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Guest Blog: Approach Unified Communications Like You’re Writing an Essay

March 4, 2015
by Michelle Kay
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Michelle Kay
“We’re just going to start by getting all of our hospitals and clinics on one, ubiquitous telecom platform. We don’t need to worry about training or communications at this stage – the users will only see a new phone.” 
The biggest mistake a healthcare organization can make when it comes to the decision to deploy Unified Communications (UC), is to treat it like an infrastructure component that is transparent to the user community. There is nothing wrong with starting with the basics, but don’t make the mistake of assuming it will not matter to your customers. I believe the best path to UC in healthcare is to approach it like you were taught to write a well-organized essay: Tell them what you are going to tell them; tell them; and then tell them what you told them. Remember that?
Tell Them What You are Going to Tell Them
As it turns out, a new phone is a big deal, especially to nurses and clinicians whose primary focus is the care of their patients. To them, the phone just needs to work – getting it to do so should not be difficult. The surest way to make it difficult is to NOT tell them in advance, fail to state what is going to be different, and to assume that formal, in-person training would be overkill. 
Just as the first paragraph in a well written essay needs to inform the audience what the body of the essay will be about, a well-planned UC deployment will begin with a solid communications plan. My experience has shown that a comprehensive plan must:
Define groups of users, 
Determine exactly what changes each group will see,
Identify several methods for communicating to each group, 
Determine the frequency of communications that work best for each group, and
Decide whom best to deliver each communication to each group.
Tell Them
I have found that very few clinicians are interested in learning how to use a new technology – at least for the sake of using a new technology. They are, however, very interested in learning how that technology can improve their ability to care for their patients. More so in healthcare than any other industry, the value specific UC features bring to each role will vary, for example: 
Nurses will need to know how to program doctor’s pager numbers into the phones for quick dialing, how to park and pickup calls, how to transfer calls to patient rooms, and how to make overhead pages on the new system.
Doctors may want to use some of the more advanced features. For example, single number reachability in order to be reached at one number no matter if they are at their desk, at home, or in transit. While unified messaging may appeal to doctors, the reality is that there is not a solution available with enough built in privacy and (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) HIPAA compliancy to be integrated with electronic medical record (EMR) and patient portal messaging – which will leave them with two inboxes. Some may be fine with that, others may choose to pass on this feature.
The central business office, scheduling and service desk will be interested in more advanced features, like screen pops (which can display customized information specific to incoming or dialed customers/patients), click-to-call integration and advanced call center functionality.
Executive staff and IT may be the only users interested in features such as presence (indication of availability), instant messaging, unified messaging (one inbox for voicemail, faxes and email) and integrated web-, video- and tele-conferencing.
While the above guidelines can serve as a good general rule, take the time to determine if it really describes the needs and interests of each group in your organization. Make a point of visiting with each defined group and take time to observe their work flows, in addition to asking about and listening to their pain points, including things about their jobs which they feel could be improved. Armed with the knowledge and understanding of what UC can and cannot do, set out to solve those pain points. Ensure your training plan focuses on solving problems, and not just on using the new technology. And then implement it.
Only after your detailed training plan has been implemented will you be ready to begin deployment of your UC infrastructure. It is during this stage that your user community will receive their new phones and begin to use the UC features and functionality which was promised to them. As you have likely guessed by now, you will not just simply put the phones out and leave, but instead, as you do, you will once again, tell them what you’ve already told them.
Tell Them What You Told Them
During this final stage of deployment, offer refresher courses and continue delivering frequent and targeted communications. I have found that having trainers and technical staff roam the floors to offer guidance and answer questions on the fly is very well received – especially visits to each nursing station.