By Dipak Prasad, senior product manager, Devbridge.
Communication is one of the most important parts of the healthcare industry, but as it stands it may be the most challenging element as well. To reach the best patient outcomes, it is critical for patients, doctors, hospitals, and facilities to communicate with one another seamlessly, securely, and digitally.
The incredible amount of information that needs to be accurately communicated presents a challenge by itself, but the extensive regulations create an added layer of difficulty. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) strives to protect the private data of a patient but creates challenges when having to quickly communicate critical information from different parts of the medical team.
Currently, many organizations are decentralized and use multiple digital outlets. There is company-sponsored email, instant message, and portals, plus personal email accounts, mobile and messaging applications—all with the potential to complicate and compromise the quality and security of communication.
Software has the ability to automate certain administrative tasks, enabling medical professionals to focus on patient care and improving patient outcomes. In a notoriously and widely distributed workforce where communication is essential, introducing an effective unified communication tool will increase operational efficiency, decrease infrastructure and maintenance costs.
A unified communication tool needs to connect all personnel across distributed locations, divisions, departments, and functions. A unified system should:
- Be flexible and extensible—enabling adaption to future needs
- Support multiple communication methods (voice, text, data, video)
- Integrate with existing systems. Put the user experience at the forefront rivaling widely-used mobile communication platforms (WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger)
- Cater to user requirements by including unique, job-enhancing features based on real scenarios.
- Increase operational efficiency while being secure and HIPAA compliant
Tips on how to create an effective communications system:
Diagnose the problem: Run a discovery phase to identify organizational issues and opportunities for improvement through story mapping workshops with stakeholders, interviewing end-users, and conducting surveys. Then, create a service blueprint noting your findings. Ensure all stakeholders are aligned.
Define the minimum viable product (MVP): Prioritize the most significant issues and tackle those first to define the goals for the MVP. Validate your wireframes and prototypes with the original group of individuals who determined the problem space to inform the solution. Allow the test group to try the product early and often, allowing them to guide the solution and feel involved in the process.
Consider security: Regulations are always changing. The risks for non-compliance are BIG (jail, huge fines, as well as irreparable damage to the organization.) Stay up to date on the latest rules and regulations. To be HIPAA compliant, you must safeguard 3 areas: administrative, evaluate risk and vulnerabilities for Protected Health Information; physical, prevent unauthorized access; and technical, ensure data security.
Build-in data analytics: Create a data-informed product strategy with clear metrics outlining success. Track adoption and gather feedback continuously to measure success, failures, and inform future workflow integrations to improve the product. Use the data-informed metrics to take back to the service blueprint and inform future workflows.
Leverage a CI/CD pipeline: Once armed with user feedback and analytics, the team can respond and push updates to meet user demand quickly. When used effectively, the pipeline should use testing and feedback to increase efficiency, reduce cost, deploy code quickly and embrace iteration and information sharing.
Pilot and release the MVP: Be sure to have an adoption strategy to promote the product. Then release the MVP to test the waters to track use and gather feedback. Releasing the MVP to market with pilot users enables software teams to move beyond the complexities of deploying to app stores and production, gather early user feedback, and iterate. Use this test release to pay attention to the administrative and non-technical work that is required to release the product to production.
Integrate workflows: Add new features and updates. Use a data-informed strategy, continuously develop and enhance the product. Always capture quantifiable results.
Healthcare organizations must continuously evaluate their digital strategy for building effective communication tools. In doing so, these providers can drive user engagement, increase operational efficiencies and profits, decrease infrastructure and maintenance costs, and ensure HIPAA compliance, all while providing support to enable healthcare professionals and allow them to better focus on treating patients.
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