Microsoft has announced two deals leveraging its Teams tool which could cast a long shadow over the rapidly evolving telehealth sector.
The tech giant signed an agreement with Epic under which the EHR vendor would become the first such organization to use the Teams connector function. Using this tool, clinicians and patients will have the ability to initiate virtual visits or consults directly from within the Epic platform.
Microsoft has also struck a deal with clinical documentation vendor Nuance which brings automated documentation to telehealth consults. Under the terms of the deal, the Nuance Dragon Ambient eXperience (DAX) has been integrated into Microsoft Teams, from which physicians will be able to access the DAX tool.
As readers who know my work for Healthcare IT Today know, I seldom praise new products, as I believe hard-nosed cynicism is more valuable in a world replete with technology hype.
However, in this case, I think we’re seeing some pretty interesting stuff. In DAX, for example, we seem to be seeing a nice exemplar of the AI-based hands-free documentation model vendors have working on for the last few years. As for the Teams connector, meanwhile, I don’t know if the tool itself does anything extraordinary, but the way Epic is using it is so obviously useful that I’m surprised its competitors haven’t gone there yet.
Let’s look at the substance of what’s going on here.
Nuance describes DAX as an “ambient clinical intelligence” solution. What that means is that rather than having to take notes on their computer as they progress through a virtual visit, the system leverages AI to capture and organize information drawn from the discussion.
As DAX gathers information from the physician-patient conversation, it adds context from the EHR to create a complete clinical note. Once the doctor reviews and approves the note it moves into the patient’s medical record.
I’m not alone in my enthusiasm for this approach. Another frequent cynic, my colleague John Lynn, seems to have been quite impressed when he began investigating ambient clinical voice technology. In an April article, he suggested that providers would be “beating the doors down” if a vendor offered a good ambient clinical voice solution that could document video telehealth visits.
All enthusiasm aside, there is at least one major barrier to the widespread adoption of a Teams/DAX solution, according to David Chou, who serves as SVP and CIO for a public academic health system. Chou points out that Nuance DAX isn’t cheap, and that while ACI will save physicians time on documentation, it will be hard to demonstrate enough ROI to justify the investment.
In his analysis, he also notes that Microsoft Teams has not been widely adopted as a platform for virtual care. He concedes that the adoption rate can increase as healthcare organizations adopt Office 365, which includes Teams, but argues that Microsoft will need to assist in transitioning to creating a telemedicine system.
And that’s where there this week’s Epic announcement comes into play. I don’t know if Chou’s analysis will change now that one of the top EHR vendors out there has dramatically boosted Teams adoption in one fell swoop. It certainly changes my sense of who will have a front-row seat at the telemedicine party going forward.