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The Future of Virtual Healthcare: Building up from Telehealth

One of the very first updates Microsoft made to its Cloud for Healthcare was extending its capabilities to support the effective delivery of virtual care.

Initially released in October 2020, the Microsoft Cloud for Healthcare had its first round of updates in February 2021, and in those updates were new virtual care capabilities and remote patient monitoring tools, as well as an Azure Health Bot to fuel the development of virtual healthcare assistants.

In the past year, the focus of both Microsoft and the healthcare industry itself has been increasingly — almost exclusively — on virtual care.

The most commonly discussed rational for virtual care is safety, and it’s a great one. Virtual care practices protect both care givers and healthcare clients/patients alike. Especially in this not-quite-post Covid era. Additionally, virtual care can be an enormous time and money saver as well, again for providers and patients alike.

What’s next for virtual care in 2022? What kinds of tools (hardware, software, medical devices, wearables) can we look forward to? Will changes impact providers more than clients? Let’s take a closer look at the future of virtual healthcare, a future that, for all intents and purposes, is already underway.

Telehealth meets IoT

As hard as it may be to believe, prior to the Covid epidemic, less than 1% of health care volume was in telehealth. During the epidemic, however, telehealth use grew by more than 150% (according to numbers from the CDC). In 2019 the market for telehealth was $42b. But now? Experts such as those at McKinsey are predicting the market will be nearly $400b in less than five years’ time.

But what exactly is “telehealth” now and what will it be going forward? The simplest definition is telehealth enables a doctor or any provider to deliver care without an in-person visit. By phone, by text, by video calls, etc.

The obvious drawback is that so much of what it takes to properly assess a person’s health involves examining that person hands-on. But a new a trend in telehealth is emerging that addresses this and, in some cases, even automates it.

The trend is in devices. Specifically, IoT devices used or worn by patients that deliver “hands-on data” via the web. Where a nurse once had to attach a cuff to capture blood pressure numbers, a patient can now do so instead while being assisted by a nurse via Microsoft Teams, for example. But delivering data is only a beginning.

In a recent article, we explored some devices that actually remotely provide healthcare therapies — something unheard of as little a five years ago. Many of these advances are contingent on interoperability between people, devices, and back-end systems. For virtual healthcare to continue thriving and expand beyond basic telehealth services, interoperability is foundational. (Learn more about data interoperability in healthcare.)

Virtual Healthcare: It’s a TEAMS effort

In addition to the Cloud for Healthcare as a major initiative spurring exponential growth in virtual healthcare, Microsoft has also greatly expanded how its Teams application can and will be used in healthcare, especially among front-line workers.

While Teams was already in widespread use for telehealth consultations, Microsoft has added new functionality that is transforming the tool into a virtual office visit.

For example, Teams can now offer healthcare clients a scheduled queuing feature that provides an overview of visit information, with real-time updates on wait times, staffing delays, and missed appointments. The only thing missing is a table with magazines on it to read while you’re waiting.

Patient engagement is the cornerstone

The benefits for both provider and patient are pretty clear-cut, but virtual healthcare could come to a dead stop if patients are not engaged in the process. Microsoft, through its Cloud and attached services, has made patient-engagement the cornerstone of its efforts in supporting virtual healthcare. And there’s no better way to fuel patient engagement than by offering patient empowerment.

With extremely user-friendly portals and tools, the Microsoft Cloud for Healthcare is putting patients essentially in charge of their experience. Tools such as robust patient portals where patients can see all their critical information — appointments, medications, messages, and more — in a single pane of glass have proven to be extremely effective both in fueling engagement and in creating a more informed patient.

Additionally, chat bots can automatically and easily interact with patients through such portals, helping answer questions (about person care or portal/system usage) in real-time, saving healthcare organizations thousands of dollars while concurrently improving the patient experience.



The tools and techniques we’ve outlined here provide clear evidence of the efficacy and viability of virtual healthcare. The 2nd best part? They’re already in use and available. The best part? They’re just the start.

Contact us to learn more about any of the tools detailed in this article or about virtual healthcare overall.