Perspectives: How enhanced digital communications can improve patient engagement

TTA has an open invitation to industry leaders to contribute to our Perspectives non-promotional opinion area. Today, we have a contribution from Dave O’Shaughnessy, Avaya’s Healthcare Practice Leader for EMEA and APAC. The subject is the hot button of patient engagement–how telehealth and virtual care systems can be used to connect patients to providers, improve patient understanding, and increase both patient and provider satisfaction.

Interested contributors should contact Editor Donna. (We like pictures and graphs too)

For most of us, the term “patient engagement” seems straightforward. Patients who come in for their annual exams or patients with a chronic disease who regularly take their prescribed medications are considered engaged patients. But what about the rest of us who feel reluctant to contact our GP when we have health concerns or don’t take our prescribed medicine when we should. If these people were better engaged, their patient experience and outcomes would be improved.

Communications technology that was once considered cutting-edge is now holding healthcare back and one of the most significant obstacles to building an engaged patient experience is the traditional calling-centric communication model. Today, implementation of virtual care systems (telehealth), especially via cloud-based software-as-a-service (SaaS) applications that can be accessed from smartphones or tablets, improves patient engagement levels, and directly contributes to their overall health and outcomes.

So, what should a healthcare provider look for in a modern cloud communication and customer engagement solution? Here are four vital components for starters:

A unified communications platform

A unified communications and patient engagement platform in the cloud provides seamless connections across modes of communication (voice, messaging, chatbots, online meetings, and video), as well as devices (desktop, mobile, and tablet devices). Because it’s all integrated, patients get to use their communication channel of choice over their device of choice, and providers get the features they need to ensure that patients can engage a suitable person when they get in touch. In addition, self-service capabilities such as automated messages for appointment reminders and confirmations help to dramatically reduce time-wasting no-shows for healthcare organisations.

Real-time communications and collaboration

Provision of care requires constant and intuitive access to clinical information and the ability to effectively and efficiently communicate across dispersed teams to exchange critical information throughout care-coordination workflows. Effective and secure real-time collaboration across all communications channels helps staff reach the right people across the organisation at the right time using the most appropriate mode of communication. Most critically of all, these communication services for clinical staff must be easy-to-use, leveraging features like Single Sign-on authentication across multiple apps on a mobile device and offering intuitive click-to-call or team-calling abilities helping teams collaborate easily and rapidly.

Follow-up Patient Engagement

When patients aren’t engaged, they are less likely to follow instructions, resulting in more frequent readmissions. Cloud-based communications solutions with features such as click-to-chat and click-to-video allow patients to keep informed of what, and when, they need to take action for positive health outcomes. Providers can also add automated outbound patient notifications using SMS or Chatbots to follow up on patient satisfaction surveys, freeing critical staff to focus on in-office patients and higher priority, higher quality services.

A Secure and Flexible Platform

To avoid the security pitfalls of Bring Your Own Device (BYOD), healthcare provider staff need a “one-device, two numbers” experience that enables them to securely use one device for both personal and business. And lastly, a communications solution should be able to seamlessly integrate with the most common digital systems used by healthcare professionals.

With the cloud, communication and collaboration can become integrated into one solution that works the way patients and providers work—across any device, anytime, anywhere. Most importantly, the flexibility of cloud communication—particularly when it comes to solutions with open platforms—means providers can add new capabilities in minutes, with almost immediate access to the latest innovations. Look to partner with a solutions provider that has proven experience in patient engagement and experience solutions.

AI-powered contact tracing as part of an ‘application ecosystem’ for COVID-19 information and vaccination

Following up with Avaya UK on October’s Perspectives on COVID-19 contact tracing and the use of AI to automate virtual agents for initial contact, they have released details on their contact tracing application that integrates with current Avaya software or into a company’s call center system. Based on their materials, it automates the initial contact with the individual using natural language text to a smartphone or tablet messaging app, web chat, or email. AI in the contact tracing app helps to screen the response and directs it to the correct agent. Augmentation tools provide real-time prompts and suggestions during a live call with the individual. Notifications can also be automated and also individual follow up can be made via text message. Additional features are detailed on their web page and in the contact tracing overview (PDF). Having heard horror stories from friends who have been subject to contact tracing and follow up apps in the wake of COVID-19 contacts and diagnoses, a great annoyance was daily live phone calls with agents repeatedly asking the same information and making the same assistance offers. Text messages would have been far more acceptable and directive.

