Healthcare Communications: VoIP and Unified Communications Solutions offer Business Process Improvements for Medical Practices

nec-appointment-reminder-medical-office-ucThe most successful businesses are the ones that keep clients in the loop. For medical practitioners, your communications platform (phone, email, and notification systems) is your foundation to the management of your patient population and success of your business operations. Consumer-driven healthcare is the new reality, and medical practices rely now more than ever on patient satisfaction and experience to maintain a profitable practice and to sustain reimbursements.

And what many fail to realize is that the large hospital-owned groups are investing in advanced communications systems designed to make that growth easier.

The point of all of this is to say that if your system is too outdated; your patients may choose to find a practice that provides them with a better user-experience around scheduling, notifications and general communication with their provider.

Rather than rely on older analog phone systems and outdated contact center software, your medical office can turn to IP Telephony solutions with Unified Communications features to help manage your daily patient matrix management and care.

Why IP Telephony?

Modern phone system technology delivers so much more today than just a dial tone. Phone systems are constantly changing, and are growing to be part of converged networks that seamlessly tie voice with other Unified Communications (UC) features like data, video conferencing, instant messaging, single-number reach, appointment scheduling, and other business-critical communications tools and applications.

Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) is a technology that allows telephone calls to be made over computer networks. And while it’s not a new technology, many organizations have not yet transitioned from older technologies to IP telephony (IPT) solutions. IPT converts analog voice signals into digital data packets and supports real-time, two-way transmission of conversations using the internet. So rather than needing to install and pay for multiple lines in your office building, you can tie your phones directly into your internet network rather than needing to utilize a Plain Old Telephone Service (POTS) phone.

Here are some of the ways that Medical Professionals can benefit from IPT systems:

Increased Cost-Effectiveness

Operating IPT systems can be less expensive than traditional wired telephone systems because they require less hardware, less maintenance, and have lower OPEX costs than POTS systems.

Not all IPT systems are created equally though.  When you look at the total cost of ownership for IPT systems, you’ll find that the best systems lower capital, implementation, and operational costs than standard POTS systems.

Plus, maintenance of your telephony system should be easier with all of your organization’s voice and data traffic integrated into one physical network. Although there is an initial setup cost, significant net savings can result from managing one network and not sustaining a legacy telephony system in an increasingly digital and data-centered world.

Enhanced Quality

For medical practices, much of your daily communication will always rely on person-to-person conversations. IP telephony systems provide clear voice quality so that communication with patients is never compromised. Additionally, it complements the other initiatives and investments in your practice such as Electronic Health Records.

Improved Extensibility and Accessibility

The communications industry moves at a rapid pace. The best IP telephone hardware is modular, and much of its advanced functionality is software based. This makes it easier to manage the total system. With the hardware, you can just replace or upgrade certain pieces as needed. The software can be updated to include new components and capabilities when they become available. Additionally, such advanced technologies were previously only available to large enterprise organizations with deep pockets.  Today, these systems are available for small business and independent medical practices.

Advanced Applications

Many IP telephony systems can be bought in conjunction with or are already a part of, Unified Communications systems. UC offers advanced capabilities—such as appointment confirmation, emergency notification, and enterprise-level mobility—that improve the efficiency of your office’s operations.

These additional applications can modernize your communications strategies.  Medical practices are operated by appointment schedules. So any gaps or lost appointments that occur during the day result in lost revenue. At the same time, managing multiple clients and appointments can be tedious, time consuming, and expensive when done manually. It may also counter your Electronic Health Record strategy.  So a VoIP and UC enabled solution makes sense for independent physician practices.

Why? UC can provide you with an appointment reminder system that supports outbound reminder/service calls. This sort of application can be programmed to remind your patient populations about everything from upcoming appointments, to what the vaccination requirements are for local schools.

With the extensibility that UC provides, any member of the medical office staff can keep patients aware of whatever it is they need to know. The bonus is that you benefit from increased efficiency and revenues, reduce missed appointments and last-minute cancellations, and increase customer and employee satisfaction and retention with one program.

Better Integration

Since many UC capabilities are software based, integration with other business systems is relatively easy. This gives your staff the ability to see who is calling your office before they pick up the phone, and gives them the opportunity to pull the patient’s profile before answering the call. The result is a patient who is favorably impressed by your company’s expert customer service and communications skills.

Whether it eases employee frustration or keeps your schedule full of confirmed appointments, we’re sure that a unified communications system with IP telephony can bring your medical practice enterprise-level communications features and mobility solutions that will modernize and benefit your organization.

To learn more about how we can help your medical practice improve patient communication and provide cost-effective business process improvements, click below to talk to one of our healthcare technology experts.

