Microsoft hires world leader in digital healthcare to take personalised health to the next level

A world leader in using data and technology in public health has been appointed by Microsoft to lead healthcare research at the company’s pioneering lab in the UK.

Iain Buchan will take up a new position as Director of Healthcare Research for Microsoft Research in Cambridge on October 2, reporting to Laboratory Director Chris Bishop.

He will also join the global leadership team of Healthcare NExT, an initiative that works with industry partners and other organisations to integrate research and health technology such as artificial intelligence and cloud computing into product development and healthcare services.

Throughout his career, Buchan has been instrumental in the application of advanced statistical and data analytical techniques to the healthcare domain. He is currently Clinical Professor in Public Health Informatics at the University of Manchester and Director of the Medical Research Council’s Health eResearch Centre.

Iain Buchan
Iain Buchan

Buchan said Microsoft’s Cambridge lab is the perfect place to further his research into new technologies for patients and communities to take more active roles in their own healthcare.

“Some of the greatest challenges in healthcare require tapping into the rhythms of daily life and health, and influencing frequent choices, for example over diet, physical activity and medication. Here, Microsoft technologies touch our lives more often than clinics, and could help us to act quickly and prevent problems before they need urgent medical attention,” Buchan said.

“Microsoft conducts scientific research with rigour, and earns the respect of those in academia and the healthcare sector for being properly cautious, especially when it comes to artificial intelligence. This diligence differentiates Microsoft from many other companies in the digital health stampede.

“The Cambridge lab is an exciting environment, where people think outside the box in ways that are vital for transforming, not merely translating, healthcare with smarter algorithms and connected technologies. The mix of disciplines in the lab blends the behavioural, social and technical approaches needed to engineer transformative tools for future healthcare. The lab stands a wonderful chance of innovating the digital health sector. It’s a very special place.”

Buchan has spent more than 25 years looking at how data can be used to improve patient care and public health, and his 15-year role at the University of Manchester has allowed him to build an 80-strong health informatics research team that is internationally respected.

He has taken a software engineering approach to bring health data to life, turning passive healthcare records into more interactive and helpful representations of patients, their needs and preferences.

“Most healthcare organisations record only episodes of care, blind to the full journey of health that connected technologies and smarter models of personal health could reveal. By providing a fuller picture of patient journeys, Microsoft can help patients to self-care and communities to self-organise for better health. This high-resolution approach could provide more timely, personalised care and help target scarce clinical resources to the neediest patients – key to better value healthcare.”

“The challenge is to enrich health journeys earlier in life and at the earliest possible stages of disease, so that patients have more choices and can take greater control over their own lives. Careful harnessing of new sources of health data and AI could empower patients in this way, building smarter supply chains of healthcare around patients rather than clinics.”

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Buchan’s aims are shared by Bishop and the team at Cambridge, which was set up in 1997 as Microsoft’s first lab outside the US. It now features a diverse range of researchers and engineers –from social scientists, mathematicians and computer scientists, to life scientists and interaction designers – and has contributed to some of Microsoft’s most successful products and services.

Bishop said: “Iain brings a unique combination of applied clinical experience, deep research expertise and a compelling vision for the digital transformation of healthcare worldwide. He has assembled a world-renowned team of experts at both the Farr Institute for Health Informatics and the MRC Health e-Research Centre, and holds consultancy positions at Public Health England and NICE, among others. He is one of the leading authorities in the field worldwide, and I’m delighted that he is joining us at Microsoft Research.”

Buchan has raised more than £100 million in research funding, and as well as his roles at the University of Manchester, the Health eResearch Centre and the Farr Institute, he is also Domain Director for Population Health at Manchester’s Faculty of Biology, Medicine and Health and Honorary Consultant for Public Health England, NICE and the NHS. He is also a Fellow of the American College of Medical Informatics.