Unified communications and collaboration in healthcareTelehealth has gained widespread acceptance as an integral part of the healthcare delivery process thanks in great part to the COVID-19 pandemic. Most providers now have some level of virtual care offering woven into their standard workflows. The good news is that patients, for the most part, like having telehealth as an option. Even before the pandemic, 60% of U.S. households with broadband access said they were interested in receiving remote care.[1] A poll conducted earlier this year found that 88% of Americans would like the option of telehealth visits after the pandemic has passed.[2] It’s especially helpful for increasing access to high quality care in rural areas without having to travel long distances.

 

Even as the pandemic rages on with the Delta variant, healthcare leaders are looking for new ways to maximize the use of telehealth technology throughout the care continuum. This is a noble effort since virtual care has been shown to reduce readmissions and enhance patient outcomes, especially when used for remote patient monitoring.[3] Telehealth is also increasingly used to proactively assess and effectively triage residents in skilled nursing, long-term, and home care environments.

 

While these advances in telehealth are great accomplishments, telehealth’s impact could go so much farther if combined with a unified communications strategy designed around the patient—or UCaaS (Unified Communication as a Service).

 

What is UCaaS?

 

According to Gartner, UCaaS is “a cloud-delivered service that provides many of the same functions as premises-based unified communications (UC) solutions.”[4] Industries across the board see the potential for UCaaS in facilitating more effective enterprise-wide communications. This is evident in UC’s exponential growth; Gartner expects world-wide UC spending to reach $50.8 billion by 2025.[5] The growth has intensified since the beginning of the pandemic. The transition to a remote workforce meant workers no longer had access to on-premises phones and conference rooms. They had to leverage cloud-based audio and videoconferencing tools on desktops and mobile devices to connect and collaborate.

 

Now that many workers have returned to the office, businesses are looking for ways to eliminate duplication of technology. UCaaS is an attractive solution as it both eliminates duplication while reducing costs and improving efficiencies. For example, back-office telephony requirements can be met by UCaaS solutions implemented during the pandemic. This can bring especially significant savings for large call centers.

 

A growing number of companies have decided to continue allowing employees to work from home, either fulltime or part time. According to a recent Microsoft survey report, 73% of employees want remote work options to continue and 66% of companies are considering redesigning their office space to accommodate a hybrid workforce.[6] UCaaS perfectly supports this effort by enabling a seamless employee experience without the need to maintain multiple systems for onsite and offsite communication and collaboration. A single UCaaS application can be used for video, chat, and telephony regardless of an employee’s physical location.

 

The same UCaaS solutions that enable better collaboration among employees also enables more effective communication between providers, specialists, patients, and the patients’ families—no matter their location. The result is more collaborative interdisciplinary care, improved patient outcomes, as well as significant cost savings.

 

But not all solutions are created equal. Many large out-of-the-box solutions take a one-size-fits-all approach. This means hospitals may have to pay for features they don’t use or can’t implement, or they may have to change their workflows to align with the solution’s capabilities.

 

First and foremost, look for a solution that provides HIPAA-compliant, seamless integration with a hospital’s existing systems and that encompasses all communication touchpoints. This includes the electronic health record, medical devices, employee desktops (remote or onsite), as well as digital devices used by both employees and patients.

 

It’s also important to choose a solution that can be deployed according to your hospital’s needs. You may find a great solution with the capabilities you need at the right price, but if it takes months and scarce IT resources to implement, your return on investment will be diminished from day one. In the very least the solution you choose should provide the following deployment options:

 

  • On premises for highest level of control over traffic, CDRs and network access
  • Private cloud through Google Cloud Platform or Amazon Web Services
  • Hybrid option for continuous bandwidth optimization
  • Multi-tenant cloud for easy scalability, silent upgrades, and proactive monitoring

 

Reliability is also a critical need, especially in emergency care environments. Look for a solution that leverages the most advanced technology, provides uptime guarantees, and that exceeds industry benchmarks. When it comes to reliability in healthcare, you can’t afford the status quo.

 

Video and audio quality are also key. This is especially important for collaborative processes like virtual rounding, remote consultations, and remote patient monitoring. There’s no reason to accept anything less than 4K or 5K resolution.

 

The solution should enable real-time messaging and communication between staff, providers, specialists, patients, and patient families through a variety of formats, including chat, text, and video conferencing on any web-enabled device. Without this capability, organizations miss out on opportunities like virtual rounding that brings providers, specialists, and family members together at the patient’s bedside. Real-time, flexible communication means more timely, effective consultations and care coordination. It also enables more effective education of the patient and family members for increased care plan adherence and enhanced outcomes.

 

Finally, keep in mind that high-growth markets can attract myriads of new players to the market. When it comes to patient lives, hospitals can’t take chances on an unproven startup. They need a partner with broad industry expertise and proven success.

 

The time to act is now

 

Hospitals have faced unprecedented challenges over the past two years. With these challenges, however, come opportunities to make long-term improvements in the delivery of healthcare. UCaaS is one of these opportunities. Now that telehealth is widely accepted, it’s time to go a step further and build on the advances we’ve already made. Implementing an integrated UCaaS strategy is a great place to begin.

 

 

[1] http://www.parksassociates.com/blog/article/chs-2017-p8

[2] https://www.healthcarefinancenews.com/news/most-consumers-want-keep-telehealth-after-covid-19-pandemic

[3]https://journals.lww.com/nursingmanagement/fulltext/2015/06000/telehealth__enhancing_collaboration,_improving.3.aspx

[4] https://www.gartner.com/en/documents/3992948/magic-quadrant-for-unified-communications-as-a-service-w

[5] https://www.gartner.com/en/documents/4002889-forecast-unified-communications-worldwide-2018-2025-2q21

[6] https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/worklab/work-trend-index/hybrid-work