospital can make the difference between a rapid recovery and a life threatening complication.
And, according to a recent report in Health Affairs, adverse events are on the rise. As the complexity of care and the number of people on multidisciplinary care teams rise and lower acuity care is increasing delivered in ambulatory and home settings, that leaves patients in our hospitals sicker than ever before. As a result, they’re more vulnerable to harm due to smaller errors and, therefore, face even more risks than patients in previous years faced. In fact, one out of every three patients hospitalized is now likely to experience an adverse event during their inpatient stay.
On top of managing patients that are more vulnerable to harm due to smaller errors, health professionals today must know more, do more, and manage more cases, people and complexity. This means that, to do their job efficiently, safely, and effectively, health professional today must quickly and easily find and tap the expertise of others while on the move between patients and departments and the office and hospital.
So it's not surprising that poor communications and poor patient hand-offs between shifts are the most common causes of adverse events in hospitals. Medications are missed, patients fall, infections occur, blood sugars rise too high or fall too low in diabetic patients, and patients develop post-op blood clots most often because of communication and hand-off failures.
Unfortunately, most health work environments still rely on antiquated methods of communication and collaboration—think pagers and overhead pages, touch tone phones, rolodex directories, phone tag, voice mail, multiple phone numbers for the same person, paper memos and in-person meetings. In the frenetic pressure of patient care settings, these modalities are costly, inefficient, and in some cases, even present a safety hazard because every additional minute spent on phone tag or looking up and writing down phone numbers is one less minute focused on patient care.
Considering the outdated communication and collaboration systems still in use by the majority of health organizations, we believe that removing the compliance barrier to cloud based productivity for health organizations represents one major leap forward toward improving the quality, safety and affordability of care. How do you see it?
Dr. Dennis Schmuland
Chief health strategy officer, U.S. Health and Life Sciences, Microsoft