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Transforming Healthcare in a Hybrid Working Environment through Unified Communications

Abhishek Bhargva

Telco ICT

10/10/2023

Unified Communications

Any organization or business that is successful places communication at its core.  

Ineffective communication leads to errors and decreased productivity. In healthcare, improper communication approaches are even more catastrophic since they could endanger lives.  

Fortunately, unified communications are quickly changing how healthcare organizations work. In the healthcare industry, UC improves collaboration, communication, and productivity while maintaining the flow of knowledge by connecting systems of equipment and essential applications.

Unified Communications can enable clinicians, management, and care professionals to offer better results at every level of the healthcare system.  

Employees’ perspectives of the workplace have changed as a result of the sudden move to remote work during the pandemic. Businesses now anticipate that over a third of their workforce will continue to work remotely in the future. In order to function effectively, organizations have been forced to quickly scale the deployment and use of their meeting, videoconferencing, and messaging technology.

So let’s get into how unified communications have transformed the healthcare industry, but first, what is Unified Communications?

What is Unified Communications?

The phrase “Unified Communication” or “UC” refers to the integration of collaborative technologies into various communication platforms for the digital workforce. The term “UC&C,” which stands for “Unified Communications and Collaboration,” is therefore frequently used. It generally involves Real-time integration of numerous diverse communication channels. These include cooperation, voice and text messaging, video, and even vocal conversation.

A higher level of contact is guaranteed by seamless UC for the globally dispersed workforce. It eliminates silos between enterprise teams and makes sure that you can still access the same secure system wherever you work.

Businesses nowadays are adding unified communications capabilities to their voice-centric classical PBX systems. In certain instances, they aim to completely replace these. Increased productivity, enhanced collaboration, support for mobile workforces, and greater BYOD support are the objectives here.

What is a Hybrid Work Environment?

A hybrid work environment, often referred to as a hybrid work model or hybrid work arrangement, is a flexible work setup that combines elements of both remote work and in-person work. In a hybrid work environment, employees have the option to work from both a physical office location and remote locations, such as their homes or other remote workspaces. This approach offers a middle ground between traditional in-office work and fully remote work.

Key characteristics of a hybrid work environment include:

  • Flexibility: Employees have the flexibility to choose where they work, whether it’s at the office, at home, or at another remote location. This flexibility allows individuals to tailor their work environment to their preferences and needs.
  • Scheduled Office Days: In a hybrid model, employees may be required to spend a certain number of days or specific days of the week working in the office. These scheduled office days help maintain a connection to the physical workplace and facilitate in-person collaboration when needed.
  • Remote Work Technology: Hybrid work relies heavily on technology and digital tools to support communication, collaboration, and task management for remote team members. Video conferencing, collaboration platforms, and cloud-based tools are often essential components.
  • Rotating or Staggered Schedules: Some organizations implement rotating or staggered schedules, where different teams or individuals come into the office on different days or weeks. This minimizes office occupancy and allows for social distancing, which was especially relevant during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Clear Communication and Expectations: Effective communication and clear guidelines are crucial in a hybrid work environment. Employers need to establish policies, expectations, and guidelines for remote and in-office work to ensure a cohesive and productive work culture.
  • Equitable Access: Employers must ensure that all employees, regardless of their location, have equitable access to resources, information, and opportunities for career development. This includes addressing potential disparities between in-office and remote workers.
  • Measuring Performance: Performance evaluation in a hybrid work environment may rely more on outcomes and results rather than hours spent at a physical location. Managers often use key performance indicators (KPIs) and metrics to assess employee productivity and contributions.
  • Employee Well-Being: Organizations in hybrid work environments should prioritize employee well-being by providing resources for mental health, promoting work-life balance, and addressing potential feelings of isolation among remote workers.

The concept of hybrid work gained significant attention and popularity during the COVID-19 pandemic when many organizations adopted remote work to ensure business continuity. As the pandemic evolved, many companies began considering hybrid models as a long-term strategy to balance the benefits of remote work with the advantages of in-person collaboration. Hybrid work allows organizations to adapt to changing circumstances, attract and retain talent, and provide employees with the flexibility they increasingly value in their work arrangements.

Unified Communication Platforms Essential in Hybrid Work Environment.

Unified Communications (UC) platforms offer a wide range of communication methods and tools to facilitate seamless and efficient collaboration within organizations. These platforms integrate various communication channels and collaboration tools to enhance productivity and connectivity. Let’s discuss each of the core communication methods included in UC platforms:

1. Voice Calls:

VoIP Technology: VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) is the backbone of UC platforms’ voice call functionality. Instead of relying on traditional phone lines, VoIP converts voice into data packets that can be transmitted over the internet. This technology is cost-effective and allows for more flexible and scalable communication.

