Updated: Nov 15, 2019
Doctors and nurses have a tremendous need for rich and real-time communication and collaboration. Cloud telephone systems now allow healthcare professionals to use applications in compliance with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA). This means healthcare professionals can discuss patient information in a conversation without compromising HIPAA guidelines.
That is significant because there has never been a greater need for collaboration in healthcare, with healthcare leaders, insurers, and the government all promoting the importance of “care teams” that can coordinate care with the goal of better patient outcomes at a lower cost.
At the same time, there are great impediments to effective communication and collaboration in healthcare—including those same security and privacy regulations. Particularly frustrating are the rules that prevent healthcare professionals from taking advantage of the same mobile and social modes of communication they enjoy in their personal lives.
Cloud telephony applications offer the care team a more flexible way of discussing patients and their care, either from within a mobile app or a web browser. Chat mimics the concise style of mobile texting, but messages can also include documents and images with annotation as a powerful way of commenting on specific parts of those images. Action items can be assigned as tasks for greater accountability. And everyone on the care team can stay up to date on what everyone else is doing.
A doctor returning a patient’s call from home can use a mobile app to place that call from a business phone line rather than the number for his personal smartphone. This meets HIPAA requirements.
There is another sort of collaboration in healthcare that revolves around posting updates to electronic medical records systems and claims processing systems, which are held to a high standard of HIPAA compliance as permanent repositories of patient information. However, some of the greatest communication, coordination, and collaboration needs in healthcare occur in the short term, as caregivers discuss how a patient should be treated or address more basic matters like coordinating nursing schedules.
For example, a 2002 study of home healthcare published by the American Medical Informatics Association found that clinicians often hesitate to record information they need to collaborate about in the patient’s official medical record because they do not consider it official or final. Often, the quality of care depends just as much about the unofficial exchange of information about a patient and on healthcare workers sharing what they did during their last visit and plan to do on their next one. The greater the need for tight coordination, the more likely “the information in the patient record will likely only be a partial solution, since the interacting clinicians will require more information than is normally communicated through the patient record,” write the authors, David Pinelle and Carl Gutwin, from the University of Saskatchewan.
In other words, healthcare professionals need to be in constant communication, making and sharing plans, expressing hopes and concerns, and taking advantage of workplace technologies that are at least as powerful as those they enjoy in their personal lives.
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