How unified
can improve
care coordination

Author: Satta Sarmah Hightower

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, millions of people visit a doctor every year. Patients seek health care for a wide variety of reasons—and when they do, they may need to visit more than one healthcare provider. However, the increasing complexity of decentralized care—care spreading out into community and retail clinics—and technology often make it more difficult to coordinate care and share relevant information between providers, which can undermine quality of care.

This is why unified healthcare communications are so critical. With advanced wireless, network-management and cloud-based unified communications and collaboration as a service (UCaaS) solutions, providers can get a more comprehensive view of a patient's health history and make more informed decisions about their care.

Confronting the challenges of coordinated care

The healthcare ecosystem is fragmented, with so many hospitals, clinics, outpatient facilities and other locations where patients can receive care. Each of these facilities often has its own proprietary systems where it stores clinical data. Most of these systems aren't interoperable and can't easily share data with one another.

When systems aren't interoperable, care coordination becomes more challenging. Poor communication only makes the problem worse. A primary care doctor may refer a patient to a specialist, but the specialist may not receive all the patient information they need from the doctor's office, or the patient's electronic health record may be missing key information or context. This can lead to back-and-forth calls that only delay care or increase the risk of adverse drug reactions if a patient is prescribed medications from different providers.

Recent research indicates the extent of the challenges with coordinated care. In a survey of long-term and post-acute providers by the healthcare research firm Black Book, 86% of respondents said they weren't exchanging electronic health information with referring hospitals, home healthcare providers or physicians. Additionally, 91% of care managers at acute providers said there's often poor communication with hospitals that refer patients with complex healthcare needs.

Outdated health information technologies—and in particular legacy communications technologies—lead to inefficiencies in the healthcare system. This in turn can produce poorer outcomes and increase costs. Developing unified communications in healthcare is important for fostering more collaboration, which can help improve patient outcomes, lower the cost of care, and provide patients with timely, accurate information, helping them to better engage with their care.

The pathway to unified communications in healthcare

Unified healthcare communications involve using wireless and network management technologies and managed services to improve how care providers collaborate.

These solutions include either a managed local area network (LAN) or wide area network (WAN) to help accelerate the secure transfer of critical clinical data across a unified network. This helps to deliver lower latency, greater reliability, better network performance and to ensure that the data from mission-critical applications is transferred to its intended destination as quickly as possible. These technologies also allow authorized users to assess the clinical data they need remotely. For example, if a home health aide is on their way to a patient's home or a doctor is en route from their office to the hospital, they can open an app on their mobile phone and securely log in to the hospital or healthcare facilities' systems to access a patient's records.

To deploy unified healthcare communications, you also need a UCaaS solution, which your organization can connect to its existing systems via application program interfaces (APIs). UCaaS includes advanced calling, secure instant messaging, video conferencing, web-based voicemail, and integration with email and collaboration platforms such as Microsoft Outlook and Cisco Jabber. UCaaS solutions also may include mobility solutions that streamline communication between a care team of providers and between providers and patients. These technologies can facilitate telehealth visits in several ways. For example, doctors might use the technology to run a follow-up visit after a minor infection.

Organizations can also use unified communications in healthcare as the foundation for services like virtual chatbots and assistants, which can help with appointment scheduling, answering basic questions from patients and optimizing call centers. This way, receptionists can automate common messages and patients can efficiently access useful information like directions on how to use the online portal to schedule an appointment.

What to look for in a unified healthcare communications provider

Before you compare technology partners, understand your organization's business needs and how you currently coordinate care. Does your staff spend too much time answering routine patient questions? Does your organization lack a consolidated place to share notes from different providers? Can they only communicate via secure email and not via secure text or instant messaging?

As you map out all of your requirements, look for a partner that offers extensible, scalable solutions you can easily connect to your existing systems without an expensive or time-consuming overhaul. Since cost is top of mind for many organizations, also ask whether the company offers a subscription-based pricing model for its solutions, allowing you to better predict and manage costs.

Managed services are also important. You can purchase many off-the-shelf commercial solutions, but your IT team will still have to manage the implementation and ongoing maintenance. Instead, seek a technology partner who offers both solutions and services and can configure and manage these solutions for you, freeing your IT team to focus on other higher-priority projects.

Security and reliability are two other important considerations. You want to work with a provider who offers a highly available, scalable infrastructure or a UCaaS platform with multiple layers of security. Healthcare data is some of the most highly regulated, and to ensure compliance with local, federal and state laws, any solution you adopt must offer maximum redundancy and security.

With all these capabilities, your organization can implement a unified healthcare communications strategy that increases your efficiency, provides more visibility into clinical data and allows you to achieve a holistic view of patients across their care journey.

Learn how Verizon's Unified Communications and Collaboration as a Service technology helped one medical center improve communications on a budget.