Advanced Call Features: UC platforms often offer a wide range of advanced features for voice calls, including:

  • Call Forwarding: Users can redirect calls to other numbers or devices, ensuring they never miss important calls.
  • Voicemail: Voicemail systems can be integrated with email, allowing users to receive voicemail messages in their inboxes.
  • Call Recording: Important calls can be recorded for documentation, training, or compliance purposes.
  • Call Routing: Calls can be automatically routed to specific departments or individuals based on preset rules.

2. Video Conferencing:

  • HD Video Quality: UC platforms provide high-definition video quality, offering crystal-clear images and smooth video playback. This is crucial for maintaining a professional appearance during virtual meetings.
  • Screen Sharing: Screen sharing allows participants to share their screens, enhancing presentations and collaboration. It’s a valuable feature for demonstrating software, giving presentations, or troubleshooting.
  • Virtual Backgrounds: Some UC platforms offer virtual background options, allowing users to replace their real background with a digital image or a blurred background for privacy and aesthetics.
  • Meeting Recording: UC platforms often enable users to record video meetings, which can be useful for reviewing discussions, sharing with absent team members, or archiving important information.
  • Integration with Calendars: Integration with calendar apps such as Microsoft Outlook or Google Calendar simplifies scheduling by allowing users to create and join video meetings directly from their calendars.

3. Instant Messaging:

  • Real-Time Communication: Instant messaging in UC platforms enables quick, real-time text-based conversations between team members, fostering immediate communication.
  • Group Chats: UC platforms usually support group chats, making it easy for teams to have discussions, share updates, and collaborate on specific projects or topics.
  • File Sharing: Users can share files directly within instant messaging chats, eliminating the need to switch to email or other file-sharing tools for quick document exchanges.
  • Emojis and Reactions: To add a touch of expressiveness to text-based communication, UC platforms often incorporate emojis and reactions, allowing users to convey emotions and sentiments.
  • Message History: Message history is typically retained, allowing users to review past conversations, find important information, and maintain a record of discussions for reference.

4. Email:

  • Email Hosting: UC platforms provide email hosting services, allowing organizations to use their own domain names for professional email addresses.
  • Inbox Management: Features for managing email inboxes often include filters, labels, and the ability to organize and prioritize emails effectively.
  • Spam Filtering: Robust spam filtering helps reduce unwanted emails, ensuring that users only receive relevant messages in their inboxes.
  • Integration with Collaboration Tools: UC platforms often integrate email seamlessly with other collaboration tools, allowing for smooth communication and document sharing within a single platform.

Applications of Unified Communication in the Healthcare Industry

Unified Communications has brought transformative changes to healthcare, making telehealth accessible, enhancing patient engagement, bolstering data security, and streamlining healthcare communication. This technology is now a cornerstone of modern healthcare, bridging gaps and ensuring that patients receive high-quality care, regardless of their location or circumstances.

1. Telehealth and Telemedicine:

Unified Communications has ushered in a new era of healthcare by making telehealth and telemedicine services widely accessible. Through UC platforms, secure and efficient communication between healthcare providers and patients is now possible. This means that remote patient care has become a reality, allowing individuals to seek medical advice, prescriptions, and continuous monitoring from the comfort of their homes. Virtual consultations, a pivotal aspect of telemedicine, are seamlessly conducted via video conferencing, ensuring that patients have timely access to qualified healthcare professionals, regardless of geographical barriers.

2. Remote Diagnostics

UC technology empowers healthcare providers to perform remote diagnostics and monitoring. This is achieved by integrating medical technology and wearable devices into the UC ecosystem. Vital signs and health data are securely transmitted, enabling continuous monitoring and real-time analysis by healthcare professionals. Remote diagnostics are a game-changer, as they enable early detection of health issues, timely interventions, and the adaptation of treatment plans as necessary, ultimately leading to improved patient outcomes.

3. Virtual Consultations:

UC platforms facilitate virtual consultations, providing patients with a convenient and accessible way to receive medical advice and care from qualified professionals. Within the UC system, collaboration tools empower multidisciplinary consultations, where specialists from various fields can collaborate to discuss complex cases and deliver comprehensive care. Patients benefit from reduced travel time and costs, while healthcare providers can extend their reach and offer services to a broader patient base.

