Business Issues -> Compliance
By: Carl Potter, Research Director - Communications, Bloor Research
Published: 16th December 2008
Copyright Bloor Research © 2008
Organisations in the healthcare sector face exceptional demands to reduce clinical and administrative costs while meeting ever more demanding compliance and security directives. Recent research from Bloor confirms that unified communications (UC) can help reduce expenditure, boost productivity and improve the patient experience in healthcare organisations. Here's some interesting examples with an added note of caution surrounding mobile data security.
One of the biggest benefits to speeding and improving diagnosis has been the integration of UC collaboration solutions such as IM, VoIP, video conferencing etc. with PACSs (Picture ArChiving System) to allow remotely distributed physicians and other healthcare specialists to quickly share and discuss digital patient records such as X-rays and MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) scans.
Conferencing solutions have proven effective in other ways as well; for example, through providing efficiency and time savings by freeing medical staff from having to travel in person to attend meetings or consultations with patients.
One example is a US-based, non-profit organisation with responsibility for finding the right recipient for donor organs and generally has less than 48 hrs to locate a suitable recipient. By using presence and multi-party messaging, this organisation is able to collaborate with multiple transplant and organ recovery teams in arriving at a decision. The additional option for video conferencing means they expect to save around U.S.$100,000 on annual travel costs.
Further cost savings may be gained by bringing conferencing services in-house using a UC solution rather than relying on an external service provider.
UC applications also have a key role to play in helping healthcare providers offer a more welcoming and efficient experience for patients when making appointments or trying to access information. Just considering telephone contacts, one of the NHS's largest trusts handles in excess of 20,000 calls a day. Inefficient responses and misdirected calls can cause extreme frustration for patients and their visitors. To address this problem the trust in question installed a VoIP phone system which was integrated with an IVR (Interactive Voice Response) application. With the new set up 92 percent of calls are handled automatically and it saves around £92,000 in annual telephony costs. An added benefit was that it freed ward staff from having to deal with misdirected calls.
Possibly one of the most innovative uses of technology for improving patient care has been the adoption of RFID tags by some healthcare organisations. Integration with UC and wireless handheld devices has been found to cut surgery errors and reduce waiting times by electronically tagging patients and facilitating electronic sharing of patient data. A similar approach has been used to tag assets such as wheelchairs and trolleys and locate them by querying an IP telephone or PC.
Birmingham Heartlands Hospital used RFID tagging of patients to improve efficiency. A digital photo plus details of the care they need are loaded on to an electronic tag contained in a wristband. Patient details can also be accessed using a PDA via Wi-Fi, from a secure area on the hospital's central computer system. Efficiency improvements are expected to save the hospital up to £260,000 a year.
Other ways that hospital-friendly mobile solutions using Wi-Fi or DECT technology have been adopted to improve patient care include alerting staff of urgent messages. This provides a much more timely response than using a traditional pager as medical staff may be able to offer advice over the phone or via a PC rather than going in person to an incident. Mobility with single contact and voice mail has helped field staff provide a more effective service. Responsiveness has been improved with presence making people more contactable, enabling field staff to collaborate and collect urgent messages.
However, its worth sounding a note of caution regarding security when allowing mobile devices to connect to the network. If not carefully implemented and managed some mobility solutions have the potential of unintentionally punching a gaping hole in data security. Last year's loss of child benefit records by HM Revenue and Customs remains a glaring reminder that has prompted two rounds of instructions and guidance to NHS CEOs about the security of data in transit and the security of data on mobile devices.
Despite the instructions to CEO, a recent survey of more than 1,000 healthcare professionals conducted by Credent Technologies showed that there was still room for improvement in handling mobile devices and data in a secure manner.
The survey found that amongst UK-based respondents 20% of those surveyed used their own mobile device, mainly lap-tops for work. A third of healthcare professionals surveyed in the US admitted to downloading sensitive details to their personal devices, mostly for use when away from their place of work such as visiting patients. Clearly this represents a potentially serious breach of security, unless specifically permitted by the security policy of their employer.
As one respondent commented: "Access [to the network] is controlled so I need to bypass it by using my own device"
While such a single-minded approach to getting on with the job is commendable, it's also rather worrying in the way that it exposes a horrendous hole in the healthcare employer's data security. This will be compounded if the data is not subjected to strong security measures such as encryption when downloaded to the offending device eg lap-top, smartphone or trusty memory stick.
This just underlines the fact that data security should not be left in the hands of end users but needs to controlled and managed centrally by the IT department.
Overall though Bloor's research strongly suggests that companies in the healthcare sector stand to make significant gains through a strategic commitment to UC, both financially and through benefitting from operational efficiencies gained by using the UC tools themselves. Most importantly this will translate to greater efficiency of service delivery and improved patient experience.
If you use or choose UC solutions then take the Bloor Unified Communications survey and receive a free executive summary - click here
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