By Manish Prakash, Country General Manager-Public Sector, Health and Education, Microsoft India
With the COVID-19 pandemic, we are grappling with the biggest crisis our generation has faced. Across the world, as we have scrambled to keep our families and communities safe and healthy, the outbreak has overwhelmed our infrastructure and disrupted critical supply chains. As the situation unfolds daily, it calls for the healthcare sector and governments to respond on a war footing. At Microsoft, our thoughts are with first responders, healthcare workers, and those at the front lines of this crisis. We are here to help by mobilizing our teams and offering our technology to support communities and organizations leading this battle, including governments, care providers and the healthcare industry. At the same time, we are also striving to help empower every individual with the right kind of information required to keep COVID-19 at bay.
Enabling governments and citizens
During a challenging time such as this, it is important not just to deliver medical care but to also provide information to enable the right decisions and prevent health systems from being overwhelmed. We are providing a free Power BI toolkit for governments that helps them to quickly publish up-to-date COVID-19 information for their areas. Both Power BI Desktop and the Power BI Publish to Web capability are completely free, and our hope is that they can serve as useful data tracking and information sharing tools to agencies working on the crisis. While this toolkit is focused on the United States, it can be easily adapted for international use and governments across the world are already putting it to use.
In India, our technology has supported the Govt. of Punjab to roll out COVA, their citizen app that offers real-time and authentic information on COVID-19. This includes advisories on preventive measures, travel and public gathering instructions from the authorities and statistical updates from credible sources. It also allows the convenience of booking groceries and essentials, helping users adhere to social distancing. The app has been developed by the Department of Government Reforms on Microsoft Azure in consultation with the Health and Family Welfare Department. COVA has two bots integrated into it. An AI-powered Q&A bot that helps in resolving people’s queries quickly and providing them personalized information. The second enables citizens to conduct a self-assessment, the framework of which has been developed on the basis of guidelines from the WHO and the MHFW, Government of India.
Screening a large number of patients with known symptoms can become a bottleneck and even overwhelm health systems coping with such a situation. MphRx, one of our partners, has customized their digital healthcare platform Minerva for an online COVID-19 triaging workflow. The solution helps not only in assessing symptoms, but also in automatically screening the responses. It creates a worklist for care coordinators, who can then setup a teleconsultation with symptomatic patients. For patients advised self-quarantine, it automatically sends out alerts based on a care plan to regularly monitor their vitals. For those who require COVID-19 testing, the system initiates referrals to designated test labs and hospitals, thus reducing the overall burden on hospitals and providing instant access to care.
Mumbai-based startup Gaia Smart Cities has built a platform on Azure, which includes an app that enables citizens to provide information about their health risk. Deployed by the Agra Smart City and Agra Nagar Nigam, it helps city administrators track responses by pin code and take preventive action. The collated data also provides real-time reports on the daily situation, allowing authorities to monitor trends across the city.
To help every citizen have easy access to authentic updates on the disease, we launched the Bing COVID-19 tracker to serve as one single, credible hub of news and credible information that we get from government authorities. It allows users not just to track coronavirus (COVID-19) infections across India and the globe, but also get up-to-date statistics on infection, recoveries and fatalities in their own states and districts. In addition, it allows you to stay on top of news both at a national and local level, as the portal embeds news stories and live feeds from leading national and regional language media houses.
Enabling the frontline workers and the healthcare sector
Healthcare Emergency Response Resource Tracking: Our Power Platform team worked with Swedish Health Services, one of the largest nonprofit health care providers in Seattle, to create apps and dashboards to provide real-time visibility to critical resources like available beds and scarce supplies such as ventilators and masks. Any healthcare provider can now implement the Emergency Resource Tracking Solution to manage emergency responses and equipment inventories, beds, pending discharges as well as staffing needs. Frontline workers like nurses can collect this information via their mobile phones, while leaders can use this information to make quick decisions in near real time about where to divert these scarce resources.
Ensuring uninterrupted care: Across the country, Microsoft engineers are also spending time with doctors and management at healthcare institutes to understand their challenges and requirements. We are also helping Fortis Healthcare pilot a virtual consultation service powered by Microsoft Teams for its group hospitals. Using this, doctors will be able to schedule, manage, and conduct virtual visits with patients, such as post-surgery follow-ups. HealthCare Global Enterprises (HCG), which specializes in comprehensive cancer care, has launched a Virtual OPD on Microsoft Teams for its 24 centers across India to provide uninterrupted care to its patients.
Keep medical supplies running: The impact of COVID-19 crisis has had rippling effects across production, supply chains, distribution and retail. While our global supply chain is working relentlessly to secure supplies for healthcare workers, we are also focusing on helping pharmaceutical companies and their partners stay productive and keep medicines and critical supplies available. Dr Reddy’s Laboratories has enabled work from home for their employees using MS Teams to connect, communicate & collaborate with colleagues and customers effectively. Intas Pharmaceuticals, a leading Ahmedabad-based drug manufacturer, uses Office 365, our collaboration platform, and was helped in rapid and successful usage adoption by our team. Intas was also able to rapidly deploy Azure Windows Virtual Desktop (WVD), which has allowed their critical workforce to access internal content from home using different browsers from home PCs, laptops and personal mobile devices in a secure manner to support their operations.
Protecting our healthcare infrastructure
Sadly, but not surprisingly, we are also seeing ransomware campaigns targeting organizations, trying to get initial access. As organizations of all sizes have moved to remote working, ransomware operators are zeroing in on network devices like gateway and virtual private network (VPN) appliances. And unfortunately, the healthcare industry is not an exception. As part of intensified monitoring and takedown of threats that exploit the current situation, we are putting an emphasis on protecting critical services, especially hospitals. Now more than ever, hospitals need protection from attacks that can prevent access to critical systems, cause downtime, or steal sensitive information. We are offering our tools, tips and guidance to healthcare organizations on how to protect themselves from ransomware and other potential cyber threats regularly.
Unfortunately, experts agree that a definitive solution is still some time – probably months – away. However, we are all in it together and at Microsoft we remain committed to empower each stakeholder in overcoming this battle collectively.