Coping with COVID-19

How Microsoft technologies are enhancing hospitals’ response

This year, the unprecedented arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic forced healthcare organizations to up their intelligence game – quickly. As part of that response, Microsoft technology is providing Canadian healthcare organizations with  information solutions that allow for safety, better experiences, health insights, and virtual care.

“Microsoft realizes healthcare leaders are under tremendous pressures to respond to the crisis of COVID-19 – to keep frontline workers safe, support the reduction of the community spread, and provide unprecedented emergency care response and capacity for those who contract the disease,” says Lisa Carroll, Microsoft Canada’s Canadian Public Sector Lead.  “It is crucial for them to have  accurate, secure, and readily accessible data in order to make informed decisions and prioritize resources.”

Microsoft is committed to meeting  COVID-19-related demands through effective tools such as Azure, Teams, and Power BI dashboards, which securely connect health data and systems in the cloud.

Toronto University Health Network

In Canada’s largest city, the multi-site University Health Network (UHN) provides a case study in the rapid adaptation of Microsoft technology to the pressing information needs triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic.

UHN has leveraged Microsoft Power BI data visualization tools to build a single-page intelligence canvas that instantly turns complex data from multiple data sources into colourful eye-friendly charts, graphs, and maps easily grasped at a glance.  UHN is using this analytics tool to track internal COVID-19 information, including site-specific patient intake and availability of resources such as bed capacity, ventilators, personal protective equipment, and testing. “UHN is leveraging Power BI to connect disparate data from across the organization into one single source of truth to garner business intelligence and make real-time data-driven decisions,” Carroll says.

Michael Caesar, UHN’s executive director of data and implementation science, expands. “We knew we had to pivot quickly to support our workers and enable executive leaders with meaningful insights to see what was happening across the organization. Within a week and a half, our data team was able to create a dashboard that gave us a real-time view of the impact of the pandemic and how it made us deviate from our normal operations.”

Power BI allowed UHN to tap into the lab and see how many people were testing positive and how many did not meet testing criteria. “It also gave us a real-time view into the emergency room volumes, how many people were in isolation and of these how many were COVID-19 patients,” he says.

According to Caesar, the dashboard revealed that UHN’s usual inpatient occupancy of up to 110% capacity quickly dropped to as low as 70%, while in-person outpatient appointments fell from typically 5,000 a day to as low as 1,500, while virtual care appointments spiked almost overnight. And although ER volumes fell, COVID-19 patients were requiring more care, including isolation, intubation, and monitoring. Pulling data from all departments, Power BI revealed one integrated pan-network picture of the virus’s operational impact. “Leadership could see in real time and through a COVID-19 lens that the world was changing right before their eyes,” Caesar says.

By monitoring availability of of critical supplies such as gowns, masks, sanitizers and gloves, Power BI allowed executives and supply chain management to plan together for shortfalls. “We were planning for critical shortages of our personal protective equipment,” says Rebecca Repa, UHN’s executive vice president of clinical support and performance. “We were able to show rate of utilization and focus our procurement and conservation attention to those areas of greatest risk.”

As the pandemic grew exponentially, Power BI provided invaluable intelligence on frontline workers’ exposure to infection, quickly visualizing lab results and positive tests. “The dashboard gives incredible insight not only into how we are doing with staff testing but also the results of our tracing efforts,  says  Dr. John Granton, UHN’s division head of respirology and interim medical director of occupational health.

And looking ahead, having instant access to rapidly changing data and shifting realities is also facilitating the predictive modelling and scenarios testing needed to plan for future capacity, resources, and supplies.

The Ottawa Hospital

The pandemic rapidly cast the need for secure co-ordinated communication into sharp focus, a need that Microsoft Teams, a chat-based collaboration tool allowing remote teams to share information in a safe common hub, is designed to meet.

Within a matter of weeks, the COVID-19 crisis swelled the number of active users of the Microsoft Teams platform at The Ottawa Hospital (TOH) from 3,000 to 10,000. The collaboration tool is enabling clinicians and other staff across the four hospitals and their affiliated clinics to work together, even though apart, through the platform’s video conferencing, secure instant messaging, group communications, and document sharing.

TOH was also quick to establish a Power BI dashboard providing a comprehensive view of bed capacity and allowing better management of patient flow and occupancy.

“You just can’t believe how much more in a good place we are in coping with COVID-19 because we are properly and extensively leveraging Microsoft technologies,” says Shafique Shamji, TOH’s executive vice president and chief information officer. “The capabilities and velocity we now have has made us much better equipped to handle the new reality.”

New care teams are now supporting different crisis-related initiatives such as the COVID-19 Assessment Centre Teams site, a collaboration between TOH and several partners now testing hundreds of patients a day.

“Everyone uses their own corporate accounts and it works flawlessly,” says Shamji. “This technology was key in enabling the organization to collaborate both internally and across different organization to help the reduction of the spread of the virus and save lives.”


Although these platforms are being quickly adopted as hospitals recognize the clear benefits of moving from discrete, silo-style data repositories to shared accessibility, UHN’s Caesar acknowledges some effort is still needed across the industry to encourage full participation. “It’s a cultural thing, a comfort thing, and we need to continue to work on it,” he says. “But we were able to showcase the art of the possible in bringing data forward.”


See how Microsoft is empowering hospitals to continue to provide even better experiences, insights and care: Visit