4. Healthcare Communication and Collaboration Tools:

UC platforms equip healthcare professionals with a suite of communication and collaboration tools tailored to their unique needs. These tools, which include secure messaging, voice calls, and video conferencing, expedite communication within healthcare teams, leading to reduced response times and enhanced coordination of patient care. Consequently, healthcare workflows are streamlined, as caregivers can swiftly share critical information and consult with colleagues, resulting in more informed decision-making.

5. Patient Engagement:

UC platforms foster patient engagement by enabling direct communication between patients and healthcare providers. Patients can access their electronic health records (EHRs) and interact with their care teams through secure messaging and virtual consultations. This engagement facilitates better patient education, enables prompt responses to questions, and empowers individuals to take an active role in their healthcare decisions.

6. Electronic Health Records (EHRs):

UC solutions seamlessly integrate with EHR systems, ensuring that healthcare providers have real-time access to patient records during consultations. This integration improves the accuracy of patient data, reduces administrative burdens associated with record-keeping, and enhances the overall quality of care. Healthcare professionals can effortlessly update EHRs with relevant information, ensuring the continuity of care across different providers and settings.

7. Data Security in Healthcare

UC platforms prioritize data security and confidentiality, adhering to stringent healthcare regulations such as HIPAA. Robust encryption, access controls, and secure authentication mechanisms safeguard sensitive patient information during communication and storage. These comprehensive security measures mitigate the risk of data breaches, ensuring the maintenance of patient privacy at all times.

8. Health Information Exchange

UC systems enable secure health information exchange among various healthcare organizations and providers. Interoperability guarantees that patient data is readily accessible when needed, facilitating seamless care coordination and informed decision-making. This streamlined exchange of information enhances the quality of care and reduces the duplication of tests and procedures, ultimately benefiting patients.

9. Healthcare IT and Digital Transformation

UC solutions are at the forefront of healthcare IT initiatives and digital transformation efforts. They assist healthcare organizations in modernizing their communication infrastructure, reducing reliance on paper-based processes, and enhancing efficiency through automation. The digital transformation facilitated by UC technology improves the agility and responsiveness of healthcare providers, leading to improved patient care.

10. Telehealth Platforms

Telehealth platforms, driven by UC technology, offer comprehensive services to patients, including video consultations, prescription management, and appointment scheduling. These platforms provide an all-encompassing solution for telehealth needs, enabling healthcare organizations to deliver care remotely and make healthcare services more accessible and convenient for patients.

11. Healthcare Workflow

UC platforms optimize healthcare workflows by simplifying communication and collaboration among care teams, administrative staff, and patients. Automation features can be integrated into the UC ecosystem to manage tasks such as appointment scheduling, prescription renewals, and follow-up care. Healthcare professionals can concentrate more on patient care, as administrative overhead is reduced, resulting in improved overall efficiency in healthcare delivery.

The Benefits of  Unified Communications on Healthcare in a Hybrid Working Environment

Unified Communications (UC) offers numerous benefits to the healthcare industry, particularly in the context of a hybrid working environment where healthcare professionals may alternate between working onsite and remotely. Here, we’ll explore these advantages in detail:

1. Enhanced Care Coordination:

UC platforms serve as a bridge that connects healthcare professionals, regardless of their physical location. This real-time communication capability allows for efficient care coordination. Physicians, nurses, specialists, and administrative staff can seamlessly collaborate, share vital patient information, and make well-informed decisions promptly. This streamlined communication reduces the risk of misunderstandings, ultimately leading to higher-quality care for patients.

2. Improves patient engagement

Some people can be reluctant to go to the doctor’s office because of their hectic schedules or health issues. Or maybe they reside in a distant place with little access to medical facilities. In these situations, the UC technology overcomes geographical limitations and enables people to access medical experts outside of their immediate area.

Without compromising on quality or safety, medical professionals can use the UC’s video conferencing feature to conduct consultations, communicate with their patients, and offer individualized care. Additionally, they can employ messaging services to quickly respond to patient inquiries. It simplifies the provision of remote patient monitoring, prescription reminders, and other functions for healthcare providers. All of this helps to increase patient happiness and engagement.

3. Enhancing Meeting Attendance

Hybrid meetings are becoming increasingly prevalent and are set to rise as parameterless working becomes the norm as workplaces reopen and we move away from totally remote work. For instance, Airbnb has introduced its “live and work anywhere” initiative, which encourages staff members to test out new remote work settings.

This development is only conceivable because virtual communication is advancing so quickly and giving remote participants a better experience. But with Gartner forecasting that 40% of companies across all industries would have adopted an “anywhere operations” model in only three years, there is an increasing need for UC technologies to enhance capabilities to support a genuinely flexible workforce.

