Crisis and collaboration in a digital age — what the pandemic response means for the future of healthcare

"For our patients in the COVID-19 pandemic, we didn't have the luxury of time. We knew we needed to act faster." Dr. Douglas Corwin: Pulmonary and Critical Care specialist, St. Luke’s University Health Network. 

Hospitals and health systems have transformed care delivery to meet the challenge of COVID-19. In a matter of months, years' worth of digital evolution has occurred in healthcare. 

In a matter of months, years' worth of digital evolution has occurred in healthcare. Hospitals and health systems have transformed care delivery to meet the challenge of COVID-19. Since the onset of the pandemic, providers have rapidly scaled up telehealth offerings and increased the number of patients served virtually by 50- to 175-fold, according to an analysis published in May by McKinsey & Co.

The adoption of telehealth and other virtual health solutions have been climbing for years but reached an inflection point in 2020. According to the McKinsey & Co. analysis, up to $250 billion of the nation's current healthcare spend could be redirected to virtual health. 

The trend toward more virtual tools in healthcare stretches beyond telehealth. The COVID-19 pandemic has required providers to rethink care delivery and care team collaboration. Emerging digital solutions played a critical role in those efforts and are poised to permanently transform care delivery. 

Virtual health and collaboration at St. Luke's University Health Network

Bethlehem, Pa.-based St. Luke's University Health Network is a 12-hospital health system supporting more than 300 care sites in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. At the onset of COVID-19 in the U.S., St. Luke's transformed its approach to patient care in a matter of weeks.  St. Luke's used Microsoft Teams to deliver virtual outpatient care and care to COVID-19 patients. 

"Teams really showed its mettle when we used it for a coordinated response to the COVID-19 crisis happening in our hospitals," said Douglas Corwin, MD, a critical care and pulmonary medicine specialist at St. Luke's, adding that his organization needed a technology platform that could match the speed of the pandemic. "There's no doubt that Teams contributed to saving lives."

With the aid of tablets and the Microsoft Teams platform, St. Luke's clinicians were able to engage with COVID-19 patients outside of the patient rooms, offering an added layer of protection to staff and helping to preserve valuable protective equipment. The platform allows providers to collaborate digitally while assessing relevant patient information. At St. Luke's, this collaboration helped clinicians develop a protocol to keep COVID-19 patients off ventilators for as long as possible to improve patient mortality.

"Intubation is tough, this is a hard thing for patients to survive," Dr. Corwin said. With the aid of Teams and the new protocol, St. Luke's was able to decrease COVID-19 patient mortality by an absolute value of 5 percent below the national average of 18 to 20 percent. "We also reduced the number of patients requiring intubation by 50 percent," Dr. Corwin said.

Follow-up visits are essential to recovery for COVID-19 patients. With Teams, providers at St. Luke's are able to conduct these visits virtually, allowing discharged patients to conveniently engage with their providers remotely. James Balshi, MD, St. Luke's CMIO, believes these types of visits will be a permanent component of care delivery for the health system. Amid this pandemic, St. Luke's has begun to reimagine care delivery to make it more patient-centric and digital friendly.

"We have a plan going forward to engage our patients at every touchpoint with St. Luke's in the virtual space," Dr. Balshi said. Our experience with COVID-19 has thrown many challenges our way. As we go about solving them, we discover new ways to improve the patient experience."

Ignite the future of healthcare 

The COVID-19 pandemic has transformed healthcare. Health systems are focusing on how to respond to the crisis, recover lost revenue, and are reimagining the future of healthcare. The strength of the healthcare system rests in its people, particularly the clinicians on the front lines. Care teams deserve technology that empowers them to deliver the best possible care.

Microsoft Teams helps in each of these areas, revolutionizing care team collaboration and virtual health. This means care teams get access to secure messaging that is as easy to use as a consumer chat app, but with extra security to help protect sensitive health information. New features in Teams like Lists, help clinicians simplify their MDT meetings, discharge planning, rounding, nurse huddles and more.

It also means a seamless virtual visit experience for both patients and providers. With Teams, it's easy to schedule and conduct virtual visits on desktop or mobile devices, and patients can receive email and text appointment reminders.


With the new Microsoft Teams EHR connector, now in private preview and part of the new Microsoft Cloud for Healthcare, clinicians can launch a virtual patient visit or consult with another provider through Teams from within the Epic EHR.. Additionally, with a partnership between Microsoft and Nuance, artificial intelligence can contextualize the details of the visit, create clinical documentation, and auto-populate a complete clinical note so the provider can focus on the patient. 

This year, Microsoft's large-scale, educational event Ignite will take place virtually. The digital experience is going live on Sept. 22. Attendees from around the globe will connect with Microsoft experts to learn more about digital collaboration and how technology is transforming the future of work across industries. Watch the free session on virtual health and collaboration with Microsoft Teams in healthcare to better understand how your organization can benefit from innovations using Microsoft Teams and the Microsoft Cloud for Healthcare.  


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