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Chain of urgent care clinics boosts uptime

A chain of rural urgent care clinics was suffering from network and phone downtime until it installed a cloud-based network "bonding" service from Evolve IP.

When your data and phone networks lapse into downtime, patients tend to not stick around.

ClearChoiceMD, a chain of urgent care clinics in rural northern New England, learned that bitter lesson as the two-year-old, physician-owned startup was battered by a series of failures of its DSL, cable, fiber, T1 and wireless networks.

Physicians hampered by downtime

Doctors in ClearChoiceMD's far-flung rural outposts found themselves unable to file prescriptions, access their EHR systems from DocuTAP and athenahealth, Inc. or order lab work online, and staff couldn't communicate reliably with the 10 urgent care clinic chain's headquarters in New London, N.H.

The result was dissatisfied patients, many of whom opted to leave rather than wait even though the nearest alternative healthcare provider was many miles away, said ClearChoiceMD's IT director, Alex Fuchs.

"When the data link goes down, there goes charting; there goes e-prescribing; there go customers out the door," Fuchs said.

Unreliable Internet infrastructure

While most of ClearChoiceMD's locations are served by big Internet service providers, in many rural regions across the country, the infrastructure tends to be thin and outages hit as often as two to four times a week, Fuchs said.

"It was very, very annoying," he said. "Patient volume was hemorrhaging."

Fuchs and his colleagues decided they needed to find a way to ensure more uptime. So they evaluated more than a dozen companies purporting to keep the online pipeline of small businesses such as ClearChoiceMD running.

In the end, the clinic chain chose Evolve IP, a Philadelphia area-based communications and cloud services firm that sells its uptime maintenance and disaster recovery hardware and software systems to healthcare and other industries.

Evolve IP network appliances

Under the system Evolve IP tailored for the urgent care provider, the vendor supplied each clinic with an IP appliance -- a device that bonds the urgent care clinics' Internet connections and distributes online traffic across several lines to the one that is up at the moment.

In this way, Evolve IP helps give its customer continuous uptime by providing a static IP address as well as reliable voice over Internet service, Fuchs said.

The improvement was immediate and "we saw an ROI almost on day one," Fuchs said.

Evolve IP customers pay a flat fee per site for telephone extensions and enter into monthly lease-type arrangements for the Internet connection bonding service.

When the data link goes down, there goes charting; there goes e-prescribing; there go customers out the door.
Alex FuchsIT director, ClearChoiceMD

The services aren't as inexpensive as those offered by public cloud providers, but Evolve IP provides more custom installation and support, according to ClearChoiceMD and Evolve IP.

Data security in the cloud

Evolve IP provides fully HIPAA compliant data encryption, including encrypted voice mail storage, said Scott Kinka, the company's chief technology officer.

"All data is encrypted when it's stored in our cloud or stored in transit or at rest," Kinka said.

The Evolve IP system ClearChoiceMD uses is Cloud Connect, which brings users' various network connections together in an Evolve IP private cloud, while monitoring all traffic to ensure lines are healthy and uptime is optimized.

Let us know what you think about this urgent care clinics story; email Shaun Sutner, news and features writer, or contact @SSutner on Twitter.

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