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Microsoft Office 365 features that are just what the doctor ordered

Office 365's analytics, content management and security features give healthcare professionals the resources to cut costs and improve care.

Healthcare workers have very different technology goals and problems than professionals in other industries, and there are several third-party tools designed for the demands of health IT. But the very capabilities that healthcare organizations need just happen to be built right into Microsoft's Office 365 platform.

Healthcare organizations focus on patient care, cost reduction and improved patient outcomes, while maintaining tight security around their data to meet the compliance requirements. Office 365's features provide those capabilities and more.

Here are the top five Microsoft Office 365 features for healthcare groups, in order of importance:

1. Security and compliance

Healthcare organizations are required by federal and state regulatory bodies to ensure the protection and security of patient health records. And with the Office of Civil Rights ramping up the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) audits in 2016, hospital IT executives need to tie loose ends and leverage services and products that already meet many of the requirements.

As a result, Microsoft Office 365 has been a highly sought platform due to its focus on data protection and its ability to meet healthcare requirements. With a centralized compliance and security center, Microsoft protects email, files and SharePoint sites, and extends its capabilities to enable the tenants of those hosted services to add their own custom rules for further protections. Some of the features being used by IT include Azure Rights Management Services; information rights management; and Azure Active Directory Premium services with identity protection, advanced threat protection and encryption.

2. Collaboration

A shift in physician reimbursement for patient care and an increased focus on an outcome-based payment model requires physicians to collaborate with other clinicians to improve patient health. This pushes them toward technologies that are easy to use and effective and that offer a secure way to communicate and share clinical data.

A number of clinicians identified Microsoft Office 365 features such as Skype for Business to solve that challenge. It provides a full video, audio and Web conferencing platform, allowing them to exchange health data and collaborate on patient cases in real time.

3. Enterprise content management

Healthcare organizations have long looked to SharePoint to help them distribute digital content including training materials, clinical protocols and intake forms. But with the platform's availability as part of Microsoft Office 365, a number of healthcare entities migrated their SharePoint sites to the cloud. Many of its security enhancements, including the recently added data leak prevention feature, are important IT and end users alike.

4. Data analytics

Healthcare organizations need ways to manage the explosion of digital data. Information such as electronic patient health records, administrative and billing data, has enabled many healthcare analysts to aggressively push data visualization and analytics.

Microsoft's answer to the growing demand for analytics and visualization tools is Power BI. The cloud-based platform has been updated with new features quickly, exceeding business analyst expectations. It has been described as the answer to many users' quest for easy-to-learn and use advanced analytics and predictive modeling capabilities. (Power BI for Office 365 support changed as of March 31. Office 365 Power BI users must migrate to a Power BI Pro subscription when their current license expires).

5. Office Online

Office online provides a number of valuable features for IT pros in the healthcare industry. One area in particular is browser-based productivity tools that help to lower infrastructure costs. By implementing thin clients and virtual desktop infrastructure, then substituting the traditional Office productivity suite for a browser-based Word, Excel and PowerPoint suite, end users are able to access all the capabilities they need without CPU and memory-intensive devices. This allows IT to improve security, as well as reduce system complexity and offer a mobile friendly experience.

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