By Scott Simmons, healthcare lead, Poly.
The pandemic was a critical catalyst to change working habits and a massive accelerant to the digital transformation already reshaping the working world. And, this is no more evident than in healthcare where telehealth has quickly grown by orders of magnitude and organizations have fundamentally changed how their essential services are provided.
Although the sudden and rapid demand for telehealth and remote collaboration initially introduced a state of disorder, the last year revealed that telehealth is an efficient adjunct to traditional in-person healthcare and that remote employees can be just as productive working from home as they were in the office.
As a result, expectations have changed for healthcare workers who have experienced an alternative way of providing care and performing their jobs, as well as for patients who have been introduced to a simpler and more convenient way of receiving care. What’s more, remote services provide accessible options to people with mobility limitations and address geographic maldistribution of healthcare expertise.
At Poly, for example, we partnered with Baptist Health Corbin hospital in eastern Kentucky to deliver remote care and expand the reach of medical services to rural communities, while reducing travel costs and drive time for patients and improving safety and security. A challenge for Corbin residents is getting easy access to healthcare due to driving conditions, geographic distance, and lack of public transportation.
Coupled with a global pandemic, Baptist Health Corbin decided to prioritize solutions that would enable them to provide quality care to citizens who could not easily visit their medical facilities. By adopting video solutions for patient rooms, remote clinics and integrations with medical diagnostic tools throughout their facilities, they are empowered with video conferencing that is simple to set up and easy to use, reliable and interoperable with other video products. Baptist Health Corbin patients can now get remote, consistent care in a safe and secure environment without the need to travel.
The year ahead will be a defining year for the industry as healthcare institutions transition beyond their short-term experience of adding remote collaboration in response to COVID-19, to integrating it within their long-term strategy. The majority (75%) of U.S. hospitals are now using telehealth with over 70% of physicians intending to continue its use.
The question is no longer about whether remote patient services are sustainable, but rather about whether providers will get it right moving forward as they face the threat of competition from non-traditional sources. Video conferencing room systems, telehealth end points, headsets and webcams have come center stage when considering the future technology that will maximize patient care experiences and connect medical staff to one another.
Unfortunately, most institutions were forced to rush through this transition during the pandemic and now face common barriers including unsatisfying user experiences, poor audio and video quality, disparate and incompatible collaboration systems, and more.
Healthcare institutions have the opportunity to take what they’ve learned and differentiate their services to not only improve patient outcomes and employee experiences, but reduce costs through improved operational efficiency.
High-quality, noise-free audio and video communications, for example, are critical elements that can transform a telehealth appointment from a compromise to a win-win for both the patient and provider.
A rich and personal communications experience helps physical and behavioral health providers convey patient trust, competence and empathy and to capture important details (visual and non-verbal) that aid in assessment and diagnosis. To implement virtual collaboration successfully, providers should look for audio and video solutions that:
- Enable professional telehealth visits. Clinicians and other presenters are not audio-visual producers. They need quality camera technology with high-definition visuals and clear audio that minimize external noise and distractions, as well as automated features that frame multiple speakers or track a speaker who may be writing on a white board or moving about the room.
- Interoperate with your existing solutions and integrate into your broader IT environment. Traditional healthcare systems utilize Electronic Medical Record Systems (EMR), Laboratory Information Management Systems (LIMS), and Patient PortalS. Seamless integration into multiple backend systems is critical. Organizations have been known to standardize Cloud Service Providers (CSP), which motivate product decisions.
- Support ease-of-use for telehealth services. Providers are tasked by compliance requirements that strive to improve the patient experience, including an aging population who lacks familiarity with new technology. This is why simplicity is a critical factor. Technologies that are already integrated into back-end systems, are highly intuitive, and simplify IT management can be favorable among an aging patient population.
- Meet specific needs of individuals and groups according to their workstyle needs. Matching the right headset and webcam solutions to individual needs or complementing conference room video solutions to the room size and its intended use makes a big difference in enabling the desired experience.
Healthcare providers are using communication and collaboration technology to transform their businesses by enabling an expansion of telehealth services that improve outcomes and increase patient satisfaction, all while empowering employees to work on hybrid schedules that support their own work-life balance. Modern collaboration technology is bridging the digital divide in the healthcare industry, enabling providers to extend services to remote areas and underserved communities, and preparing them for inadvertent situations, such as the global pandemic, that interfere with their ability to provide traditional patient care services.