Putting Patients at Risk: Joint Commission Requirement Mandates Hospitals Fight Alarm Fatigue

nec-healthcare-alarm-fatigueThe constant ringing of multiple alarms and notifications from devices continues to contribute to the phenomenon called “alarm fatigue” that is putting hospital patients nationwide at serious risk.

Alarm fatigue occurs when doctors, residents, nurses, and staff become de-sensitized to emergency alarms and subconsciously shut them out. With some hospitals experiencing nearly 12,000 alarms -a- day, on average, it’s easy to understand why alarm fatigue happens and is dangerous.

For the last three years, alarm fatigue has ranked at the top of health and IT hazards list. The issue is so critical; in fact, that the Joint Commission, the leading independent performance standards certifier for healthcare facilities in the United States, issued a new National Patient Safety Goal (NPSG) this January, which requires accredited hospitals and critical access hospitals to improve their systems.

Alarms, if improperly managed, can do more harm than good for patients. If bad information—or in this case overwhelming information—comes in, then bad decisions will go out. The more data, alarms, and technology you have—the more likely you are to make simple errors. And in hospitals, those errors are proving to be fatal.

The NPSG Requirements

The requirements addressed in this NPSG became effective as of January 1, 2014 for hospitals and critical access hospitals. As noted in the elements of performance listed in the report, the NPSG will be implemented in two phases. The first phase is heightening awareness of the potential risks associated with clinical alarms, and the second phase will introduce requirements to mitigate those risks.

This NPSG addresses clinical alarms that can compromise patient safety if they are not properly managed. This includes alarms from equipment such as cardiac monitors, IV machines, ventilators, etc. that have visual and/or auditory components (in general this NPSG will not apply to items  such as nurse call systems, alerts from computerized provider order entry (CPOE), or other information technology (IT) systems).

The NPSG states:

  • As of July 1, 2014, leaders establish alarm system safety as a hospital priority.
  • During 2014, identify the most important alarm signals to manage based on the following: input from medical staff, clinical departments, and risk to patients.
  • As of January 1, 2016, leaders establish policies and procedures for managing the alarms identified above. The following should be addressed:
    • Clinically appropriate settings for alarm signals
    • When alarm signals can be disabled
    • When alarm parameters can be changed
    • Who in the organization has the authority to set, change, or turn-off alarm parameters
    • Monitoring and responding to alarm signals
    • Checking individual alarm signals for accurate settings, proper operation, and detectability
    • As of January 1, 2016, educate staff and licensed independent practitioners about the purpose and proper operation of alarm systems for which they are responsible.

Additional Resources

Alarm fatigue isn’t the only critical tech related issue that today’s healthcare professionals have to deal with. Mobility is constantly an issue for physicians and nurses that need to move between rooms, floors, and even buildings. Communications in particular can be a struggle for administrators trying to determine how to keep patients happy and equip staff to do their jobs—particularly when disparate systems don’t “talk” with each other.

Improving communications can actually help solve many of the other critical tech issues that hospitals are facing.  How? By using utilizing a clinical workflow solution.

A clinical workflow solution can help hospital administrators mitigate the risk associated with alarm fatigue. The solution essentially cuts the noise from all communications sources down, and ties them together in a logical way. It unites all clinical information systems within hospitals into one manageable program allowing for instant access to data, helping to reduce alarm fatigue while continuing to satisfy the regulatory compliance required when running disparate systems.

The unification of the communications sources enables care providers to more effectively manage their time and resources as they serve several patients simultaneously.

You’ll know you have found a good workflow management system when its base features include:

  • Lab Result Notifications
  • Nurse Call Integration
  • Report Availability Notifications
  • Device Messaging

In addition to intelligent alerting, workflow management systems should instantly connect healthcare professionals to each other and to their patients. These systems are designed to reduce overhead noise to help create a more healing environment, and to facilitate a happier healthier patient.

Best of Breed Healthcare IT Solutions

NEC is a leading innovator and provider of healthcare technology services, with more than 50 years of experience creating cutting edge technology solutions.

Download our brochure on NEC’s Clinical Workflow Solutions from EXTENSION, INC., today, and learn more about how we can empower your organization by providing enhanced communication tools that instantly connect your employees and patients along the care continuum.

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UC in Healthcare: Optimizing your Clinical Alarm Systems

nec-healthcare-uc-cno3.jpgOverhead pages, telephones ringing, and ongoing conversations between caregivers can be a source of discomfort for patients, and, as noted by TheHospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (HCAHPS), noise levels are a significant factor in determining overall patient satisfaction with their care. Noise distractions can also interfere with the concentration of caregivers and increase the potential for errors when providing care. In addition, HCAHPS also notes that delays in staff response to patient call bells were frequently cited as a source of patient concern. This poses a significant problem because in many hospitals call bell systems are the chief mode of communication from patient to nurse or other caregiver. With a call bell system, when the patient rings the call bell, a message is sent to a central station for processing. Sounds simple, but the caveat is that the caregiver must then be located by overhead page or pager-type communication device. In either instance no specific information is presented to the nurse about the nature of the call, forcing the caregiver to return to the bedside to determine the patient needs before acting upon it. How much more efficient would this process be if the patient’s specific request could be given to the nurse directly rather than first traveling through a general overhead alert system?

