Community health center Urban Health Plan enhances patient service and simplifies management with unified communications system.
The recent shift to electronic health records (EHR) and open standards, combined with the need to integrate communications with business processes, has encouraged many in the healthcare community to consider unified communications (UC) systems. Urban Health Plan, for one, had been interested in voice over IP (VoIP) since 2000, looking for a system that would be easy to manage as well as feature-rich — enabling capabilities such as call forwarding, remote voice mail and automated attendant, workgroups and multiple desktop applications. The problem was that most of the VoIP systems staff looked at were difficult to install and did not offer voice quality comparable to traditional analog standards.
Then Daniel Figueras, chief technology officer of Urban Health Plan, decided to test-drive an IP telephony system with a small pilot installation at a newly opened site with 20 handsets. After six months of operation, he decided to implement the ShoreTel solution network-wide across its four sites, totaling more than 300 medical communication devices, six 24-port digital telephone switches and three T-1 interface switches.
“What ultimately tipped the scales in ShoreTel's direction was the ease of installation and management,” Figueras says.
Urban Health Plan wanted to utilize its existing wide-area network and make intersite dialing easier. The automated attendant features make routing calls for appointments and referrals more efficient. Additionally, it makes transferring to night service as easy as setting up schedules for each site.
Transitiing from its analog PBX to the Shoretel equipment, however, took an unexpected course. Power outages provided a surprise to the organization when its analog switch “fried” (power supply, backplane, cards). Urban Health was on emergency plain old telephone service (POTS) lines and its call center was offline.
Patient care was not affected due to the implementation of the disaster-recovery plan, which included an emergency kit with phones to attach to POTS lines. Staff felt isolated from the outside world, however, and wanted to minimize any inconvenience to patients making telephone appointments.
“The UC system is ideal for us because it provides the flexibility and scalability to match our future expansion plans at our pace and budget.”
Working with Lou Person from BrightStack, a ShoreTel reseller, Figueras' staff switched to the ShoreTel system. Within less than 24 hours, the UC system was partially up and all Urban Health Plan sites had connectivity. Within days, the call center was fully operational and ready for business.
In 2009, Urban Health Plan opened up another site in a different borough and integrated that site to the enterprise with the ShoreTel system. Calls are routed through four-digit extensions and the system is easy to manage from one console, according to Figueras.
“The UC system is ideal for us because it provides the flexibility and scalability to match our future expansion plans at our pace and budget,” he says.
Late last year, UHP was searching for ways to provide faster access for patients to some of its specialists. The UC system was upgraded to take advantage of videoconferencing features. This allows Urban Health Plan's subspecialists, as well as primary-care physicians, to be contacted quickly by peers and administrative staff.
“A dermatologist now can be consulted to view a particular rash and offer an opinion to determine the etiology of the skin lesion,” Figueras says. “Having an expert opinion by a dermatologist in a relatively instant and direct manner with the use of videoconferencing enhances the value of the visit for the patient.
“The implementation of an enterprise VoIP phone system has dramatically increased our communications effectiveness, responsiveness and agility, which has enabled us to better serve our patients through shorter telephone wait times,” Figueras says.
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