Whether you run a single-site healthcare practice or a chain of locations, you’re relying on technology to connect medical staff, admin, and patients in a real-time, collaborative, and confidential way—especially when you have a lot of staff working remotely.
The first thing you’ll need? An integrated communications platform, also commonly known as a UCaaS (Unified Communications as a Service) platform, that handles everything that’s communication-related, both with your clients and patients and your own staff. If we can have a holistic approach to healthcare, why not have a holistic approach to communication?
Whether you have a team that’s mobile or clinics in different locations that need to be aligned in terms of staffing and communication, having a UCaaS platform can pay dividends in terms of keeping your team on the same page while saving you time and resources.
In this guide, we’ll break down the key benefits of UCaaS platforms for healthcare practices and show you what to consider before making a purchase decision.
What are the benefits of UCaaS for healthcare practices?
UCaaS platforms are cloud-based communications solutions that bring together all your communication channels into one, centralized system.
The suite of communication channels available within any given UCaaS platform depends on the provider and the particular needs of the customer. But, in general, UCaaS platforms include a hosted phone system, video conferencing, messaging tools, and contact center capabilities.
For healthcare organizations, UCaaS platforms offer numerous benefits, including:
- Better collaboration and communication:
Since all your communication channels are unified into one seamless environment, employees and practitioners can reach each other immediately wherever they are. This is especially important in a healthcare setting, where patient-specific care relies on the ability of clinicians and caregivers to respond to emergencies, monitor critical cases, and coordinate treatments.
- Better service:
Many healthcare organizations rely on outdated or incompatible communication systems which can bring about delays, inconsistencies, and overall inefficiency in patient care. This can undermine patient trust and confidence and cause additional stress during what may already be an anxiety-fraught experience. By improving communication efficiency, UCaaS platforms help you create a smoother patient journey and can support additional patient services like telemedicine.
- Better security:
Healthcare data breaches are very costly and can cause long-lasting reputational damage. Outdated communications systems are especially vulnerable to cyberattacks, whereas cloud-based communication providers can better focus their resources on identifying and eliminating new cyber threats.
- Cost and technical efficiency:
Cloud-based communications solutions eliminate the hardware maintenance and repair costs of location-based solutions. UCaaS platforms let you access all the tools you need immediately, and give you the flexibility to upgrade or downgrade your set-up as you see fit.
How to choose the right UCaaS platform
If you’re starting from scratch—or looking to upgrade your systems—how exactly should you go about selecting a new UCaaS platform to fit not only your specific needs but also those of your staff and patients?
Let’s imagine Dr. Frank—an oncologist in the Midwest. Her story is likely one that you’re familiar with, if you’ve ever thought about choosing a good phone system or communication tool for your practice.
For some time, Dr. Frank’s phone system system had been letting her down. Patient records were hard to access, her admin staff often had difficulty scheduling appointments, and patients didn’t feel they were being communicated with efficiently.
Her team, many of whom either work remotely or are on the road visiting patients—had long complained about the difficulty collaborating with other staff, accessing patient records remotely, and communicating with patients. The need for a better remote working solution was critical for Dr. Frank.
She knew she needed to get a new system, but she felt overwhelmed by the task.
To get an idea of what other professionals were doing, Dr. Frank spoke to an old med school friend who had recently set up her own practice after leaving a big-city hospital. Her friend had used seven criteria to select her new UCaaS system:
- Ease of use
- Easy video calling
- Third-party integrations
Here’s how Dr. Frank used these criteria—and how you can evaluate UCaaS systems based on them.
Dr. Frank quickly found out that UCaaS systems for healthcare range significantly in cost—and often, the advertised price was only the starting point.
Price can be influenced by the size of a practice and its specialty, but it seemed to also change depending on what and even how she wanted to purchase. Some systems had a monthly fee, and different add-ons increased the cost. Some providers charged for training and support.
She was sure to reach out to multiple providers to compare prices, but first, she gathered all the key information about her practice:
- How many physicians need to use the system?
- How many patients would there be?
- How many locations?
- What features are her must-haves and what are her nice-to-haves?
- And of course, her needs as a specialist—in her case, oncology.
Two unexpected costs were hardware and migration. Her current computers and network were old—she’d had them for about a decade—so she needed to factor in the cost of new desktop computers, tablets, and networks, as well as understanding how much time and money it would take to move from her old systems to her new one.
2. Ease of use
One of Dr. Frank’s top priorities was figuring out who would be using the platform the most:
- Her medical staff would be reviewing and modifying patient records, communicating with patients whether through voice calls or video calls, and submitting tests—whether they were working remotely or in the office.
- Her admin staff would be registering patients, making appointments, sending reports, and managing health insurance on laptops, home computers, tablets, and phones, from wherever they happen to be located.
- Her remote accountant would be helping to manage accounts, budgets, and revenue.
Her old med school colleague recommended she make sure all these people are consulted and included in the decision-making process. Before she even started contacting platform suppliers, she wanted to have a better understanding of the workflows, processes, and business needs of her practice and her staff.
The goal? To make sure everyone in her practice would be comfortable with the system she chose. Ideally she wanted a platform that had the option to make phone and video calls, and send messages in one convenient app.
