Great Promise -- and Great Challenges -- of Unified Communications for Health Care

Carl Weinschenk

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:

 

  • Aruba Networks and Motion Computing announced an agreement to create a platform to deliver UC in hospitals and health care clinics. The pact covers Aruba's 802.11n and Virtual Branch Exchange gear and Motion's C5 Mobile Clinical Assistants and Motion Clinical Workstations.
  • Avaya extended its health care product line with four new products: Mobile Device Checkout, Nurse Call Response, Patient Appointment Reminder and Patient Admit Coordinator.
  • Cisco introduced HealthPresence, a platform designed to link one or more medical professionals with patients. The company said the system goes well beyond traditional telemedicine or tele-health systems.

 

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.



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Sep 10, 2010 1:33 AM Lifealert Lifealert  says:

I have certainly noticed a vast difference in the way health related establishments and medical establishments work and much of the reason why they offer more features and facilities is certainly startling but all the way consoling. Anyway, they initiatives taken by many to ensure doctors and nurses are available when a patient needs them has really helped many and thereby preventing the need to call for insurance!                                                                  

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Mar 29, 2011 4:19 AM Nathalie Nathalie  says:

I agree, the need for communication based technology in health care is massive. It's a matter of life and death and so it's critical that the right people can instantly be notified and communicated with 24/7.

I also really like what you've said about bringing in specialists to sit in via these technologies.  That will really serve as a massive benefit and something which could never have been done before.

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