Unified Communications delivers many benefits not just in general terms but also in the specific niches it serves. UC Insight spoke to Andrew Graley, Healthcare, Education and Government director at Polycom, specifically about the healthcare market.
UCI: Let’s start basic – what does Polycom do in the healthcare sector?
AG: Well, my role is to work directly with users rather than salespeople and I support our channel partners. I work as part of my team to understand how users can get the most benefit from this type of technology. The platform we have specifically in healthcare came out almost the day after the company was founded, 25 years ago: there’s a starphone in almost every meeting room you go into in a healthcare organization. There’ll be a starphone in there somewhere and that’s how we started enabling these organisations to get together regularly on audio.
As we’ve evolved so has the use of our technology in these sectors. In healthcare in particular, almost every hospital, every single clinic in the country, will have some kind of Polycom equipment that will help them liaise either internally or externally with other professionals or with patients and citizens wherever they may be without worrying about how they’re going to get in.
UCI: Those are certainly benefits, albeit very basic ones. But we have technologies like video and collaboration – what can healthcare professionals do now that they couldn’t do before?
AG: The ability to pick any device you have and connect with the other participant quickly and in high quality, and manage that call through the infrastructure that gives the professional the confidence that they’re speaking to the right person and doing so in privacy, is one thing. We have our realpresence platform, so you could deliver physiotherapy to stroke survivors at home using whatever device they’ve got – Mac, PC, tablet. They could connect to a physiotherapy class from the gym inside a hospital without having to travel there. The usual thing is to avoid the travel, but when you take a look at the use case quite often you get efficiencies and there’s the convenience to both the patient and the organization delivering the service. So there is software that goes on tablets and PCs to allow people to connect in to high quality consultations or face to face communications with a doctor or a nurse.
UCI: And these things are being done now?
AG: All the time. The backbone of the NHS is the N3 network, which is becoming a wide network for all public service. On that network there are things like PACS, Patient Archive Communication System, which is the transmission of X-ray images. On there as well is an infrastructure that allows any NHS organization to talk internally across a Polycom platform. They do it internally for, say, case management for oncology. By law every single oncology case needs to be discussed by almost a committee every week. So if someone has a tumour and they’re in Central London being seen by St. Thomas’s, then colleagues in Guy’s in Woolwich will take part in a multidisciplinary team to discuss the case. Our platform allows them to have those meetings using high quality digital x-rays as well as patient records so they can go through the cases together. So they can conform to the legislation without having to travel to one central location.
AG: That’s internal. External to patients we have quite a few cases where clinicians or practitioner nurses connect to patients at home so they can do the mundane things like a day to day call to check on progress after an operation.
We also have people offering mental health services over video. They run things like compliance; in the case of schizophrenia you need to see a patient take their medication, which used to involve going and seeing a patient taking it and walk out again. You can imagine how much more convenient it would be to do that over video, keep a patient away from hospital when they don’t need to be there and of course you can supervise many more people.
UCI: Realistically is every mentally ill patient going to respond to a video conference in this way?
AG: There are various levels at which using video is a benefit, and there will be some levels where it won’t be – or realistically you can’t do it. You have to make the decision. What we’ve found is that the support network around a patient, where there is one, will make sure they do the call. It could be a relation, it could be someone in sheltered accommodation making sure that the client is sat down in front of the video.
In terms of real estate, mental health has as much as acute care – there are actually more mental health clinics than acute clinics in the UK.
UCI: OK. Further down the line, what’s going to develop?
AG: A lot of the interest we’re getting from healthcare organisations at the moment is taking responsibility for wellness and managing conditions outside the hospital and flipping it over to the patient themselves. We’ve seen explosive growth in monitoring conditions through mobile phones, you can get an app to monitor vital signs, the amount of steps taken, and get a device to measure it all. You can monitor, check on progress and check on wellness, and then you can educate people on how to stop becoming type 2 diabetic or how to manage smoking cessation.
Organisations are really interested in making their own recordings and making them available on demand. Our platform has the ability not just to record video meetings and collaboration but also to allow an individual to make recordings talking to the camera, so education departments in hospitals are starting to make their own recordings and put them on a portal so people can go online and find out about management of diabetes, weight loss and soforth. By allowing access to that data through a secure portal they can not only track who’s read what or watched what video but give them some helpful information that goes along with it. So it’s taking the next step, making sure you don’t bring people into the hospital unnecessarily and allowing people to get to the right information at the right time without having to produce it in an expensive studio.