For a number of reasons, hospitals and other health care facilities provide the starkest challenges and most exciting opportunities for unified communications vendors and service providers.
First, the promise: Davide Petramala, vice president of marketing and business development at UC provider Esnatech, points out that doctors, nurses and other health care practitioners seldom are in their offices-and finding them instantaneously can be a matter of life and death. Tools knit together in a UC context can be an invaluable way to find them and do a number of other things, such as bring in specialists to "sit in" on a procedure from halfway around the world, and to do so while being able to look at high-quality versions of the patient's imaging.
The IT and telecom needs of a surgical team-from instant access to high-quality imaging to the ability to reach specialists in an instant -- are far more exacting than those of just about any other business setting.
The problem is that these systems are expensive, and going to the full IP-based approach usually identified with UC can introduce reliability, security and regulatory issues that are frightening to anyone in the health care industry.
Those qualms notwithstanding, UC remains attractive to health care professionals, observers say. "Because health care is under so much pressure and is so much in the focus these days, what we see is a willingness and genuine interest by professionals to move more rapidly into advanced technologies like UC. Necessity is the mother of invention," said Hardy Myers, president and CEO of Applied Voice & Speech Technologies (AVST), a UC and telecom vendor.
The bottom line is that UC clearly is making in roads in the healthcare vertical. A trio of announcements during the first week of March illustrate that progress. The fact that they undoubtedly were timed to coincide with the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) meeting in Atlanta doesn't take away from the fact that big-name vendors have the sector squarely in focus:
A Different Market
Health care is significantly different than corporate UC, observers say. In many cases, the demands are greater in terms of the stark differences between the constituencies that have to be served and the level at which the gear and underlying network must perform.
The IT and telecom needs of a surgical team-from instant access to high-quality imaging to the ability to reach specialists in an instant if something goes wrong during a procedure -- are far more exacting than those of just about any other business setting. The level of difficulty increases when these extreme demands extend to the huge number of mobile devices and patients entering and exiting health care facilities in this highly transient environment.
On top of this, security and privacy demands are higher than in most other settings. Much of the information exchanged is privileged. It generally is covered by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and other stringent privacy rules and regulations.