Extending Health Care with Unified Communications
Health care is a topic of much debate, even impacting the political fortunes of many. Meanwhile, health care itself is undergoing a silent revolution, courtesy of technology.
To understand where the sector is headed and why the time is ripe for introducing Unified Communications (UC), let us look at the major technological changes adopted by the sector in the recent past.
Comprehending EHRs and HRRP
First came electronic medical records (EMRs)—digitized versions of handwritten prescriptions and records, capturing patient medical history only for a particular organization. Because they remained with the care-providing organization rather than the patient, they were redundant in a continuous care situation.
Next, electronic health records (EHRs) were introduced so health care providers could “better manage your care through secure use and sharing of health information.” EHRs compile a patient’s complete medical history across various service providers. This brought a definite advantage over the earlier EMRs, as EHRs are considered the patient’s property and are accessible online from anywhere and across institutions.
Meanwhile, with the Hospital Readmission Reduction Program (HRRP), which started in 2012, hospitals are financially penalized if they have “higher than expected risk-standardized 30-day readmission rates for acute myocardial infarction, heart failure, and pneumonia.” Such a scenario makes it important to provide after-care to long-term patients remotely. This sets the stage for UC.
How does UC make health care better?
While EHRs are a repository of patient medical information, their sheer volume of data is beginning to overwhelm clinicians. The important bits get lost, especially during emergencies, when split-second decisions need to be made. Also, EHRs do not support conversations or clinical discussions between dispersed care teams, making clinicians fall back on outdated forms of communication, often leading to loss of precious time.
UC brings instant messaging, group chats, voice, email, video, and team collaboration together in one place. Additionally, it brings the following benefits:
- Improves Tracking – Its Presence feature allows nurses and clinicians to see available colleagues and reach out to them in a matter of minutes.
- Augments Existing Systems – UC easily combines with existing EHR systems, thus bringing isolated professionals onto the same platform and ensuring the best possible outcomes for each patient.
- Enhances Teamwork and Productivity – While accessing EHRs on their smartphones or from remote locations, specialists can convey their clinical decisions instantly to the patient’s bedside, using embedded voice or video collaboration, thus making teamwork more efficient.
- Creates Operational Efficiencies – In a UC-enabled environment, simply clicking on the EHR screen can help associates find an appropriate resource without having to dial their number. So, nurses get to focus on actual care giving rather than spend time tracking doctors or chasing lab reports.
- Enriches Customer Support – By providing omni-channel support to its patients, it improves the care experience of patients, giving them a stress-free mode of communicating with their caregivers.
Telemedicine: The Future of Healthcare
With HRRP on course, video-based consultations are quickly becoming the preferred method of communication with patients, especially seniors or those in remote locations who find it challenging to make multiple physical trips to the hospital. They can continue to consult with the clinicians they are comfortable with and who are aware of their medical history, thus making it a win–win situation. Remote patient monitoring is another aspect that is quickly becoming popular with patients suffering chronic ailments like hypertension and diabetes. Insurance companies, too, are recognizing that the future belongs to telemedicine. They now extend coverage, especially to rural areas that may have a shortage of health care professionals.
UC is not only helping health care reach more people with telemedicine, it is improving value while cutting staffing costs, helping smaller hospitals to offer quality care.