When a healthcare organization utilizes Unified Communications (UC), alerts, messages, and other time-sensitive notifications can be delivered directly to a clinician’s smart-device. Perhaps the most valuable asset preserved through UC implementation is time. The right Unified Communications vendors can add additional functionality in a healthcare setting to leverage the flexibility, mobility, and capability of smartphone technology to better enable caregivers to address noise and communication issues faces within a hospital. According to HIMSS Analytics, a caregiver can save up to two hours of overtime per shift through better, more efficient communication. Those two hours are valuable, and can, in turn, be used toward better, more focused patient care, charting and documentation.
However ironic it may seem, alarm systems have actually caused much harm in the clinical setting. One of the main challenges in dealing with alarm systems is differentiating between what is “noise” and what is an actual signal. Where the alarm systems are intended to alert the clinician on the patient’s condition, they have actually steered away from patient protection. Most notably has been the shocking and startling effect of alarm systems, or the fact that they have become a huge nuisance. Alarm system related hazards are ranked number one on theECRI Institute 2012 Top 10 Technology Hazards. Multiple alarm systems with different interfaces present in many healthcare settings in part contribute to this problem, leading to chaos, confusion, and anxiety.
An overwhelming result of alarm system related hazards is alarm fatigue. Clinical alarm fatigue tops the list of concerns for nurses in their clinical workflow processes, and according to the AAMI (Advancing Safety in Medical Technology) 2011 Clinical Alarms Summit, alarm fatigue results from “technology driving processes rather than processes driving technology”. A few causes of alarm fatigue are:

    • Clinicians being inundated with hundreds of alarm conditions per patient per day
    • Patient anxiety due to the multiple alarm signals
    • Unreliable alarm systems
    • Compromise of life-threatening situations due to confusion of alarm systems

One way to help optimize your alarm systems is by implementing technology such as Clinical Workforce Solutions. A few other ways to optimize those systems is through clinical testing and data analysis. Keep patient safety as your foremost priority and shape implementations and alarm regulations around what’s best for the patient. Lastly, regularly update alarm system policies and configurations to minimize room for error.
Ultimately, reducing overhead noise eliminates disruptive noises in the healing environment, decreases alarm fatigue, reduces the length of time a patient stays, and improves the quality of care.  The need for mobility and access to data for point-of-care services is critical, as improved communication workflows result in greater overall efficiency, reduced costs and increased staff confidence. A quieter and more restful hospital environment is sure to drive higher patient satisfaction scores. Additionally, ensuring the security your Unified Communications vendor provides meets HIPPA standards so that you are able to communicate confidential information on a privately owned smart device is key.  Click below to learn more ways you can increase your patient satisfaction scores and provide the best care possible with NEC’s Clinical Workforce Solutions.

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UC in Healthcare: Mobile Technology & Point- of- Care Communications

nec-healthcare-uc-cno2The healthcare industry has traditionally been dependent on data communication methods through computer-based information systems. Recent studies, however, have shown that clinicians no longer wish to be confined to a PC to retrieve critical information such as lab results, STAT orders, radiology reports and other health care applications. The need for communications tools that have the capability of providing coordinated patient care is on the rise. Here’s the proof: research by Aptilon Corporation reports that, by the end of 2011, 84% of physicians were using a smartphone in their daily practice. Manhattan Research reports an 82% adoption rate of smartphones within the same timeframe, and while the iPhone appears to be the preferred device for healthcare professionals, the survey does show that Android and Blackberry platforms as well as traditional cell phones are also being employed.

With the proliferation of mobile devices in healthcare, there is an increasingly urgent desire to leverage the value of immediate access offered by Unified Communications. Deploying Unified Communications in a healthcare setting can equip your organization with the tools it needs to transform clinical workflow. With UC, healthcare professionals can instantly connect to each other and to patients, positively impacting staff satisfaction and quality of care. Utilizing Unified Communications within a healthcare setting results in improved communication workflows, which in turn result in greater overall efficiency, reduced costs, increased staff confidence and patient satisfaction. If you’re wondering how UC makes this possible, here are just a few of the many ways:

  • Nurses and physicians are notified instantly with automatic alerts delivered directly to their mobile device of choice – even when outside the walls of the hospital (as appropriate).
  • Clinicians are able to retrieve patient data at point-of-care from their mobile device, allowing them to offer a faster, more effective and efficient care response.
  • Clinical staff members are able to easily communicate with each other in a healthcare environment that supports multiple devices for multiple purposes.
  • Nurses can easily locate and dial or send secure care-related text messages to physicians using smartphones.

