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The point of all of this is to say that if your system is too outdated; your patients may choose to find a practice that provides them with a better user-experience around scheduling, notifications and general communication with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Rather than rely on older analog phone systems and outdated contact center software, your medical office can turn to IP Telephony solutions with Unified Communications features to help manage your daily patient matrix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.

Success with SIP (Part 2)

nec-sip-trunks-uc-project-plan1The benefits of SIP trunking go beyond cheaper connectivity in the form of simplified architecture, redundancy, scalability, and other benefits for your business. In our last post we focused on SIP devices, end points, and applications. In this post, we’ll continue the conversation with the advantages you can gain with a successful deployment of SIP trunks.


The right design can amplify your savings and benefits, especially in highly distributed environments. With a well thought out design, you can centralize SIP trunks into a few key points of concentration in your network. By utilizing a combination of SIP trunks, you can maximize your on-net traffic to reduce or eliminate carrier toll charges between sites. A centralized design can also optimize your off-net traffic and, with the use of multiple SIP services providers, can increase your leverage in negotiations and overall flexibility. When you centralize SIP trunks, versus delivering dedicated lines to each site, you create a cost-effective form of redundancy that can benefit your disaster recovery and business continuity plans. An optimized architecture that standardizes and centralizes voice traffic over SIP trunks can save you as much as 50% compared to ISDN PRIs.


SIP trunks offer a level of scalability and flexibility that was previously not available.  It enables organizations to easily and quickly adjust for traffic requirements. A seasonal business, for example, can easily increase capacity as demand grows and then can adjust downward as the business returns to normal. The white paper below walks you through the calculations to determine the right bandwidth for your organization. It is important to optimize your bandwidth because too much capacity is wasted money and too little capacity will result in blocked calls.

While voice over IP (VoIP) is not required to take advantage of SIP trunks, it can complement your VoIP deployment by increasing efficiency by sharing voice capacity on your network. SIP can play a key role in your Unified Communications & Collaboration (UC&C) strategy. One consideration in your planning is to take advantage of SIP trunking to migrate conferencing traffic on net as an additional cost savings measure. In some cases, the savings gained by eliminating hosted audio, video and web collaboration services provides the necessary justification and ROI of Unified Communications (UC). SIP trunks enable the benefits of UC to expand across the WAN. UC features such as voice, video, presence, IM, and web collaboration are enhanced by the on net flow of data. This adds to the network effect and accelerates UC adoption.

Selecting a SIP Service Provider

Not all SIP service providers offer the same trunk services. Ideally, you’d prefer a provider with an IP core that can offer MPLS throughout their core network. Some carriers have to convert traffic to legacy transport technology. You should try to avoid this scenario because the translation of your voice packets and SIP signaling can impact your Quality of Service (QoS). It’s also a bad idea to put voice or SIP traffic on the open internet. This will not only present QoS problems, but will also add security concerns. The right provider, or combination of providers, will be able to deliver the WAN coverage you need, but it’s also important to verify they offer the local coverage and features you’ll need.

Reluctance and concerns

I know, the last thing you need right now is another project, so reluctance and concerns are to be expected. In a recent Infonetics survey, only 38% of respondents stated they are currently using SIP trunks today. That number is expected to grow to 58% by 2015 as more organizations adopt the technology. It shows that, as of today, some folks are still reluctant to take the plunge. We briefly touched on QoS and security concerns and the Success with SIP white paper below discusses survey results that list the most common problems organizations experience after deploying SIP trunks. The largest number of reported issues related to the service provider, followed by edge devices, and then internal configurations. The paper highlights the specific issues and also how to avoid them.

Another concern that causes IT departments to hesitate relates to E911 and emergency services. This is obviously an area that requires serious planning and attention. The majority of service providers out there offer an E911 solution, but some smaller providers buy the service from other providers. So it’s critical to determine who is actually providing the service. The security of SIP trunks is an additional source of reluctance and concern. With any IP connection, there is a security risk that needs to be managed. The border between your network and the SIP trunk provider is an important security boundary and where your Session Boarder Controller (SBC) will guard against malicious attacks, toll fraud and encrypt signaling and media traffic.

Next steps

So what’s next? Planning and testing. As Gary Audin points out in his Success with SIP white paper, planning and testing are two of the most critical elements in your SIP project plan. Using the survey results in the report, you can better define objectives for your organization. It’s also important not to rush into production without serious testing first. Finally, allow some extra time for the installation and unanticipated issues.

For the full list of Gary’s best practices for a successful SIP trunking project, check out the white paper below.


