A plan to update the communications capabilities in the IT department of St. Luke’s University Health Network has the Bethlehem-based health network in the international spotlight as a leader in health communications technology. It has also been featured in a series of television advertisements by Microsoft to promote its new Teams solution that are airing globally.
St. Luke’s is featured alongside the likes of beauty products manufacturer, L’Oréal, the Metropolitan Police Department in London and the University of Barcelona in a television ad explaining how Teams helped with their communications.
And St. Luke’s had quite a story to tell.
Dr. James D. Balshi, chief medical information officer for St. Luke’s, said the health network had adapted to the Microsoft platform some time ago and was looking for ways to incorporate more of the hospital’s communications functions into that operating system.
“When we adapted about a year ago, we rolled out Teams, a common tool in IT,” Balshi said. “So as we moved to a more digital world, we started to explore how we could incorporate such programs into the entire system rather than bolt on more applications for different departments.”
He said it was a great addition for the roughly 750 people working in IT in the health network and the early adopters saw many ways the technology could be used in other parts of the health network.
It had the ability to chat, share documents and access video and audio communications simply and easily.
He said with it, many individuals could be working on the same project at the same time, seamlessly.
One thing it lacked, however, was many of the security protocols needed to make such communication HIPPA compliant to protect patient privacy.
Balshi said his department had reached out to Microsoft to see if they could work on ways to adapt the Teams platform to a HIPPA friendly tool, and Microsoft offered to partner with the health network on developing the proper protocols.
“It was very successful within our own department so as we were transitioning to Microsoft 10 from Microsoft 7 we were looking to expand it and then the virus [COVID-19] hit,” he said.
As it turned out, the hospital and the technology company began to partner on ways to make a HIPPA compliant health care telecommunications tool at just the right time.
“It was clear that nobody wanted to come into the office so we rapidly developed what we had started,” Balshi said. “We had careful conversations with Microsoft about health care, which has its own needs.”
In what he said was an incredibly short period of time, they adapted Teams to be HIPPA and health care friendly and doctors were soon able to use the Teams system for telehealth offerings to replace in-person visits for everything from general visits to keeping track of the health of existing patients.
“They worked very closely with us to expand the role of TEAMS so that it could be used in patient-facing telehealth visits,” Balshi said.
Jared Spataro, corporate vice president for Microsoft 365, said it was impressive the way the health network was able to adapt TEAMS for health care.
“In a matter of weeks, they transformed the way they work and deliver patient care through Teams and since April 1 have scheduled over 17,000 patient virtual visits. This allowed them to continue critical outpatient visits while protecting both patients and physicians from COVID-19 exposure,” he said.
Balshi said the health network had been using a form of telehealth for some time, but that involved a patient calling in seeking help and waiting for a doctor to pick up and respond.
The Teams system St. Luke’s helped adapt could do much more. Insurance companies were even willing to pay for the service as the option quickly became seen as vital over the last few weeks during COVID-19 social distancing.
Previously, if patients wanted an online doctor consultation they would have to pay for it out of pocket.
With insurers onboard, Balshi said it let the hospital regain a revenue source it had all but lost with non-critical health care appointments being cancelled because of the virus.
The turnover in getting such a system operational in a time of great need was inspirational to everyone involved, Balshi said, and Microsoft asked if St. Luke’s, as a partner in the effort, would participate in its international TEAMS ad campaign.
“We, of course, said ‘sure,’” Balshi said.
The advertisement has been a source of great pride for the health network.
“It is quite humbling to realize that your hospital was selected to represent the healthcare industry Internationally in a prime time network advertising campaign by Microsoft to promote their Teams solution,” said David Yanoshik, associate vice president of marketing and public relations for St. Luke’s.
Spataro noted that the commercial was a bit of a departure for Microsoft as well. There was no big production with lights and scripts, but a barebones storytelling from users, like St. Luke’s.
“It’s just real people, connecting over real Teams meetings and calls, to share the impactful work they’ve been doing since they’ve had to work apart. He said. “Hearing these customers’ stories, I am blown away by the sheer strength of our human will to connect and keep work moving.”
For anyone who may have missed the advertisement, it is ongoing and there will be new versions coming up, including one that will premier in the U.S. during the NFL Draft.