Contact tracing is a part of their OneCloud Communications Platform as a Service (CPaaS) which enables organizations to design their own applications and workflows with a platform that supports SMS, MMS, voice, messaging, transcriptions, and digital channels. With vaccination now front and center, for provider organizations, OneCloud can be used to build systems for COVID-19 vaccination information access, recruiting staff, and administering the process. Additional details are in their OneCloud CPaaS overview.

This week, OneCloud for healthcare was awarded Frost & Sullivan’s Competitive Strategy Leadership Award. Release.

Hat tip to Mary Burtt of AxiCom UK

Perspectives: How Advanced Communications Technology Has Created A ‘New Normal’ In Healthcare

TTA has an open invitation to industry leaders to contribute to our Perspectives non-promotional opinion area. Today, we have a contribution from Dave O’Shaughnessy, Avaya’s Healthcare Leader for EMEA and APAC, with a brief discussion of how AI and advanced communications technology can help healthcare in the long term. (It’s hard to say ‘a post-COVID world as France and Germany are experiencing second round lockdowns, and UK may not be far behind.) Interested contributors should contact Editor Donna. (We like pictures and graphs too)

Across industries, we see working patterns being transformed to create the ‘new normal’ as a result of COVID-19 and our reactions to the pandemic. The healthcare sector has been no different. The pandemic and its restrictions have brought a great number of new challenges to healthcare systems. And as has been the case across so many other sectors, communications technology has stepped in to plug the gaps caused by the pandemic.

The good news is that, not only have communications solutions successfully plugged the gaps, but they’ve also provided a blueprint for the future of healthcare. As we’ve found in other industries, we’ve actually seen the intelligent adoption of this technology lead to better experiences for patients, and better outcomes for providers, than were present before.

The most important (and immediate) area where this is most obvious is in contact tracing – tracking the physical, interpersonal interactions of those who have tested positive for COVID-19. This helps identify people who may need to be quarantined more quickly, therefore reducing the spread of the virus.

Helping government and healthcare organizations across the world with their contact tracing efforts, what we’ve found is that the most effective contact tracing efforts make use of artificial intelligence and automation. After all, the effort involves mountains of meticulous information gathering and analysis—all required to meet standards set by global health and government agencies. Acting upon that data manually just isn’t feasible, given the immediate needs at hand.

Therefore, the best systems employ AI virtual agents for initial patient contact, as well as for the simple data collection interactions – only falling back to live agents when the interaction becomes more complex. AI is also employed to deliver cloud-based, proactive notifications to automatically reach out to individuals or groups with optional response tracking, text interaction, and auto-forms to capture critical information.

Patients benefit from a smoother experience while providing the tracing information required, while healthcare providers and governments are able to collect more information with the resources they have.

Even without these focused AI technologies, however, our customers are putting their advanced contact centers to good use in combating the pandemic. In Saudi Arabia, for instance, one medical facility adopted a multi-experience approach, making it easy for patients to get the COVID-19-related information they need through a wide range of communications channels. This provided demonstrated results for improved knowledge on coronavirus safety measures in the community.

Going forward, we see tremendous use cases for extending this technology to make it easier for patients to directly engage with their doctors through asynchronous messaging. Such capabilities are of particular interest to mental health providers, who have found themselves unable to conduct in-person therapy sessions in the face of increased demand.

All of these solutions were implemented because of specific, pandemic-related challenges. But once the pandemic subsides, they’ll continue providing value, making it easier for patients to consume healthcare services, while delivering increased efficiency for providers.