Photo credit: UNM_IT

Success with SIP

nec-success-with-sip-white-paperWe often hear about the cost saving aspects of Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) as a way to reduce costs. This post and the white paper below will look at additional benefits of SIP, provide implementation best practices, and additional educational resources. We cover the basics to get everyone on the same page and then get into the challenges, calculations, and steps required for a successful project.

Gary Audin, president of Delphi, Inc. has authored a white paper on some of the most common applications of SIP – from SIP Trunking to SIP phones. There are other SIP implementations not quite as well known that support a range of devices and interfaces beyond SIP trunks and phones.

In addition to providing a link to Audin’s white paper, we summarized his findings to help you understand what SIP does and does not support in order to help you grasp the implementation issues involved with SIP.

For starters, let’s answer the question “what is SIP?” In a nutshell, SIP supports session signaling and session control. It is not specific to Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) and can be used to establish and control voice, video, Instant Messaging (IM), file transfer, games, and other media sessions. Be clear that SIP does not define a phone call. The Session Description Protocol (SDP) defines the media carried over the SIP session.

The primary job of SIP is to control user sessions, but to grasp a greater understanding of how SIP is able to perform various session-related tasks, take a look at the following five key functions of SIP:

  1. Device Type/Location: SIP can locate the user and determine what end system will be used in the proposed session. This is particularly useful since Unified Communications (UC) deployments often involve multiple networks. As a result, it is important that SIP has the capability to determine the end user’s geographical location and to know which systems will be in use during the session.
  2. Device Presence: This function helps to determine user availability. The end user is able to tell the system whether or not they are available to talk or if they wish not to be disturbed.
  3. Device Capabilities: SIP can determine the capabilities that are available at the user’s end system for the session. For example, a computer has capabilities that a phone does not. The device capabilities function allows SIP to make a determination of the media being used.
  4. Establish Connectivity: This SIP function is to establish the session, or connect the call. It is also responsible for establishing session parameters for both the caller and the call recipient.
  5. Manage Communications: SIP manages the session such as call termination, call transfer, or changing the session parameters during the call.

Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) technology and software is nothing new to the industry. While mostly proprietary, many access and signaling protocols have been developed for VoIP. You may be wondering what this has to do with SIP. The development of the SIP standard has introduced standardization to VoIP. In addition, SIP can also support video, Instant Messaging (IM), and many other forms of media. Learning the value and operation of SIP is no longer an option; it has become essential to anyone working in the field of communications and collaboration.

Multiple elements in the SIP path must each be successfully interoperable with each other. However, when implementing SIP trunking, the enterprise can encounter a number of issues. In our next post, we will get into SIP Trunking, how to choose the best service provider and how SIP trunking can both cause you problems and save you money. In the meantime, click below to download Gary Audin’s white paper for a deeper look into the functions of SIP.


The Ultimate Guide to Unified Communications Part 2

nec-unified-communications-ultimate-guide-uc-gary-audin-ebook-part2iIn part one of our series, we took a dive into Gary Audin’s eBook, entitled “The Ultimate Guide to Unified Communications.”  Audin’s publication gives an in-depth look on how to evaluate which UC approach is right for you. Read along as we dive deeper into the rest of the book and the pros and cons of the approaches to UC implementation.


7. Your Business Model Defines Your Communications Model

Your organization’s business model will have profound influence on the implementation of UC. Ask yourself the following questions in the process:

  • Does my organization have the financial strength to use capital (CAPEX) funds or the ability to borrow the capital?
  • If the capital is not available, does my organization favor expensing the costs of IT implementation through outside services?
  • Does our IT staff have the training, knowledge, and experience to implement an on-premises system? If not, do we want to retain a VAR to implement and manage the on-premises system?
  • How are my competitors implementing UC?

8. The UC Implementation Decision

In the process of UC Implementation you may find yourself asking “should we install and manage our own system or use a completely outside cloud-based UC service?” The answer depends, not only on security, staffing and economics, but also what is the best method to introduce the UC menu of features to your users.

There are three possible solutions available to you for implementing and supporting Unified Communications (UC):

  • Purchase a complete system and locate it at your data center(s)
  • Use a service that is remote with access through a private network (MPLS) or the Internet
  • Combine these solutions into a hybrid implementation, gaining the advantages of both

9. The On Premises Solution

Implementing an on-premises solution provides high levels of security and control, and lowers the implementation and operational risks. A major risk you can run into with a cloud service provider is service availability/reliability, since the cloud provider is not likely to include Internet access in their Service Level Agreement (SLA).

The major cost component of buying a UC system is the software licenses. Once the first year of ownership has passed, the primary costs to your organization are software subscription, maintenance, and data center facilities. These latter costs add up to far less than subscribing to cloud services over time.