For instance, we will require entirely virtual teamwork, in which employees don’t even have to be in the same time zone or location. Additionally, this cooperation must be made feasible everywhere, including in workplaces that are particularly designed for hybrid meetings (as opposed to having everyone huddled around a single camera and speaker).

Basically, as employee experience becomes more and more essential, organizations need to work with a variety of UC platforms to make sure the tools are in place to enable a superior meeting experience for all participants.

4. Improved Access to Specialists:

In a hybrid work environment, having specialists physically present in the same location as the patient isn’t always possible. UC platforms come to the rescue by facilitating virtual consultations. Patients can access specialist care via secure video conferencing, eliminating the need for arduous long-distance travel or waiting for in-person appointments. This accessibility to expert care is especially valuable in remote or underserved areas.

5. Efficient Remote Patient Monitoring:

UC platforms support remote patient monitoring initiatives by seamlessly integrating with medical devices. Patients use wearable devices to measure vital signs, and this data is transmitted in real-time to healthcare providers. This remote monitoring empowers healthcare professionals to track patients’ health status remotely, detect early warning signs, and intervene promptly, ultimately leading to better disease management and a reduction in hospital readmissions.

6. Simplifies collaboration between departments

As already established, more people than only the attending physician and nurses are required for effective patient care. Shared across departments and, if necessary, with outside organizations like home health agencies are lab results, medical records, and other crucial papers.

By consolidating all communication channels onto a single platform, the unified communications solution streamlines this procedure. For instance, doctors can instantaneously request lab data from the pathology department or send messages to pharmacists directly. Within the UC system, it can be safely stored and accessed after being received. This can expedite the entire process and make it possible for all stakeholders involved in patient care to operate more effectively together.

7. Enhanced Telemedicine Services:

UC platforms are essential for the delivery of telemedicine services. They enable secure and convenient video consultations between patients and healthcare providers. Patients gain increased accessibility to medical advice, prescriptions, and follow-up care, even when in-person visits are challenging. Telemedicine not only improves patient satisfaction but also allows healthcare organizations to extend their reach to a broader patient population, breaking down geographical barriers.

8. Enhancing Workplace Experience

Executive attention is shifting toward employee experience. Since the ‘Great Resignation’ began, businesses have become more attentive to worker demands.

Results indicate that independence and flexibility are the top goals for the majority of employees. What does this signify, though? Employees don’t want to be told what tools and devices to use, they don’t want to be restricted by IT hurdles or tedious login processes, and they want freedom over when and where they work.

How can IT teams then get ready as personnel, who wish to spend less time on IT provisioning duties but are more dependent on collaborative tools?

9. Streamlined Administrative Processes:

UC tools simplify administrative tasks within healthcare organizations. Staff members can efficiently manage appointments, billing, and various administrative workflows. Automation features can be integrated to handle appointment scheduling, prescription refills, and patient reminders, effectively reducing the administrative burden on healthcare professionals. This enhanced efficiency translates into cost savings and an improved patient experience.

10. Secure Communication and Data Sharing:

Security is paramount in healthcare, and UC platforms prioritize data security and privacy. Encrypted messaging, secure video conferencing, and protected access to Electronic Health Records (EHRs) ensure that patient information remains confidential and compliant with healthcare regulations like HIPAA. Healthcare professionals can confidently communicate and share patient data, knowing that security measures are in place to safeguard sensitive information.

11. Enhancing IT administrators’ experiences

The complexity of IT administration in today’s multi-vendor, multi-platform, hybrid cloud settings rises as more collaborative technologies are used, making it more difficult and time-consuming to handle policy-based provisioning and configuration processes.

In order to fix this, IT teams would be wise to implement a provisioning solution that can automate moves, adds, changes, and deletes-MACD workflows and manage all UC solutions through a single user interface, guaranteeing data quality and security without the need to learn and use multiple native admin portals for these platforms.

By utilizing provisioning automation, IT teams can lessen the time-consuming, frequently manual aspects of handling common MACD tasks and offer a multi-vendor, centralized point of control for an enterprise’s entire UC stack to keep up with the accelerating use of multiple UC tools.

12. Flexibility for a Hybrid Workforce:

UC platforms accommodate the needs of a hybrid workforce, allowing healthcare professionals to work both onsite and remotely. This adaptability ensures that healthcare organizations can respond effectively to changing staffing models, enabling their teams to remain productive and responsive to patient needs. A hybrid work arrangement can also contribute to improved work-life balance for healthcare professionals.

13. Continuity of Care:

UC systems play a pivotal role in ensuring the continuity of care. They make patient information accessible and up to date, regardless of where healthcare providers are working. When care teams change or patients transition between different care settings, such as from the hospital to home, UC platforms facilitate a seamless transfer of information. This continuity is critical for providing consistent and effective patient care.

