Fast-Tracking Telemedicine With a Flexible Network

Vancouver Clinic had to quickly shift to telemedicine and remote work to deliver patient care. Here's how it did that in record time.

Vancouver clinic fast tracks to telemedicine and remote work to deliver patient care
HPE

This article also appears in The new IT playbook, a report that explores what it means to be resilient and adaptable in times of disruption.

Planning for the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic in southwestern Washington included fast-tracking two networking-centric initiatives here at Vancouver Clinic.

One was establishing a telemedicine program, from scratch, in less than a week. The initiative would support moving 40 percent of appointments from on site to video, helping us reserve visits for meeting our patients' regular healthcare needs as well as pandemic-related concerns.

The other project was expanding a virtual call center for our critical frontline employees, called patient service representatives (PSRs), enabling most of them to work from home during the outbreak.

During our normal course of affairs, our clinic could expect 50,000 to 100,000 face-to-face patient encounters in a month. Like everyone in healthcare, we had little insight into precisely how the coronavirus would impact our area. However, based on our previous emergency preparedness efforts for other types of crises, we knew we had to be ready.

Continuing our tradition of patient care excellence while keeping staff safe

When Vancouver Clinic management approached IT, they asked us whether our new HPE Aruba network infrastructure could support the envisioned models and, if so, how. With our network already supplying the high-performance connectivity necessary for web conferencing, the primary telemedicine effort was integrating our Epic electronic health records system with the vendor's video visit module. We completed this project in record time.

As we had previously started piloting a virtual call center for our PSRs, the pandemic-related effort involved expanding the deployment to move 80 percent of those individuals to home offices. Given HIPAA patient privacy regulations, secure connectivity back to our data center was essential.

For the pilot, we purchased several remote access points (RAPs) to supply the secure, compliant connectivity we require. Unsurprisingly, a rapid expansion to cover most of our PSRs sent our ultra-lean IT staff scrambling to locate units in the channel, where we discovered supplies were already tight. We needed to figure out which additional RAP models were capable of supporting our standard thin-client desktops and a physical VoIP telephone.

Fortunately, at about the same time, our HPE reps reached out to ask if there was anything they could do to help us navigate the pandemic. When we explained the situation, they immediately began helping us identify alternate RAP models with the appropriate characteristics that also maximized our long-term return on investment.

Upon distributing the RAPs, our PSRs simply picked up their company-issued equipment and headed home. They reported that plugging in the RAP, along with their computer and phone, was completely seamless, enabling them to start taking patient calls in minutes. It was a big win for our lean IT staff and our entire organization.

Extending our Wi-Fi for instant pop-up medical facilities

As part of our preparedness efforts, we also mapped out a plan for extending Wi-Fi access outdoors, such as along the exterior of our buildings for conducting drive-up virus testing and other curb-side services as needed.

Additionally, we assembled some turnkey off-site Wi-Fi kits that let us quickly establish off-site locations, such as a pop-up facility in the local high school parking lot, at a senior care center, or wherever else our staff may be called to serve. These kits leverage a RAP for connectivity to our internal systems, along with additional access points to increase the Wi-Fi coverage area.

In either case, we've been modeling what-If scenarios to ensure we're ready with the proper configurations at a moment's notice. We'll also use our network access and policy management security software to reserve Wi-Fi access for our internal clinical communications.

Preparing for whatever comes next

Regardless of what comes next, we've now moved a significant portion of our non-clinical staff off site to help them stay healthy.

At a time when anxieties are running high, our PSRs are more important than ever. They're fielding a significantly increased volume of patient calls, answering questions as appropriate, rescheduling appointments as either video or physical visits, triaging patients with pandemic-related symptoms, and seamlessly transferring individuals to our Nurse Advice help line as needed.

For all of our patients, the fact that we're able to continue to deliver a high level of care―despite the upheaval―is calming and comforting, which is so important in these uncertain times.

For us in IT, current events have not only proved our network infrastructure to be as resilient, flexible, and scalable as we had hoped, but also demonstrated the importance of working with a networking company that puts its customers' needs first.

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