10. Subscribing to Cloud Communications Services

If you’re facing budget constraints, it can make the up-front costs of implementing on-premises UC solutions from scratch a moot issue. Like many enterprises, you will likely want to avoid any new capital costs, making a cloud solution that is expensed with little or no capital impact more desirable. Why? Because the cost is fixed per month based on the number of users and the individule features used, so is a predictable and more easily budgeted operating expense.

Cloud based UC services can also be subscribed to by feature set, such as providing video collaboration for a single department, allowing greater flexibility for your organization when determining what UC features should be offered to what users. Many enterprises implement a few UC features to begin with, and observe their use to determine what the feature benefits and ROI will be for other areas within the enterprise.


11. The Hybrid Approach; Cloud plus Premises System

A hybrid solution allows your organization to get the best of both worlds. With a hybrid solution you can integrate functions that are required for the entire organization, while using the cloud to offer specific functions unique to individuals or departments. This capability occurs without the expense of enabling functions for departments that do not need them. If cloud costs begin to exceed the cost of on-site implementations, you can convert functions from the cloud to premises-based. The hybrid approach can also deliver business continuity failover services at a much lower cost.

As you move forward in deciding how you will implement Unified Communications within your organization, keep in mind that there is no right or wrong approach — you have to choose what works best for you. If you are ready for a guide to UC, click below to download the eBook that includes a comprehensive checklist on evaluating the best approach for your business. The checklist highlights factors such as the financial, technical and staff support impacts each system can have on your organization.


How a Zero Percent Lease can Enhance Your Communications System

nec-zero-percent-communications-leaseMany organizations find that they need to update their existing communications systems, but lack the Capital budget to do so, or they’re simply apprehensive to make an investment in technology which seems to be ever-changing.  However, in our current business climate, the status quo when it comes to technology upgrades quickly leads to reduced productivity, poor customer service and increased cost. For this reason, many leading organizations have moved their technology upgrades from their Capital budget to their Operating budget by leveraging financing.

To replace or not to replace?

Let’s face it, advances in technology are designed to make us more productive and give us the ability to perform more efficiently while enhancing responses to our customer’s needs. That being said, if you’re not leveraging technology to provide better service, you may be at a disadvantage when compared to your competitors.

Technology is changing so rapidly that whatever you acquire today may be obsolete within five years. If you’re wrestling with the dilemma of whether or not upgrading seems worth it, you’re not alone. More and more businesses are reaping all the benefits of new technology while simultaneously hedging against technology obsolescence through a Fair Market Value lease. A Fair Market Value lease option allows your organization to obtain all of the productivity benefits and enhanced customer service capability delivered by today’s Unified Communications, Mobility & Collaboration tools while giving you the ability to retain your hard-earned cash and providing you with the least-cost option to deliver a solid ROI.

A good example of this is NEC Financial Services’ current offering of Fair Market Value leases with rates at or even below zero percent. For many organizations, these rates produce a monthly cost figure on a new solution which often falls well below what the organization is currently spending for maintenance alone. With these figures, finding the elusive ROI becomes easily achievable. Additionally, this financing structure provides all the benefits derived from the use of the new technology without having to worry about ownership and the risks associated with long-term investment in ever-changing technology.

You don’t have to spend money to make money!

If you think you have to expend large amounts of capital just to grow your business, think again. Financing opportunities like the one mentioned above lends other options. Are you wondering how this is possible? Take a look at the following example:

ABC Company has identified that upgrading their outdated PBX provides an opportunity for significant cost savings. But there’s a problem. With no funds left in this year’s Capital budget, their IT Department will pay more for their existing, inefficient infrastructure until funds are available. Not to mention the risks associated with operating an outdated system that exposes the business to equipment failure.

What now?

With the help of NEC Corporation of America, ABC Company performs a cost analysis and determines that by leveraging NEC Financial Services’ 0% Fair Market Value promotional lease, they’re able to obtain the technology they need now at a rate that falls below what they’re currently spending for maintenance alone! Moreover, the improved productivity and enhanced customer service experience they’re able to produce by implementing Unified Communications and Collaboration is helping them to retain and acquire more customers. This makes the new solution a revenue producer rather than a cost burden.

Don’t get stuck in a rut like ABC Company – leverage a technology financing partner who offers the most accommodating (and cost reducing) structure for you. With NEC Financial Services, it’s a win-win with 0% FMV offered for 48 or 60 months on select communications systems. You’ll want to take advantage of this offer quickly. The savings are great but they won’t last. The offer ends August 30, 2013. For additional details, click here.
For more information and to learn how you can take advantage of a 0% Fair Market Value Lease, ask your authorized NEC Associate, or click below. If you don’t have an Associate, you can find one here.