Helping Healthcare Advance | William B. Weeks

"By becoming a cloud-first healthcare provider, Mercy sought innovative ways to increase staff retention and better understand how targeted technologies can attract high-level employees."

William B. Weeks



Mercy, one of the largest healthcare systems in the United States, aided its digital transformation by using Microsoft Azure to decrease operational costs, improve the patient experience, and give its providers better access to data. The company wanted to modernize its infrastructure and extract more value from its sizeable data archives to keep up with evolving patient and doctor expectations. With support from Microsoft, Mercy identified business outcomes and undertook a digital transformation to achieve them. On Azure, the company improved efficiency, connected previously siloed data, reduced patient stay durations, and built a foundation for ongoing innovation.

Mercy, one of the largest healthcare systems in the United States, earned its reputation for delivering superior care by constantly adopting new and innovative approaches to healthcare. However, the industry has traditionally been among the slowest to adopt novel technologies such as AI, the Internet of Things, and advanced data systems.

Mercy saw that the future of the healthcare industry was digital and set out to modernize its infrastructure to drive better patient outcomes. The company collaborated with Microsoft to accelerate its digital transformation through a strategic cloud transformation. As a result, Mercy identified its core business outcomes and created a digital strategy to increase efficiency and improve the patient experience.

Undergoing a digital transformation to inform patient care

Mercy was founded in 1986 by the Sisters of Mercy, an international community of Roman Catholic women founded in Ireland in 1831. In 1843, the group began establishing hospitals in the US. In 1986, these hospitals joined to become Mercy, a multistate system for acute care, managed and specialty hospitals, and other facilities. Now, Mercy has more than 4,000 primary and specialty care physicians and 40,000 staff members serving patients in more than 900 locations.

Mercy was named the top large system in the US for excellent patient experience by NRC Health. It has also topped industry rankings, such as Leapfrog’s Top Hospitals, and received 5-star ratings from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, all by maintaining a high level of care and adapting to the evolving expectations of patients and staff. For example, patients want a higher level of personalization in their care, and providers expect their tools and data sources to be seamlessly connected. “We have nearly 5 petabytes of patient data,” says Brian Albrecht, Vice President of Technology Strategy at Mercy. “We wanted to use this data and machine learning tools to improve care for patients we serve.”

Creating a digital strategy to design a more modern infrastructure

In 2020, COVID-19 sent shock waves through the healthcare industry. As companies adapted to new challenges, highly connected data and a strong cloud foundation became even more critical. Mercy engaged Microsoft to create a digital strategy for its long-term future with Microsoft Azure. “We felt that Microsoft was the best fit for us,” says Albrecht. “The opportunity to go faster by building scalable tools on Azure was what drew us strongly to Microsoft.”

Mercy had already been running Azure for some workflows. Its discussions with the Microsoft team focused on targeted business outcomes that would benefit its entire organization and its patients. It also saw the value in Microsoft’s relationship with Epic—Mercy’s electronic health records (EHR) partner—and other healthcare-related technologies. By becoming a cloud-first healthcare provider, Mercy sought innovative ways to increase staff retention and better understand how targeted technologies can attract high-level employees.

Connecting and structuring data to unlock better patient experiences

Mercy had a clear vision for improving diagnoses and care for its patients, and strategy sessions provided valuable guidance while writing the digital blueprint that would make these outcomes real. Ultimately, data had to be at the heart of its concept for how patients and doctors can achieve better outcomes. By organizing and properly structuring this data on Azure, Mercy is driving its business outcomes in new ways.

The organization built an intelligent data platform on Azure, and several Microsoft services, including Azure Data Lake, to bring all its data together in one place. “By using Microsoft tools, we’ve reduced our average length of stay,” says Albrecht. “We’ve removed thousands of days of hospital stay over the last year by giving our care teams smart dashboards and better visibility into the factors that affect when we can send patients home.”

With Azure Machine Learning, Mercy applies machine learning algorithms to its massive troves of data to facilitate predictive and proactive care by anticipating patients’ desires and needs more accurately. “We’re using Azure Machine Learning tools to do advanced data science around outcomes for conditions like hypertension and congestive heart failure,” says Albrecht. “We will be able to better identify who’s at risk for certain conditions and what the next best actions are for different types of care.” In addition, Mercy draws on Azure Synapse Analytics to accelerate discoveries in clinical best practices, care paths, and care models that otherwise would have been lost in the complexity of siloed data.

The company understood that a modern cloud foundation could contribute to daily efficiency gains that combine to produce major boosts to productivity and cost savings. By automating tasks that were traditionally done manually, Mercy is giving its employees more time to focus directly on patient healing. “On Azure, we’re automating a lot of the patient engagement system, including appointment confirmations, to create a better experience,” says Albrecht. This is helping its offices transition to paperless and frictionless patient interactions.

Mercy employs Azure AI Document Intelligence to scan insurance cards. Mercy helped Microsoft train its model based on de-identified examples of insurance cards. Now, Azure AI Document Intelligence identifies information on patients’ insurance cards and puts it into their EHR automatically. “That was a great collaboration with the Microsoft team, where we provided healthcare expertise and Microsoft provided the machine learning solution to manage data from insurance cards,” says Albrecht.

When patients can interact with their healthcare provider in a more fluid and responsive way, and doctors have more advanced tools to deliver accurate diagnoses, both sides win.

Continuing a centuries-old charitable legacy with cloud technology

Mercy is continuing its charitable legacy of dedicated care by building a digital foundation for the future. The company received valuable support from Microsoft as it transformed its organization to use data as the connective engine for patient outcomes.

Through its collaboration with Microsoft, Mercy has identified the cloud technologies that will underpin its next era, using its new infrastructure on Azure to continue prioritizing patient and staff needs. “We’ve gotten a lot out of our collaboration with Microsoft,” says Albrecht. “Microsoft has been very supportive. We feel that Microsoft shares our mission and has our best interests at heart.”