Tech giant Microsoft has attempted to wedge their way into the healthcare industry in the past via their Health Solutions Group. That ill-fated venture ended with an unceremonious sell-off to GE, and attempted to compete with major healthcare players. With Microsoft’s new NExT venture, however, they’re returning to healthcare — this time, as a partner.
Just before the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society conference gets underway next week, Microsoft has dropped a fairly major announcement regarding an arm of their future tech investment. The Microsoft Healthcare NExT unit aims to harness everything that Microsoft has learned and developed around cloud computing and artificial intelligence, and apply those assets to the healthcare industry.
Rather than approaching this as an autonomous platform, Microsoft is positioning themselves more altruistically — namely, as a partner to the existing healthcare infrastructure. The goal of the NExT program is to eliminate data entry burdens on doctors and other high-level medical professionals, streamline patient triage, and help outpatient care result in better outcomes.
Peter Lee, the head of the NExT program, had this to say: “I want to bring our research capabilities and our hyper-scale cloud to bear so our partners can have huge success in the health-care world.”
One of the best ways that technology can potentially revolutionize the healthcare industry in the coming years is by reducing the strain of unnecessary tasks on doctors and other highly-trained medical specialists. There are areas where a doctor’s carefully honed eye is needed, and there are areas where that level of expertise is simply not needed within the flow of patient management.
Triage is a huge area that has upside for automation. A well-programmed bot can access essentially the summation of human medical and diagnostic knowledge in attempting to narrow down the needs of a patient that walks through the door. That initial process of collecting patient records, assessing the severity and locality of the issue, and redirecting to the appropriate resource is currently a bit messy in its all-human form. With Microsoft NExT, however, automation can cut way down on the time required before a patient can get in front of a doctor. And when they do meet with the doctor, he or she will have access to much more comprehensive information much more quickly than our current system allows.
The end goal of increasing the role of technology in medicine is simple: improve patient outcomes and make life easier for all involved. Microsoft’s NExT is hardly a total revolution in the way you will be assessed and treated by your healthcare provider. In fact, depending on the form that its implementation takes, patients may not even be all that aware that the technology is in place.
And in a way, that’s the whole point.