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HIMSS23: Microsoft and Epic are bringing AI into electronic health records

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The two companies announced the expansion of their work together, and a few hospitals are already using a new solution involving artificial intelligence.

HIMSS floor Microsoft booth | Image Credit: © Ron Southwick

Microsoft is teaming with Epic to bring more of the power of artificial intelligence into electronic health records. Pictured: Microsoft's booth at the HIMSS Conference in Chicago. (Photo: Ron Southwick)

Microsoft Corp. and Epic Systems Corp. are teaming up to expand the use of artificial intelligence in electronic health records, signifying yet another way that AI is playing a bigger role in healthcare.

The two companies announced the collaboration this week at the HIMSS Global Health Conference & Exhibition. With the partnership, the companies are blending Microsoft’s Azure OpenAI Service with Epic’s health record software.

Microsoft and Epic say the use of AI in Epic’s electronic health records will boost productivity and improve patient care.

The companies say one solution, which automatically drafts responses to messages, is already being utilized by a few health systems. UC San Diego Health, UW Health in Madison, Wisconsin, and Stanford Health Care are using that solution.

“The urgent and critical challenges facing healthcare systems and their providers demand a comprehensive approach combining Azure OpenAI Service with Epic’s industry-leading technology,” Eric Boyd, corporate vice president of Microsoft’s AI Platform, said in a statement.

Healthcare leaders at the HIMSS conference have talked about the potential of AI to improve patient care, but they also stressed that artificial intelligence must mesh with the way clinicians actually do their jobs.

Chero Goswami, chief information officer at UW Health, touted the benefits of bringing AI into the workflow of health systems.

“A good use of technology simplifies things related to workforce and workflow,” Goswami said in a statement. “Integrating generative AI into some of our daily workflows will increase productivity for many of our providers, allowing them to focus on the clinical duties that truly require their attention.”

The companies said another solution will add natural language queries to Epic’s self-service reporting tool, SlicerDicer, allowing researchers and clinicians to search for information conversationally.

“Our exploration of OpenAI’s GPT-4 has shown the potential to increase the power and accessibility of self-service reporting through SlicerDicer, making it easier for healthcare organizations to identify operational improvements, including ways to reduce costs and to find answers to questions locally and in a broader context,” Seth Hain, senior vice president of research and development at Epic, said in a statement.

Hospitals are struggling to deal with higher expenses, and in financial terms, 2022 ended up being the worst year of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Kaufman Hall, the healthcare consulting firm. About half of U.S. hospitals had negative operating margins in 2022. And 2023 is proving to be a difficult year for hospitals as well, although there may be some signs of hope, according to Fitch Ratings.

Boyd pointed to Microsoft’s history of working with Epic, including Nuance, the voice recognition and conversational AI company. Microsoft completed the acquisition of Nuance in March 2022. The company also allows health systems to run Epic environments on the Microsoft Azure cloud platform.

“Together we can help providers deliver significant clinical and business outcomes leveraging the power of the Microsoft Cloud and Epic,” Boyd said in a statement.

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