Microsoft and NHS Digital are introducing new clinical applications to Teams to support NHS staff dealing with the coronavirus pandemic.

Over the next two weeks, Microsoft and NHS Digital, alongside implementation partner Accenture, will introduce new functionalities to the Microsoft Teams collaboration platform that will support virtual consultations and clinical meetings.

In just a few weeks Teams has been made available to 1,275,000 NHS staff with an NHSmail account, in one of the most rapid roll-outs of a new digital platform ever undertaken in the NHS.

New capabilities that will now be layered on Teams include “virtual visits” that will allow doctors to schedule video appointments with patients at a given time, as well video-consultation trolleys that allow NHS staff working in isolation rooms to communicate with colleagues outside.

The same features will also allow patients confined to quarantined hospital wards to speak with family and friends.

Microsoft will also be supporting the introduction of live events capabilities in the NHS version of Teams, through “town hall” functionality that supports meetings of up to 10,000 participants. This has been piloted with Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust and will be available to all NHSmail organisations with more than 500 Teams users starting this week.

Another major promised change to Teams will be the ability to have more than four people join by video simultaneously, the upgrade due in the next global update to Teams.

Representatives from Microsoft, NHS Digital and Accenture discussed their collaboration efforts on Teams during the latest Digital Health Webinar on digital responses to Covid-19 last Friday (3 April).

Chris Parsons, strategic solutions director for Office365 at NHS Digital, said the organisation was eager to exploit more of the capabilities that were available in Microsoft Teams in order to support the “massive uptick” in uses since being introduced two weeks ago.

Parsons also revealed that NHS Digital was “working very closely” with Microsoft and Accenture to “take NHSmail in the direction of Office365”, hinting at an upgrade to the platform that would see it turned into a comprehensive collaboration suite.

“The intention is to move NHSmail from email and Skype for business to being a fully-featured collaboration platform based on Office365”, Parson said.

Microsoft Teams was rolled out to all users of NHSmail in England and Scotland in March to quickly facilitate remote working and consultation amid the outbreak of Covid-19.

The agreement sees the software offered to the NHS for three months initially on a restricted license, with terms to be reviewed on a continual basis.

Parsons was unable to specify what would happen once the trial agreement expired, but suggested that NHSmail organisations would not have to worry about being stripped of capabilities, calling it “a point in a journey for the NHSmail platform”.

He added: “Teams is definitely a game-changer in the way we can collaboration across healthcare. Once Covid-19 is over, we’re are looking to see how we can exploit this more.”

Kate Jefferyes, client director for NHS at Microsoft, added that Teams was not intended as “a silver bullet for everything”

Jefferyes added: “This is very much a community response approach.”