Comanche County Memorial Hospital CIO James Wellman.

Cloud Tools Help Healthcare Organizations Find a Synergy Suite Spot

Through better collaboration, providers improve communication and business continuity.

Disaster recovery and continuity of operations aren’t theoretical issues for Comanche County Memorial Hospital. Located in Lawton, Okla., the healthcare center sits along one of the busiest stretches of Tornado Alley, and hospital officials have watched as peer institutions in Moore, Okla., and Joplin, Mo., have been devastated by hits from EF-5 tornadoes.

“I personally sat here in our parking garage and watched a tornado touch down a couple of miles away, and hoped it didn’t come toward us,” says James Wellman, CIO for CCMH. “We had offsite backup, but it would have completely hampered our ability to function as a hospital and provide timely patient care if we had lost the data center.” These events provided a wake-up call, leading the hospital to move resources out of the data center and into the public cloud. One of the top priorities was the hospital’s on-premises email system, which Wellman called “long in the tooth.”

“We’re a stand-alone community hospital,” Wellman says. “We want to stay that way, and trying to build the level of data center that we need twice — between here and a colocation center — just wasn’t a realistic goal for us. We’re in the process of pushing everything out of our data center that we can.”

After evaluating offerings from several vendors, Comanche officials opted to deploy G Suite, the cloud collaboration suite from Google. The move not only accomplishes the hospital’s goal of migrating critical resources to the public cloud, but also provides employees access to new real-time communication and collaboration tools. Additionally, many employees were already using Gmail in their personal lives, and the hospital is seeing six-figure savings annually compared with its previous solution — making G Suite a “no-brainer,” Wellman says.

Art Schoeller, vice president and principal analyst for contact center and collaboration technology at Forrester Research, says that cloud collaboration solutions can help healthcare organizations streamline a number of tasks. But he also cautions that organizations must train their employees to use the new tools, and ensure they’re used in ways that protect patient privacy and don’t create overly complicated workflows.

“There’s an incredible utility to collaboration technologies,” says Schoeller. “Giving users the ability to establish their own channels is good, but it also has a downside. If users establish a team or a process for every patient they work with, they’re going to end up with a lot of them. IT needs to engage in diplomacy, in education, in nurturing users. That’s the approach you have to take.”

MORE FROM HEALTHTECH: How to keep your organization's healthcare data secure in the cloud.

Collaboration Prompts Providers to Move to the Cloud

While continuity of operations and disaster recovery were top of mind for CCMH, a number of drivers lead providers to cloud collaboration tools.

Eliza Jennings, an Ohio-based senior care organization, deployed Office 365 in part because its on-premises email was moving into extended support. Leaders also wanted to provide enhanced collaboration capabilities for its employees.

“For years, we had wanted to implement an instant-messaging capability for our organization,” says Adam Cole, IT systems specialist for Eliza Jennings, which considered on-premises collaboration technologies in the past, but kept running into implementation issues. “Being able to instantaneously implement Microsoft Teams was a huge benefit,” he says.

Meanwhile, growth at Lahey Health, an integrated healthcare system in Burlington, Mass., formed in 2012, resulted in the enterprise IT support team managing four separate on-­premises email systems.

“We knew we needed to consolidate on a single platform to ensure seamless collaboration and sharing of information as the organization evolved and the legacy technology and systems continued to age,” says Hawk Thompson, director of IS architecture for Lahey Health.

Lore Chapman, vice president of IT solutions and integration for Lahey, says the organization chose to implement G Suite after an in-depth analysis of available options. “Whenever we’re looking at any type of solution, we have a structured system selection process,” she says. “After conducting that assessment, Lahey recognized there was a strong alignment between our requirements and the features that Google offered.”

Cloud Migration Timelines Match Provider Needs

Once G Suite was selected, the Lahey team worked to migrate its existing systems to the new solution on an accelerated timeline, completing the move in just 91 days. “We felt it was very important to bring the systems all to parity and not have this drag on,” says Thompson. “We didn’t want any part of the organization to feel like it was being left out. The people at the back of the order, if you let it lag too long, they may feel like they’re not getting as much attention as they would like.”

“Email is such an integral part of what most people use every day,” adds Elizabeth Cooper, director of IT communications and engagement for Lahey. “Extending the implementation period would have drawn out the timeframe before the entire organization could collaborate with each other.” During the migration, she notes, some calendar invitations had to be set up in multiple systems to ensure they were seen by all parties. “The quicker you went, the better off you were.”

The move, Thompson says, required significant work around identity mapping. “That was probably the single largest bit of prep work,” he says. “If you’ve done that well, the migration goes fairly quickly and smoothly.”

By contrast, Comanche took its time rolling out G Suite. The hospital was still under an enterprise agreement for its on-premises solution for another 15 months, and the organization used the overlap period to work out kinks (for example, portions of certain financial reports didn’t transition well to Google Sheets cloud software). “That gave us the ability to roll this out slowly and not have to do everything in a big bang,” Wellman says.

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Better Connections Drive Adoption Among Staff

At Eliza Jennings, some departments have just one team member at each of three sites, and those teams have been early adopters of the chat and videoconferencing features of Office 365.

“We’ve deployed webcams to a lot of our more active users, which enable them to conduct ad hoc meetings from their desk and still have that face-to-face experience,” Cole says.

At Lahey, the IT department set up Google resource benches at different sites to help employees learn to use G Suite. But Chapman says that many users have taken to the collaboration suite all on their own.

“We really focused on mail, calendar and contacts,” she says. “We wanted to keep the change as contained as we could. And the organization just organically adopted the rest of the functionality. They figured out how to chat via Hangouts, and use many of the other collaboration tools. The tools are intuitive, and it was really exciting to see people motivated to learn on their own.”

At CCMH, Wellman focused on rolling email out first, and then began encouraging employees to adopt the other collaboration tools included with G Suite.

“The very first year we rolled it out, the emphasis was on Gmail,” he says. “That made the transition a little easier. Then we started building up the excitement about the new applications. People started figuring out that they could use Docs and Sheets really easily.”

The hospital’s accounting department uses the Google Hangouts chat feature extensively, and Wellman says that other departments are adopting more collaboration features as time goes by. Some employees are using Hangouts to videoconference with vendors and other external contractors. Meanwhile, administrators have also discussed using the tool to support the delivery of telemedicine.

“Someone told me, ‘I’ve talked to this guy on the phone for two years, but now I see him, and he sees me, and it feels like we have more of a connection,’” Wellman says. “Anytime you can put a face with a name, it helps build a relationship. Now, we’re able to do that more and more.”

Adam Murphy
Jan 24 2019

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