Top 3 takeaways from a year that saw Canada’s healthcare sector transformed by innovation 

Post by Peter Jones, Industry Lead, Healthcare, Microsoft Canada 

While the COVID-19 crisis has created immeasurable challenges for the healthcare system, it has also demonstrated that there is no shortage of innovators in the industry who were ready to meet the moment. Reflecting on all that happened in 2020, three important takeaways stand out: Virtual care is here to stay; Balancing innovation with security, privacy and compliance is critical; and finally, Innovation will continue to shape Canada’s healthcare system. 

 Virtual Care is Here to Stay 

We have seen extraordinary advancements across our healthcare system as providers accelerated their adoption of virtual care. The pandemic has made in-person doctor visits challenging, but it’s been especially hard for patients with mobility issues, a compromised immune system or living in areas with a shortage of clinicians or healthcare facilities. The introduction of billing codes that enable doctors to charge for virtual visits have created new opportunities – and there are signs this is here to stay, with Alberta making these codes permanent.  

We are working with providers to use the complete meetings platform in Microsoft Teams, combined with the new Bookings app in Teams, to schedule, manage and conduct virtual visits with patients. In addition to virtual visits, these tools empower health teams to collaborate more effectively and share knowledge in a single secure place, with advanced messaging features.  

When the pandemic hit, Lakeridge Health, a primary health provider to hundreds of thousands of people in Ontario, quickly adopted new solutions that provided the capability of offering an 800 per cent increase in virtual care. The organization used a combination of Microsoft 365 and Microsoft Power Platform solutions, including Teams, to create over 30 new virtual clinics in just weeks. The benefits of virtual care have been well-received by patients and healthcare providers alike – it has become clear that this isn’t a stop-gap in a time of crisis, but a transition to a new standard of care. 

While many digital solutions were adopted out of necessity, this is a powerful example that shows how the changes put in place today will help medical professionals deliver personalized care to Canadians in new, innovative ways in the post-COVID world. The next evolution of virtual care will center around the experience – from booking the appointment to automated followups after the visit, the patient is fully engaged and can easily include family members. Practitioners are starting to use Speech AI for clinical charting and documentation that will automatically integrate with a patient’s Electronic Health Record, as we’re seeing with Nuance Communication’s Ambient Intelligence, or interacting with a bot during a virtual visit to pull up the latest diagnostic imaging. 

Balancing innovation with security, privacy and compliance is critical 

As more and more healthcare organizations adopt digital solutions and conduct virtual visits, the need for vigilant cybersecurity is paramount. Increasingly, Canada’s healthcare system is facing sophisticated cyber threats from bad actors trying to access patient information and other data. Unfortunately, according to the Canadian Centre for Cyber Security, the pandemic has only exacerbated the problem with cybercriminals looking to exploit the crisis by targeting healthcare organizations supporting the national response to COVID-19. Recognizing this growing threat, Microsoft has stepped in to offer AccountGuard for Healthcare at no cost for healthcare providers on the front line of care combatting COVID-19. The service is designed to help these critical organizations protect themselves from cybersecurity threats. 

Cybersecurity will continue to be a threat, even when COVID-19 is in our rear-view mirror, but we can’t let it get in the way of innovation. Our team works closely with healthcare customers to establish a platform that is secure and compliant by designMicrosoft Cloud for Healthcare offers trusted and integrated cloud capabilities that make it faster and easier to provide more efficient care, while ensuring end-to-end security, compliance and interoperability of health data. And with many healthcare providers still working remotely, it’s critical that enriched data is able to flow securely through every point of care to help continuously improve the patient experience and health outcomes while maintaining patient privacy. 

Innovation will continue to shape Canada’s healthcare system  

Canadian innovators have the potential to transform the future of our healthcare system, but first we must give them the space and opportunity to succeedWe are working alongside Chief Innovation Officers and Chief Medical Information Officersphysicians and other healthcare providers who are dedicated to making the system better by leveraging digital tools and solutions to enhance patient engagement and improve care, empower collaboration across providers and optimize clinical and operational insights. 

Recently, our team collaborated with Providence Health Care and computer vision researchers at the University of British Columbia to develop an AI powered solution that uses cameras to monitor the effectiveness of social distancing policies and guidelines at the St. Paul’s Hospital campus in Vancouver, while protecting the privacy of patients and staff. Although the cameras enable real-time compliance, they do not collect personally identifiable information. This initiative marked a milestone for Microsoft and offers valuable learnings for other healthcare environments regarding the deployment and adoption of AI and IoT technology in their operations. 

Some of the best changes happen when we let innovation occur and empower the industry to find new ways to deliver better healthcare outcomes. Big challenges take big thinking. Our team at Microsoft is working with biomedical researchers to use AI to accelerate the implementation of cancer treatments that target patients’ specific genomic profiles, a type of precision medicine that in some cases is more effective than traditional chemotherapy and has fewer side effects. Senior scientists at the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre developed powerful machine learning platforms and algorithms to drive cancer research and treatment at the University Health Network. Platforms such as CReSCENTPharmacoDBSYNERGx and cBioPortal are using Azure to access to large amounts of data and are using AI to process that data and bring precision medicine to life. 

Looking ahead at 2021, if we want to tackle the big challenges facing the healthcare industry, we must take on a growth mindset that embraces a willingness to be first. It will take a unified effort from the private sector, the healthcare community and the government to fuel innovation and move the dial. I’m inspired by the innovators we have the privilege of working with and I can’t wait to see how their digital solutions transform healthcare in Canada.    


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