Penobscot Community Health Care had a problem. The Bangor, Maine, nonprofit, which provides outpatient medical and dental, mental health, and disease prevention services, was growing rapidly, and its outdated PBX-based phone system was unable to keep up. In response, it deployed a new unified communications system to connect its six locations. As employees began using four-digit dialing, dial-by-name, and powerful workgroup features, productivity and customer service improved, and PCHC was able to meet staffing needs more effectively.
Better yet, PCHC's funding board took note of the organization's increased efficiency and provided additional grants and financial support. UC helped the provider achieve its highest goal: improved patient satisfaction. "With the UC system in place, our practice has drawn closer together, and it appears unified, as though it's in one location," says Doug Kingsbury, PCHC's CIO, adding that the flexibility of the system lets the group manage and meet the specific needs of each healthcare practice.
However, healthcare groups also face some unique challenges when adopting UC. Practices need to allow medical staffs to focus on providing care--doctors generally have neither the time nor the inclination to learn a complex new technology. These organizations often have small IT departments and limited budgets, so it's important that new systems be easy to install and manage. Medical practices also are very security conscious. As business managers read about network breaches resulting in data loss, healthcare IT pros may have difficulty persuading them that putting calls between doctors and patients on an IP network is a good idea. Telecom groups protective of their turf may further this perception.
Reliability is another sticking point for healthcare organizations where life-and-death decisions are made daily, and large medical centers can face logistical problems as well: They're often built across campuses, with doctors' offices in one building, labs and orthopedics in another, and billing offices tucked away at an administration site. While this is logical from a patient-care perspective, in terms of communications it can be a nightmare if the campus has multiple, unconnected phone systems.
Here we'll outline four areas that can help CIOs make the business case for unified communications; in our full report, "Best Practices: IP Telephony in Healthcare Settings", we'll discuss technical and security best practices.
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