Time is life: Partners In Health counts on the cloud to help those in need

When it comes to healthcare, seconds can mean the difference between life and death. So old or lacking technology in underserved regions can have a huge impact on entire populations.

“Time is life,” says Marc Julmisse, the chief nursing officer for Partners In Health, a Boston-based nonprofit that provides healthcare services to the world’s poorest, most marginalized communities.

Unfortunately, Partners In Health never had a common platform for communication and collaboration. Most of the 18,000 people who work with the organization around the world used personal email accounts to interact with colleagues. The incompatible email services made it difficult to communicate, to share documents securely or to mobilize everyone in response to the latest health crisis, such as the Ebola or Zika viruses.

Partners In Health realized this hit at the heart of its mission to build capacity for sustainable, community-based healthcare services through partnerships with local resources and to share lessons learned around the world. But every dollar spent on IT would take a dollar away from field services, says Dave Mayo, who became chief information officer at the nonprofit after being drawn to its work during a 2012 consulting contract in Haiti.

Mayo and his team spent three weeks working on a solution at the Microsoft Technology Center in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and ended up adopting Office 365 cloud-based services as well as an identity management solution hosted in Azure. Beyond the email system, Partners In Health’s staff uses Skype for Business Online for instant messaging and to know when colleagues are available. They use SharePoint Online for document management and workflow, and OneDrive for Business provides document storage in the cloud for access anytime and anywhere.

“The Microsoft cloud helps our entire staff stay connected and work together in real time,” Julmisse says in a new TV ad released today by Microsoft. “The cloud gave us a single platform to reach across our entire organization, even to the most remote places in the world.”

Whether it’s monitoring HIV patients in Haiti or oncology patients in Rwanda, teams now have a central and secure archive for individual patient data, as well as care-delivery metrics that help Partners In Health build its programs, assess its progress and promote its work with funders. They’re also able to share experiences with colleagues in other regions to better facilitate the cross-learning that’s the essence of the group’s work. And employees, who often work in remote, challenging locations, have access to email and documents from any device now, whether they’re in a Jeep on backroads, working in a clinic or waiting at an airport.

The organization avoided about $250,000 in capital costs, as well, thanks to the cost-effective, cloud-based infrastructure that helped it get out of the server business, Mayo says.

“We’re saving time and money,” Julmisse says. “And every dollar we save is making it to the field to help those that need it.”

Watch our interview with chief medical officer Dr. Joia Mukherjee to learn more about the transformation underway at Partners in Health.