Cloud-Based Communication

March 22, 2012
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Versatile communication platform helps foster collaborative care
Cloud-Based Communication
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Fairview Health Services, a 10-hospital, 42-clinic health system based in Minneapolis, has implemented a cloud-based communications platform that, among other things, allows its physicians to conduct virtual video “visits” with their patients, and schedule follow-up video visits.

Shannon Hubler, director of call center operations, maintains that the system has helped his organization improve care coordination while cutting costs. “It’s cloud-based, so there is no equipment for me to buy other than a headset and a video camera,” he says. “So for $100 an agent, if he is running a computer, I can turn on the phone and make it work,” he says. It has the ability to handle many types of communication such as voice, chat, video and desktop sharing, all on the same call, which fosters collaboration between caregivers, and can help improve care transitions.

Fairview has implemented the system gradually, primarily it is being used by the central call center and two of its busiest clinics, which are using it for virtual video visits, Hubler says.

Hubler got introduced to the solution through work that was being done at one of the Fairview health system’s clinics, and decided to test the technology (supplied by Revation Systems, Inc., Bloomington, Minn.,) as a cloud-based automated call distribution center. The call center has since implemented solution, called LinkLive, to provide voice, chat and video services on a unified platform in the health system’s centralized call center operations. All communications are encrypted, so it’s compliant from a HIPAA standpoint, he says. Hubler says the system gives him a standard report each morning, providing a good picture of the call volume from the previous day, including timeliness of answering and band limits, Hubler says.

One important feature of the system is its queuing capability to sequence and prioritize calls to each of the call agents, Hubler says. Additional participants, such as physicians, nurses or pharmacists, can be brought into a conversation as needed using whatever communication medium is at hand, whether it be chat, voice or video.

The video portion is new to Fairview, Hubler says, who adds that physicians are using it to consult with patients from their homes. “There is no travel time for the patient, and the physician does not have to travel from room to room” in the hospital or clinic, he says.
The video is also used in medication therapy management, providing access to pharmacists, who educate patients on their medications, answer their questions, and help make sure that the medications don’t conflict with each other, he says.

Fairview, which serves a large Somali immigrant population, is also using the video capability as an interpretation tool. The emergency department in Fairview’s Riverside Hospital is equipped with video cameras. If there is a need to communicate with a patient in the room, the attending physician can instantly get access to the interpreter via the video link, Hubler says. The service operates like a chat function: the physician checks if an interpreter is available and establishes contact. “In the past we had to schedule a time for the interrupter to be there,” he says.

For the future, Hubler says Fairview is getting ready to roll out a “huddle group” feature, which came about at the request of a pediatrician at the hospital, Hubler says. The idea is to have conference calls between all the caregivers who will be involved in patient handoffs, and to record the meeting which will be tied back to the electronic medical record so it can be listened to later by participants who were not able to attend the live session. All of the communications will be time stamped, so it will be possible to identify who the participant is and when he or she signs on or off.  It will produce a URL that is unique to the phone call, and the link can be pasted into the patient’s chart, so it can be accessed at a later time.

Another feature, which is still in development, is to be able to bring in a call center operator easily, while physicians are on the line with each other during a conference call, for arrange for the admission of a patient.

The May issue of HCI will include a feature story on cloud computing. Be sure to watch for it.
 

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