Reliable communications can help a business close a sale. When it comes to healthcare, however, good communication can be the difference between life and death.
While not as sexy as telemedicine and electronic medical records, the use of voice-over-IP (VoIP) in the healthcare space is nonetheless having a transformative effect on hospitals and healthcare organizations that use it.
Medical issues are often about timing; a quick response can stop a problem from getting out of hand, and a slow response can fail to tackle an emerging threat while it is still reversible.
Up until recently, the standard way for medical communications has been traditional phone lines and pagers. But this is sometimes slow, and often inefficient.
According to Healthcare Management, U.S. hospitals waste more than $12 billion annually on communications inefficiency.
Worse, it can keep patients from reaching out to healthcare providers in a timely fashion.
At John Peter Smith Health Network (JPS) in Fort Worth, Texas, for instance, thousands of calls come in daily for the healthcare network. But calling often meant being put on hold for up to 15 minutes.
“We were missing a lot of calls, and people weren’t able to get access to health care,” David Mendenhall, chief technology officer at the healthcare network, told Kara news recently.
Something had to change, and VoIP was the solution.
JPS worked with NEC on a VoIP solution that easily enabled a central call center to transfer calls to the appropriate personnel over the network’s wide area network. This cut answer times to less than a minute, according to Mendenhall.
The upgrade at JPS included an integrated voice, video and data platform that upgraded 7,000 phones across 40 health centers and will cost JPS roughly $800,000 over three years. But the network expects to save roughly $70,000 per year from the upgrade, and it is hard to argue with improved care that results from the use of VoIP.
“At the end of the day it’s all about keeping their communications systems up,” noted Larry Levenberg of NEC. “And in a hospital environment you’re talking about lives and you’ve got to make sure that communications systems is up 100 percent of the time.”
JPS is not the only healthcare network embracing VoIP.
“Everybody wants to upgrade communications systems,” Ritu Agarwal, professor at the University of Maryland and director of the Center for Health Information and Decisions Systems, noted recently. “Everyone recognizes the old ways of doing things, with pagers, is just inefficient. And you really won’t get the returns from investments in EMR [electronic medical records] technology if you can’t move information from one place to another quickly.”
The future of medicine is one where there is better sharing of medical and patient data, and VoIP is a part of that because the ability to easily communicate is part of this future.
Increasingly, it is important to enable patients to give feedback and have a direct connection with doctors even when they are not in a healthcare facility, and for doctors to triage and call on specialists as needed. VoIP enables these changes in healthcare.
With VoIP, calls can be answered by laptop or tablet, routed to different healthcare professionals depending on schedule, or connected to specialists in other cities or even other countries.
VoIP is more than just a business technology. It is a foundational new technology for society that brings with it mobility and flexibility, and its uses extend to healthcare as well as the selling of products and services.