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Finding the Happy Medium in Healthcare Communications

8 Oct 2014 by Insight Editor

Communication is the lifeblood of the information age.

That sentiment — usually a metaphor — is literally true in the healthcare community, where timely, accurate information can literally mean the difference between life and death. Years of shifting provider networks and the leapfrogging technologies that come with each shift have left healthcare organizations with two kinds of problems:

  • Too little communications — systems that perform well internally, but are technologically inaccessible to remote areas or underserved communities.
  • Too much communications — redundant systems that gather, store and convey the same data but don’t connect with each other.

It’s not uncommon for a healthcare provider to suffer from both conditions simultaneously. That’s the situation Insight discovered while assessing IT strategies for a large provider in the American Midwest. With more than 40,000 co-workers and clinical facilities serving seven states, Insight’s client was struggling to stay connected with its heavy slate of elderly and rural clients. Their ages and high-risk conditions demanded ongoing attention to metrics such as blood pressure, fluids, cholesterol and glucose levels. But these patients had no Internet connection to update their health data.

At the same time, this particular healthcare network was also struggling to untangle the data it did have. With 40 hospitals, two children’s hospitals, nearly 700 clinics and an annual patient workload of 3 million people, the client had multiple telephony systems that did not integrate across their organization. These disparate systems required each of the network’s doctor’s offices to maintain its own phone bank and devote nurses to its operation. Collectively, these systems became a behemoth, sucking time and expertise away from patient care as offices duplicated tasks, integrated inconsistently and siloed valuable medical data.

After careful study, Insight concluded that the best approach was to simplify the provider’s internal operations as a way to improve their external reach: they used a Cisco Contact Center solution to field all the calls to the satellite clinics and consolidate them into centralized call centers. This streamlined model put nurses at the call center phones, to handle all daily schedules and patient questions. Specific questions could be easily transferred to a doctor at a satellite location, but the overwhelming number of calls could be answered and satisfied by the call center nurses, who then adjusted the schedules and the data bases of each facility accordingly. The dramatic reduction in calls freed up the nurses and support staff at each of the satellite hospitals, clinics and offices; so patients there could receive more attention and more deliberate care, in an environment that was no longer chaotic nor rushed.

And those seniors and high-risk rural patients who needed their data recorded? Insight helped create and deploy a self-service phone application that allows patients to input things like their pulse, blood pressure or other important medical stats via their telephone key pad. This allows their physicians to consult a reliable statistical measure of their clients’ well-being, without costly trips to a doctor’s office or Internet provider, or assistance from family or neighbors.

The most profound challenge healthcare providers face is maintaining the flow of secure and accurate medical data in an era where providers constantly upgrade, regroup and reconfigure. In this ever-evolving, highly fragmented environment, Insight treats every healthcare provider as a specific case; examining their technical and strategic strengths, identifying vulnerabilities and weaknesses, and customizing technology and strategy to bridge the gap between today’s challenges and tomorrow’s performance goals.