Dr. Frank also found it helpful to talk with other doctors to learn about their UCaaS system purchasing experiences so that she could flag potential usability problems that she and her staff might not be able to anticipate.
And of course, she tested each system herself. Most UCaaS systems are cloud-based, which means staff can use them anywhere in the world—not just in the office. But instead of just relying on the salesperson or brochure’s claims, Dr. Frank made sure she tested all functionality claims—on her laptop at home, on her mobile phone and tablet, and on both Wi-Fi and cellular data networks.
Not only did this help her confirm reliability, but it also gave her a better feel of what it was like to actually use the system. Was there a central dashboard? Was it intuitive to find what she was looking for? Would her distributed staff be able to use all the necessary functionality?
She got her staff to experiment with the various platforms from a variety of locations to be sure they were comfortable with layouts and could apply their workflows in each one. And she made sure the platform she chose could be customized to suit her own needs.
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3. Easy video calling
As an oncologist, Dr. Frank and her team needed to be able to speak to patients face to face, whether it’s to elaborate on a diagnosis or to discuss next steps in treatment. It was important for her to have that level of communication as she’d built up strong relationships with patients, and even though sometimes she couldn’t physically be in the same room as patients, a video call—not a phone call—was the next best thing.
But she didn’t want her patients to have to download video conferencing software just to speak to her. That wouldn’t be very convenient and you could never quite predict when technical difficulties would arise when installing apps. Dr. Frank didn’t want to sacrifice the client experience just so her practice could use a new piece of technology.
So, Dr. Frank wanted a video conferencing tool that allowed patients to join her video meetings in the simplest way possible: by clicking a link in an internet browser. She began narrowing down her list of UCaaS options to tools that gave her this option:
4. Third-party integrations
Most practices need integrations to labs, pharmacies, and hospitals—and they also need to be able to access their own third-party communication, accounting, marketing, and payment platforms.
Dr. Frank found that a critical (but much overlooked) area of integration was a UCaaS platform’s ability to sync with other tools that a healthcare practice uses. These could be practice management systems, electronic medical records software, and more. This was critical for her remote administrative staff and her medical partners who were constantly on the go.
Compliance and data security were major considerations for Dr. Frank—especially with so much of her communication with patients happening increasingly over video calls.
Luckily, she found a UCaaS tool that integrated with ThetaLake, which meant that she could easily detect compliance risks in what was said, shown, or shared in her appointments with patients over video calls:
This was especially important as Dr. Frank’s practice was located in a Midwestern community with many patients located in rural areas, Dr. Frank also wanted to start focusing more on providing telehealth through her practice—patient care, diagnosis, advice, and monitoring over long distance—which meant good, HITRUST-CSF certified patient communication and collaboration was going to be a key component of her new system.
Dr. Frank knew that her patients’ data security was paramount, that regulations in the healthcare industry are strict, and that any UCaaS solution she adopted would have to have top-notch security.
She made a quick list of requirements that were non-negotiable:
- HITRUST CSF certified
- Both data and physical security, including data encryption
- Third-party audits, specifically SSAE 18 certified and SOC 2/SOC 3 compliant data centers
- HIPAA Business Associate Agreements available
Before selecting a platform, Dr. Frank researched the providers she was considering to see what compliance audits they were subject to and how often they were vetted. And of course, she made sure to find out more about each provider’s internal security measures.
Some of her staff were super comfortable with technology. Others, not so much. Dr. Frank knew off the bat that training was an important element to consider. If her staff didn’t know how to use all the system’s features, she’d never realize its full benefits—no matter how great her new UCaaS system was.
Training offerings for the UCaaS systems ranged from on-site training in her offices, to live online sessions, to pre-made tutorials. She wanted a supplier that could accommodate trainees with varying technical aptitudes and provide follow-up training sessions after the initial engagement. All training—live and recorded—needed to be easily accessible online for remote staff. And she made sure she was clear on what training was part of the package and what was an extra cost.
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The system she ultimately selected needed to last Dr. Frank for years to come, but she knew there would still be problems along the way. So from the outset, she wanted to understand what sort of ongoing support she could get from her supplier—and how much it would cost.
At the very least, Dr. Frank wanted a provider that would help her troubleshoot when her staff ran into issues with the system. And if problems persisted, she needed a provider that would help her fix them—fast. After talking to a few providers, she learned that the structure of support relationships varied greatly. For example, some offered live chat support or 24/7 phone support, while others also offered a dedicated relationship manager.
Before signing a deal for a new UCaaS system, Dr. Frank made sure she fully understood how a provider would support her throughout the life of the system.
Choosing the right UCaaS for a healthcare practice
Whether you are an oncologist or a run a health and wellness center, this example of Dr. Frank’s UCaaS journey should give you a good starting point in your own search for a communication platform.
Your unique needs will of course be different from Dr. Frank’s, but consider how she structured her selection process to make sure she had a clear understanding of her practice’s requirements and how each system she vetted could meet her expectations in a way that would help her build her practice, help her staff be more productive, and provide a better experience for her patients—without being bound to a physical location.