Tara MahoneyMay 26, 2020

The Crisis Within a Crisis: How to Steer Your Health Systems’ Communications During and After COVID-19

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The other day, I stumbled upon an opinion piece from The Guardian titled, “Coronavirus is a tragedy – but it could be the wake-up call we need.” I agree. As Avaya’s Global Healthcare Practice Leader, I can’t help but think that COVID-19--while devastating--is a forewarning for the U.S. healthcare system and many globally as well.   

This pandemic has taught us that interactions between patients, community and care team members is vital, and that we need to be able to support this communication in dynamic new ways. Avaya has been working quickly with healthcare providers to do so:

  • A key healthcare services provider leading the COVID-19 testing effort has been able to continue its critically important work while moving over 2,300 employees to a remote setup with the help of Avaya solutions.
  • One of the largest healthcare providers in the southwest U.S., with more than 10,000 Avaya UC users, was able to maintain its high level of health services while moving staff to a work-from-home environment for safe social distancing. The company has also worked with government health departments across the U.S. to get emergency call centers up and running in a matter of hours.
  • Lebanese American University Medical Center announced the launch of their Telecare service run by LAU physicians who are supervised by the Division of Infectious Diseases.  They are offering video-based consultations for students and members of the community who are concerned about exposure to COVID-19, using Avaya technology.
  • Avaya recently helped the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority and Shared Health Manitoba leverage CPaaS solutions to ramp up their ability to respond to huge increases in call center volume.
  • WellMedic Health Centers, one of the most innovative health and wellness centers in Latin America, implemented Avaya communication and contact center solutions for remote agents to address its current challenges.

People are suffering due to COVID-19, but they are also suffering because they cannot stay connected with their care plan. Right now, I have a friend who is suffering because her breast cancer treatment is being delayed. Another is waiting on a hernia operation after internal bleeding. We need to handle more interactions, over distance, with fewer human resources. We have to more creatively engage and inform. We need a more elastic communications network. Not just now during crisis mode, but long-term. I have often thought, of late, this must be how rural or marginalized communities feel with their access to care.

Communications technologies can help us in this wake-up call. Here at Avaya, we see four great opportunities for change as health systems are faced with unprecedented pressure to support patients under extreme resource constraints.

Patient, community and staff proactive outreach and engagement

Health systems are dealing with rates of change never seen before. They’re expected to keep up with changes in policy, procedures, awareness and regulations while continually engaging with communities to reduce the risk of spreading the disease, supporting at-risk populations, and educating patients, families, communities and staff.

Proactive notification solutions, often in the cloud, allow providers to automatically reach out to individuals or groups with optional response tracking, text interaction, and auto-forms to capture information. It is critical that set up and management be Web-based so that operational and clinical staff can easily create notification campaigns that address both COVID-19 as well as a long-term strategy of patient engagement without dependence on IT. These tools ensure staff are spending time on highest priority patient interactions and that no patient or community is left behind.

These notifications are also relied on for better care team coordination. In Chicago, Medical Home Network (a non-profit collaborative) has identified patterns of diagnosis codes with real-time patient hospital visit data to help frontline care teams be more proactive about suspect COVID-19 cases. Using this algorithm, they are pushing real-time admission, discharge, and transfer notifications and tagging potential COVID patients to frontline care teams across the region.

Managing inquiries efficiently with the support patients need

Customers are flooding health organizations not only regarding COVID-19 (symptom checking, self-isolation, etc.) but their existing appointments, procedures, billing inquiries and more. Health systems need to be able to efficiently handle this huge influx in call volume and inquiries.

Automated inbound communication solutions like intelligent voice response with digital deflection help health systems maintain quality of service while easing the strain on their human resources. The solution can recognize callers faster, become conversational (they can listen and provide more natural, human-like interactions), and even monitor sentiment to personalize messages and menus. Providers can set up hotlines and interactive voice applications on-demand; automate messages giving patients pertinent information based on their needs; capture customer input leveraging auto-forms, and more. They can also redirect patients to digital assets and online support to help patients and families who cannot be together.

Virtual care

Now more than ever, care team members need to be able to assess and treat patients even if they are not at bedside. At the same time, personnel need to be able to intelligently coordinate anywhere, anytime over any device. COVID-19 has made painfully clear the need for a strong telehealth and telemedicine strategy.

A cloud-based video conferencing and appointment application allows health systems to create patient rooms and virtual visits. Care team members, family and friends, and of course the patient can enter the space, whether this be patient home visits or within the care facility, to share content (patient charts, medication details, care plan instructions, images) and use a number of tools to effortlessly collaborate. Clinical contact centers also allow nurses, providers, and mental health professionals to triage patients and send them to the best care facility, including continuous virtual care, to support a patient in need.

In New York, where COVID-19 infection and death rates are among the highest, we’re seeing the accelerated use of video conferencing for connecting care team members and relatives to make decisions about loved ones whose lives have been put in peril. One story comes from The New York Times, where family members met online with physicians and the palliative care team for complicated decision making regarding their grandmother--the matriarch of the family--who was in the I.C.U.

Flexibility in care

COVID-19 has proven that health systems are unprepared for the unforeseen, with most scrambling to have employees work from home, remote locations or new temporary locations to serve affected patients. Employees need to be connected to the rest of the organization, wherever they are, whatever device they are using, to ensure optimal health outcomes.

A robust, mobile-first, Care Team Communications solution places your health system, and all its users, in complete control of communications, delivering a unified communications experience that’s intuitive to use and accessible from any phone, browser or mobile device. This kind of solution offers unlimited audio and video conferencing with the ability to chat, screen-share, assign tasks, store documents and more during meetings. There’s also easy administration for managing and troubleshooting the system.

Remote contact center agent solutions allow you to continue servicing customers regarding access and scheduling, billing and revenue cycle, prescription management, IT helpdesk and other functions that drive operations but are not required on the frontlines.

We must ask ourselves: what will happen next time? Whether it’s another epidemic (one with a more aggressive disease and death rate than COVID-19), a weather-related issue or a general lack of resources. Patients, relatives and care team members will still need to touch base. Health systems will need to be able to grow and shrink in capacity and support people in different areas of the world and at home. Peoples’ lives will depend on the ability to seamlessly connect, communicate, and collaborate.

Avaya is here to help with HIPAA-compliant offers for Care Team Coordination, Patient Access and Revenue Cycle Services and Telehealth and Telemedicine. Learn how our solutions can help you in the here and now during this crisis as well as build a long-term communications resiliency plan.

The Crisis Within a Crisis: How to Steer Your Health Systems’ Communications During and After COVID-19

Tara Mahoney

Tara has experience consulting with health systems globally, developing best practices and use cases leveraging communications technologies. She helps define and deliver solutions for patients, providers and payers including: mobile care team coordination and collaboration, digital channel patient access to services, virtual care solutions. She gets her energy from working closely with the Healthcare Administrators, Frontline Practitioners and IT Leadership defining requirements, delivering design and working closely with users through to implementation.

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