Hat tip to Mary Burtt of AxiCom UK

Digital health on the front lines of coronavirus checking, treatment and prevention (updated 2 Mar)

Coronavirus (COVID-19), which originated in Wuhan, China and has spread to at least 40 countries and 80,000 victims, with 2,700 fatalities, has been roiling both financial and healthcare markets. The stock price of payers in the US have been hit hard due to an anticipated uptick in illness, but interestingly, Teladoc has been up quite smartly in the past few days. Teladoc reported that one of eight virtual visits in January was due to flu, which isn’t atypical–but half had not used Teladoc before. Analysts do expect that there’s an opportunity for telehealth and telemedicine providers to attract new users due to what this Editor has dubbed ‘conscious contact’–that if you even feel remotely sick, you’re going to turn to a virtual visit.

COVID-19 is not remotely near a pandemic outside of China. The three hallmarks of a pandemic are cross-seasonal outbreaks (so far only in China), cross-geography (done), and most importantly, attacking the well. The fatalities have been among those with compromised immune systems, not among the young and healthy who do get it. It’s alarming, like SARS, because of the origination in animals, and the ease of person-to-person transmission via travel, as the outbreaks in Iran, South Korea, Italy, and on cruise ships visiting Asia have confirmed. In the US, the CDC is reporting that it is not currently spreading in the community, but is preparing for that scenario including containment, and has been since January.

But beyond the virtual visit, there are other areas where digital health is part of dealing with COVID-19:

  • Preventing the spread to the patient’s family members. Avaya has been working in China since January to provide enterprise customers with home agents to prevent the spread of the virus. For hospitals, they have donated equipment to enable remote consultation services and remote visiting video at the hospitals, including observation of isolation wards. They have provided a case study of their work with the Tongxiang Hospital at the Tongxiang Branch of Zhejiang Province People’s Hospital. (Photo at left courtesy of Avaya.) 
  • Another is remote patient monitoring. Sheba Medical Center in Tel Hashomer, Israel, is using Tyto Care to monitor the 12 Israeli returnees from the Diamond Princess cruise ship, who continue to be in isolation. The patients will perform the tests on themselves, especially respiratory tests. Jerusalem Post 
    • Update 2 Mar: A representative from Sheba, the largest hospital system in the Middle East, was kind enough to contact me with additional information on their RPM program for COVID-19. For patients requiring isolation in that stage of treatment, Sheba has implemented a modular ‘field hospital’ setup, similar to what the Israeli (and US) military use, which can be set up in any open area. This isolation is to protect immunosuppressed patients from disease spread in the main hospitals. Telehealth being used in addition to Tyto are the Vici telemedicine robot and the Datos Health app for home treated patients. This Editor believes that both European and US public health systems are looking at the Sheba and Israeli approach.
  • Robots–actually a telehealth cart–are being tested for patient self-testing, much like Tyto Care’s use at Sheba. Robots could also deliver food (although they could also carry germs) and sweep streets.
  • Other monitoring can be done via symptom checkers (Babylon, K, and others). 98point6 released a coronavirus screening chatbot app as early as January, but what they’ve turned up so far is more cases of the flu. STAT
  • Data analytics can pinpoint outbreaks. The Epic, Athenahealth, and Meditech EHRs have released new guidance, testing orders and screening questions (e.g. around travel and contacts) that will help to identify outbreaks.

Update 28 Feb: This Editor would like to know more about UV disinfection being used versus coronavirus for large spaces such as in hospitals and aircraft. If you have information on technologies such as PurpleSun which have been tested against hospital pathogens also being used against coronavirus, please contact Editor Donna.

Healthcare technologies which weren’t around during the SARS and swine flu epidemics may make a big difference in the spread, treatment and mortality rate of COVID-19. Healthcare Dive, HealthTechMagazine

UPDATE 28 FEB

As a service to our Readers, we are providing the following health service update links:

The UK Department of Health and Social Care and Public Health England has provided the following links to coronavirus guidance (hat tip to DOHSC via LinkedIn):

👩‍⚕️ Health: http://bit.ly/37qkWaV
🚂 Transport: http://bit.ly/2HDOFBW
👩‍🎓 Education: http://bit.ly/38KT41O
👨‍💼 Employers: http://bit.ly/2TfwpUT
🏡 Social care: http://bit.ly/2VhBIG9

US Centers for Disease Control (CDC)

World Health Organization (WHO) main website on coronavirus:https://www.who.int/health-topics/coronavirus

Health Canada’s main page: http://ow.ly/bLtF50yfJb7