Telehealth and cloud communications in the wake of a pandemic
These last 12 months, the healthcare sector has been even more in the spotlight. The NHS, already crippled by funding cuts, tied up in bureaucracy, and held back by ill-fitting administrative and communications technology, endured greater strain under the weight of the global pandemic.
Care workers—overworked, underpaid, and even underfed—were at greater risk than ever. Instead of cash, we gave them claps; instead of providing PPE, we put them on pedestals. In July 2020, Amnesty reported the UK had among the highest COVID-19 health worker deaths in the world. With the technology available, it could have, and should have, been a different story.
The situation, however, did yield some positive outcomes. As in industries such as media, ecommerce and education, healthcare benefited from the digital tools at its disposal. Through technology, healthcare practitioners were able to mitigate some of the problems brought on by the need to physically distance. The experience highlighted ways in which the healthcare sector can operate in a safer and more efficient way post-pandemic.
Read Restarting the UK through technology
A new approach
Facing the COVID-19 pandemic, UK healthcare providers and practitioners had to find a way to migrate the classic healthcare “bedside manner” away from the bedside and into a more virtual environment without compromising patient care.
Telehealth played a key role in this, offering a combination of visual and aural exchange while maintaining the required minimised risk of exposure to infection for all parties. The use of video conferencing tools wasn’t new to healthcare in 2020, but its reliance on third-party carriers had restricted widespread uptake of the promising technology.
Historically, user adoption and data security were among the key roadblocks for healthcare providers regarding cloud-first migration. However, during the weeks leading up to the UK’s first nationwide lockdown, telehealth went from being a progressive but controversial approach to an absolutely indispensable model for healthcare providers.
Fast-tracking progress in telehealth
Amid rising infection rates, reducing person-to-person contact became a key concern. Finding ways to ensure patients could see a doctor without leaving home were paramount to easing some of the overwhelming demand placed on healthcare services.
In April 2020, when the Royal College of General Practitioners reported that 71% of routine consultations were being delivered remotely through video meeting software, compared with a 25% rate from the same period last year, the uptake in telehealth accelerated.
Freeing up already stretched NHS resources and time through more innovative uses of technologies drove massive adoption of telehealth platforms such as the Babylon Health app and Pando.
Using video meetings and unified communications technology for consultations
While misconceptions regarding the security risks of cloud communications lingered, these were eventually alleviated as tools proved their value. Cloud communications security has come a long way in the past decade, including the installation of multiple layers of built-in application security and encryption in addition to stringent physical security protocols to protect all customer data.
Such measures mean that this level of enterprise-grade security is trusted by banks, governmental bodies, and healthcare providers. Indeed, cloud security architecture on average is much more secure than the measures or services that individual government agencies are able to budget for.
This created the opportunity for practitioners to use cloud conferencing solutions to reduce person-to-person contact through one-to-one video consultations without compromising patient data.
US-based medical practice Liquid Networx is one of many organisations that made use of unified communications to move to a telehealth model. Deploying RingCentral software as a reaction to patient needs during the pandemic, Liquid Networx helped partners to deliver fully encrypted, secure video consultations and telemedicine appointments on a one-to-one basis with patients.
Effective collaboration between practitioners
The emergence of temporary hospitals or field hospitals to keep up with patient demand meant that keeping staff securely connected across multiple sites, via multiple devices, was also vital. Avoiding multi-layered technologies that don’t integrate was a key security consideration for healthcare providers wanting to connect multiple departments and institutions instantly.
Leading dentistry firm Pacific Dental Services (PDS) was one of many healthcare organisations to take advantage of cloud communications software to streamline its cloud solutions and fine-tune patient experience during the lockdown.
In the words of Michael Brown, IT Enterprise Operations Manager at PDS,
“Our doctors are even using RingCentral Video to do face-to-face follow-ups with patients. I think that’s key to helping us improve that personal relationship between our dentists and their patients.”
PDS improved its day-to-day operations, integrating business-critical apps to improve workflow productivity, to remain compliant, and to simplify collaboration and communication across an employee base of over 10,000 people.
Next step: Omnichannel communications for a more streamlined patient experience
Video meetings and cloud communication tools have quietly become a powerful force in how central and local healthcare agencies serve our communities. Once considered experimental and expensive, the technology for video conferencing has advanced in recent years to accommodate the health system’s security and data privacy needs, making it a straightforward and cost-efficient replacement for the end-of-life systems that no longer do the job.
In the chaos of the pandemic, GP surgeries and healthcare institutions are not only looking to adhere to the government’s Cloud First policy; the essential driver is that cloud solutions allow patients more freedom and choice in terms of how to receive healthcare services. Adopting an omnichannel communications solution means healthcare providers can meet those expectations and deliver a streamlined consultation experience. The ultimate result is a better level of care along with the freeing up of invaluable time and NHS resources, as providers seek to reduce the risk of future resurgence.
Originally published Jan 28, 2021, updated Jan 16, 2023