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Meaningful Health Care Informatics Blog

Jan 28 2013   8:44PM GMT

Microsoft betting on unified communication for health care



Posted by: RedaChouffani
Lync, UC, Unified communications, VoIP

It’s an increasingly complex process for hospital workers to communicate and collaborate within clinical and administrative areas.

Hospital staff members are constantly looking to stay connected and share information with each other. On-call physicians need to communicate with the nursing staff and other colleagues, nurses need to contact each other to follow up on patient’s needs, and administrative staff need to collaborate on certain activities.

Communication in the healthcare area takes many forms, such as: Email, short message service (SMS), telephone, video conferencing and messaging inside clinical applications.

While there are several strong enterprise players that use one or more of these communication methods in their platform, some have been able to dominate the marketplace with their unified communication solutions. Microsoft is the latest addition to the list of big vendors who are entering the market with a comprehensive solution that covers almost all of the communication methods and provides a strong return on investment (ROI) that is hard to ignore.

Microsoft Lync 2010, which has already released a 2013 version, is a voice over IP (VoIP) and collaboration platform all in one. Microsoft’s approach is to deliver all the traditional communications functionality to enterprise clients and enable them to leverage an easy to manage, cost-effective solution. Microsoft is focusing on the large health care and other markets and convincing them that it is possible to improve staff productivity, reduce costs and have a tangible ROI through its Lync offerings.

Some of the benefits for health care organizations in utilizing a platform like Microsoft Lync are:

  • Web and videoconferencing: This functionality can improve efficiency as well as support real-time decisions. Services such as telemedicine, translation services, and videoconferencing allow for staff collaboration, which can prove to be beneficial in a health care market that is moving toward collaboration of care in models such as ACOs.
  • Instant messaging: Clinical staff often communicate with each other using text messaging or SMS. Some messaging systems allow end users to safely and securely message each other and control or flag any data that may need to be archived as part of patient information.
  • VoIP: Most hospitals have migrated away from traditional PBX (telephony systems), and Lync enterprise voice seems to offer most of the functionality needed to enable telephone communication over IP (Lync supports IPv6). The availability of different vendors’ devices gives hospitals the option to select an option that is most affordable for them.
  • Mobility: VoIP users have continued to demand more mobile functionality in their systems. While Microsoft offers limited functionality for the voice over the data plans in its current release of mobile apps, there are many advanced functionalities such as IM, conferencing, and presence that can be used. Microsoft has also noted that there are several upcoming app updates currently under review that will provide more functionality to the mobile work force.

There are 6 primary areas that Microsoft Lync can have a significant impact for hospitals adopting this platform:

  • Eliminate the costs associated with purchase, maintenance and up keeping with PBX systems.
  • Elimination of costs associated with Web conferencing subscriptions
  • A reduction in the internal labor costs of IT regarding telephony support and maintenance
  • A reduction of help desk call volume associated with setup and telephony problems
  • Improved productivity of clinical and administrative staff
  • Reduction in travel cost through the improved collaboration tools

There still other areas in which Lync and other platforms can offer more benefits to health care. There are a number of emerging solutions that are integrating the functionality of Lync into their solutions. Some real-time locating system (RTLS) vendors such as Luminosity have packages of the single click calling functionality in its RTLS application, which allows a single touch to dial the person identified through an organtization’s floor plan. Other providers and Microsoft partners have leveraged the capabilities of Lync servers to offer a fully functional and robust IVR (Interactive voice response) system for hospital organizations. Applications have been developed that enable patients to call in and receive account balance information as well as other clinical and health related details.

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