14. Reduced Healthcare Costs:

The adoption of UC platforms in a hybrid work environment can lead to cost savings in healthcare. By enabling more efficient communication, collaboration, and remote patient monitoring, healthcare organizations can reduce operational costs. Additionally, the ability to provide timely care and early interventions can potentially decrease the frequency of costly hospital admissions, benefiting both patients and healthcare budgets.

Limitations of Unified Communications (UC) in health care

While Unified Communications (UC) offers numerous benefits to the healthcare industry, it also comes with certain limitations and challenges, particularly when implemented in a healthcare setting. Some of the limitations of UC in healthcare include:

  • Security and Privacy Concerns:

Healthcare organizations handle a treasure trove of sensitive patient information. This data, including medical records and personal details, must remain confidential and secure. UC can introduce security challenges due to its diverse communication channels and devices. To safeguard patient data and comply with regulations like HIPAA, robust measures such as end-to-end encryption, access controls, and secure authentication mechanisms are imperative.

  • Compliance Challenges:

The healthcare industry operates under complex compliance requirements, and UC solutions must align with these stringent standards. This alignment is crucial to protect patient privacy and maintain data security. Achieving and sustaining compliance within a UC environment involves continuous efforts, including data encryption during transmission and storage, diligent monitoring for breaches, and maintaining detailed audit logs.

  • Integration with Existing Systems:

Integrating UC platforms with existing healthcare systems, notably Electronic Health Records (EHRs), can be a formidable task. The seamless exchange of data is essential to ensure that patient records remain accurate and up to date. Successful integration demands careful planning, a robust API strategy, and collaboration with EHR vendors to bridge any interoperability gaps.

  • Reliability and Downtime:

In healthcare, where timely communication is often a matter of life or death, UC platforms must be incredibly reliable. Any downtime or disruptions can lead to critical delays in patient care. To maintain uninterrupted access to UC services, healthcare organizations must invest in redundancy, backup systems, and dependable network infrastructure.

  • Resource Intensiveness:

Deploying UC in a healthcare setting necessitates substantial resources, both in terms of financial investment and technical expertise. Smaller healthcare organizations may face resource constraints, making UC adoption challenging. To overcome these hurdles, careful planning and budget allocation are crucial to ensure a successful implementation.

  • User Training and Adoption:

Healthcare professionals often rely on established communication methods and may require training to fully utilize UC tools. Resistance to change can hinder adoption. Therefore, healthcare organizations must invest in comprehensive training programs to ensure that staff can efficiently leverage UC features for improved patient care.

  • Data Management and Storage:

UC usage generates a considerable amount of digital data, encompassing messages, recordings, and shared files. Managing and securely storing this data is essential. Healthcare organizations must establish effective data management policies, including strategies for data retention and archiving, to prevent data overload and facilitate efficient data retrieval.

  • Scalability:

Healthcare needs can evolve rapidly, especially during emergencies or crises. Scalability challenges may arise when attempting to expand UC systems to accommodate increased demand. Healthcare organizations must anticipate scalability requirements and prepare for potential surges in usage, ensuring that the UC infrastructure can adapt without compromising performance.

  • Technical Support and Maintenance:

UC systems require ongoing maintenance and responsive technical support to ensure uninterrupted service. Regular software updates, proactive troubleshooting, and routine equipment maintenance are vital to sustaining the reliability and efficiency of UC systems in healthcare settings.

Overcoming these limitations demands a comprehensive approach, combining stringent security measures, ongoing training initiatives, strategic resource allocation, and continuous collaboration between IT teams and healthcare professionals. When managed effectively, UC can significantly enhance communication, collaboration, and patient care while maintaining the highest standards of data security and compliance.

Conclusion

Unified communications will continue to be required in the healthcare sector as the need for hybrid work environments and distant treatment increases. Its enormous potential to completely transform the healthcare sector is evident.

If you’re ready to take the plunge and learn how unified communications can help you bring your business into the digital era, our qualified experts will help you every step of the way, from strategy to implementation. Call us right away!

UC has the capacity to transform every facet of the healthcare system. In addition to the advantages already mentioned, there are even more advantages to take into account, such as the capacity to safeguard patient information in a compliance setting. The HIPAA regulations can be supported by UCaaS solutions, guaranteeing the security and privacy of patient data.

Unified Communications may be the solution to a variety of frequent communication issues as the demand for healthcare firms rises.

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Transforming Healthcare in a Hybrid Working Environment through Unified Communications
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