The move towards intelligent mobile technology is not limited to smartphones. With the development of mobile technology continuously on the rise, physicians’ use of all portable devices is expanding even faster than anticipated. This is particularly true with tablets where, according to a Manhattan Research study, use has almost doubled since 2011. The study predicts that physician tablet adoption for professional purposes is expected to reach 62 percent in 2012, with the iPad being the dominant platform. Of tablet-owning physicians, half have already started using their device at point-of-care.

With smartphones and portable devices becoming the tools of choice for healthcare professionals, Unified Communications solutions allow clinicians to connect with staff, information, and applications whenever and wherever is best for them. Through UC physicians, nurses and clinicians can leverage the benefits of this technology to access new applications and provide the best patient care possible.

Click below to learn more about NEC’s clinical workflow solutions and how you can improve overall efficiency through increased staff confidence and patient satisfaction.

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Benefits of Unified Communications in a Healthcare Setting

nec-unified-communications-healthcareToday’s healthcare professionals are highly mobile and as a result require tools that provide instant access to crucial information and communications with their colleagues. Safety, quality, costs and staffing shortages are just some of the critical factors impacting patient care in hospitals today, making efficient communications more essential than ever before. According to the HealthLeaders Media Industry Survey 2012-Nurse Leaders Report, top priorities for nurse leaders for the next three years include patient experience and satisfaction, clinical quality and safety, and process improvement with a noticeable reduction in cost.

Chief Nursing Officers (CNO) also have concern regarding risk mitigation, staffing issues, and regulatory agency visits (such as the Joint Commission). If you are one of the many healthcare organizations considering Unified Communications technology to enhance your clinical operations, consider some of the ways Unified Communications can optimize your clinical workflow:
1. Real-Time Information/Secure Communications-
Unified Communications technology enables the delivery of real-time information to clinicians. Through quickly relaying time-sensitive data, UC plays a huge role in risk mitigation by reducing the possibility of error and unnecessary treatments. Incorporating Unified Communications into a healthcare setting can also speed up the overall process of preparation, which in turn increases productivity and efficiency. Having real-time, reliable access to patient data allows you to leverage your UC investment and, more importantly, see a reduction in inaccuracies and improvements in the quality of healthcare your organization provides. With Unified Communications, clinical messages are delivered securely, with full data encryption and enforced user authentication. The secure communication feature of Unified Communications keeps information from Electronic Health Records (EHR) safe, enabling you to meet the stringent compliance requirements of healthcare organizations.
2. Improved Staff Collaboration and Satisfaction-
With advanced, easy-to-use communication solutions, clinical and operational workflows are dramatically improved. Unified Communications gives you the ability to integrate clinical applications, which in turn makes it easier to achieve other clinical needs such as ongoing medical education and training. An additional element of improved staff collaboration is theutilization of a mass notification system as well as the ability for clinicians to make decisions in a timelier manner.

In a hospital setting, implementing a mass notification system extends beyond emergencies – doctors, nurses and administrative staff can also be alerted of shift changes or increased availability. A mass notification system will allow the same message to be broadcast to hundreds, or even thousands, of people, and some advanced systems include instant recipient response and polling. Do you have a message or question that needs to be dispersed immediately? Mass communications can be sent to personal and internal devices by email, voice, SMS and other communication venues so that within minutes everyone who is affected by the content of the message has received it.

3. Improved Patient Care/Flow-
Since Unified Communications enables clinicians to receive alerts and notifications immediately and directly on their preferred device, your hospital can optimize patient flow by reducing patient waiting time, coordination time for staff, and patient length of stay, resulting in quicker bed turnover. Nurse-patient face time is also increased as a result. This makes for an improved patient experience as well as improved clinical outcomes.
4. Increased Revenue-
The revenue cycle in a healthcare setting is driven strongly by communications, and inefficient communications can result in high capital loss due to delays and errors. With Unified Communications you can merge your various clinical information systems into a single, easily managed solution which will help to optimize communications and increase revenue. For example, the quicker bed turnover we mentioned previously can generate additional revenue, and the improved clinical workflows and staff efficiencies yielded as a result of UC deployment can reduce overall costs. When you’re pondering whether or not Unified Communications has a place in your hospital environment, it is important to keep in mind that clinical needs should control the technology solutions you implement, not vice versa. To learn more about the value you can add by deploying Unified Communications in a healthcare setting, download this webinar.