Aug 12 2019
Digital Workspace

How UC Solutions Deliver Better Care to Patients

Healthcare providers are deploying new communication and collaboration tools to improve teamwork across facilities.

Unified communications holds a double meaning for Fast Pace Urgent Care.

The technology supports integrated c­ommunications and collaboration within a facility, of course. But it also helps the 95 Fast Pace clinics spread across four states to improve patient care and employee productivity.

In 2017, the healthcare provider, based in Waynesboro, Tenn., implemented solutions from Cisco Systems, including an IP-based phone system, videoconferencing, instant messaging and call center technology to streamline workflows and ease daily chaos.

When front-desk teams at Fast Pace clinics face an unexpected rush of sick clients, they can now forward outside queries to staffers in a central call center.

“It’s hard to answer the phone when they have to take care of the mom and sick kid in front of them,” says Wesley Shepherd, vice president of IT at Fast Pace Urgent Care.

Using the new tools, clinical and administrative staff might reach each other on their desk or mobile phones through a single phone number. Or, they could check each other’s online presence and begin a chat via instant message or video call.

“It’s inherently difficult to reach physicians and nurses the first time because they are constantly on the move,” says Lynne Dunbrack, research vice president for IDC Health Insights.

Efficiency derived from collaboration tools can also boost an organization’s bottom line, healthcare technology leaders and analysts say.

That’s because consolidating to a single enterprise collaboration system can simplify IT management and reduce costs. Furthermore, patient satisfaction is closely monitored as part of health reform and impacts reimbursements, Dunbrack says.

DISCOVER: How providers are leveraging technology to enhance the patient experience.

Fast Pace Turns to Cisco for Collaboration

Fast Pace Urgent Care operates clinics in small, rural towns in Tennessee, Kentucky, Louisiana and Mississippi. Before Shepherd’s arrival in January 2017, the company had 35 locations, nearly one-third of its current number.

At the time, three different phone systems were in use, which is why Shepherd standardized on Cisco Unified Communications Manager and Unified Contact Center software running on Cisco HyperFlex hyperconverged infrastructure across two redundant data centers. He also purchased Cisco IP phones for each clinic.

Now, employees can transfer calls with four-digit dialing.

“When a patient calls the wrong clinic, instead of telling the patient, ‘You have to hang up and dial these other 10 digits,’ you can say, ‘Let me put you on hold and forward you to the right clinic,’” Shepherd says.

Improving communication enables Fast Pace Urgent Care to deliver better care to patients, says Wesley Shepherd, the company’s Vice President of IT. Photography by William DeShazer

Improving communication enables Fast Pace Urgent Care to deliver better care to patients, says Wesley Shepherd, the company’s Vice President of IT. Photography by William DeShazer

He also set up a centralized call center at the organization’s Waynesboro headquarters to accommodate front-desk and patient scheduling needs, billing, medical records, behavioral health scheduling and an employee IT help desk.

In addition, Fast Pace’s IT team deployed Cisco Jabber, collaboration software that includes the ability to instant message and conduct voice and video calls.

Such capacity allowed Fast Pace to add and simplify another valuable line of care: a virtual behavioral health practice for remote therapy. Therapists use a Lenovo notebook at the Waynesboro headquarters or their home offices, while patients connect with Apple iPad devices at the clinic.

“Maybe a patient is in a crisis and needs immediate assistance,” Shepherd says. “The nurse practitioner can instant message the behavioral health team and then tell the patient, ‘If you hold on for 15 minutes, one of our licensed clinical social workers or behavioral health therapists can talk to you.’”

Sanford Health Delivers a Seamless Experience for Patients

Sanford Health, based in Sioux Falls, S.D., is also adopting collaboration solutions from Cisco to improve customer service by allowing patients to seamlessly transition between different platforms.

A person may start with instant messaging on the provider’s website or texting with a nurse or the billing department via mobile phone. If a query grows more complex, the patient can escalate that conversation to a phone or video call without losing their connection or restating personal information.

“We envision a unified experience for our patients and employees that will make it consistent, convenient and easy to navigate so they can contact people within Sanford when, where and how they want,” says Brad Reimer, senior executive director of technology services.

More advancements are ahead. Sanford Health has launched a three-year project to consolidate dozens of Voice over IP systems and independent collaboration tools with an enterprise-wide Cisco implementation.

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Northwell Health Prepares for Crisis Situations

Northwell Health, New York state’s largest healthcare provider, is deploying the cloud-based Microsoft Teams collaboration software throughout its 23 hospitals.

Teams, which integrates with SharePoint and other tools in Microsoft’s Office 365 suite, allows different groups at Northwell to create websites where they can access software and information they need, as well as share and edit documents. It can also serve as a social platform for secure messaging and web conferences.

“Healthcare is a very collaboration-centric profession, and healthcare delivery is a team sport nowadays, involving a lot of people, so the ability for clinicians to easily communicate is a big advantage,” says John Bosco, senior vice president and CIO of Northwell Health.

That’s especially important in a ­crisis. Northwell’s emergency management staff has built a Teams website for managing major events such as snowstorms. Users can reach local emergency operations centers, check the weather forecast and view webcams for traffic and road conditions, while monitoring the hospital systems’ census and emergency room volumes in real time.

“During an emergency event, it’s essential to see what’s going on at our 23 hospitals and our ambulatory facilities,” Bosco says. “It helps us manage activities and lend assistance if a hospital needs it.”

Mercy Saves Valuable Time

Mercy, a healthcare system with more than 40 hospitals in the Midwest, is equipping 7,000 nurses with new smartphones to facilitate communications and allow them to work more efficiently.

The organization, based in St. Louis, previously consolidated 220 individual phone systems by standardizing on Cisco collaboration between 2009 to 2014. Since then, they’ve expanded from VoIP services to consolidating call centers and using Jabber and videoconferencing for multiple needs, including telehealth.

“It’s definitely leveraging our investment, layering on and getting our value out of our collaboration platform,” says Mercy CTO Scott Richert.

In 2018, the IT department began replacing old wireless handsets, which had no smartphone features, with new Zebra Android smartphones that help nurses keep track of a patient’s care team and contact information with just a few taps on the screen.

“It really improves nurse efficiency,” says Richert, who has deployed smartphones to 2,000 nurses and will finish the project by next spring.

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