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How digital communications can help fight the pandemic and beyond

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People are suffering due to COVID-19, but they are also suffering because communications are being stretched to the limit. Below is a look at solutions available to tackle these challenges.

Healthcare services across the world could have never foreseen, just 12 months ago, the unprecedented level of disruption and immense challenges they would be facing throughout 2020 and now continuing into 2021. Additionally, during this time, there’s been significant disruption and equally transformative innovation in how technology has helped to evolve and adapt the access to, and delivery of, a range of healthcare services. Just like how hundreds of millions of people around the world have switched to a work-from-home model, so healthcare has had to rapidly evolve to a digitally delivered virtual service where it was practical to do so.

Avaya has been working with healthcare services across the globe to help this evolution in virtual services. From automated video services that maintain precious contact between COVID- 19 patients and their families unable to visit them; to developing a video-enabled chatbot service which helps share COVID-19 information to deaf and hard-of-hearing patients; or creating Artificial Intelligence-enabled services that help reduce the huge volume of calls into hospitals from the public while also informing the public of vaccination plans. These are just a few of the services developed and made available to help organisations and patients adapt around the challenges of the pandemic.

A citizen’s healthcare and vaccination journey

The most immediate challenge facing healthcare services will be the huge administrative job of vaccine roll-out while simultaneously providing their normal day-to-day patient services. To effectively immunise the population, healthcare providers need to quickly engage and communicate with those who need the vaccine while responding to the massive influx of enquiries and ongoing healthcare services simultaneously.

The engagement tools to help healthcare organisations carry out these tasks need to leverage automation and provide continual monitoring and reporting. This will optimise those communications services and workflows and eliminate the need to dedicate valuable healthcare staff resources to manual, time- consuming tasks while also helping to keep citizens informed and assured. A solution is needed that allows health providers to quickly customise and deploy automated services to address the complexities of the vaccine roll-out along with all other healthcare services which can be defined as comprising the following components:

Citizen awareness: citizen outreach (advising specific individuals which phase of the rollout they qualify for), eligibility checks, rollout phase registration and answering vaccine FAQs.

Rollout coordination: practitioner- resource recruitment via outbound messages (‘can you come in and administer the vaccine?’) and inbound messages (‘sign up for administering the vaccine’), vaccine FAQs for practitioners, etc.

Appointment management: qualification registration, locating the closest vaccine site for a candidate, scheduling patient appointments and appointment reminders.

First vaccination shot: contactless screening, arrival check-in, vaccination confirmation, post-shot instructions.

Between/post shot: post-shot FAQ, reporting of possible side effects, reporting of Covid symptoms/status (if a positive case), reminder to get second dose of vaccine and by what date, site locator for where you can get it, scheduling the visit, and reminder once appointment is made.

Second vaccination shot: same process as first shot appointment.

Avaya’s Healthcare solutions enable health service providers to proactively engage with citizens via automated voice calls, e-mail, Chatbot, SMS and MMS notifications to generate better awareness of the healthcare services such as COVID-19 and get more people signed up in a timely fashion.

These notifications can be used for appointment reminders, follow-ups (‘You’re due for your second dose on XXX date’), arrival check-ins, contactless screening, and can also include post-vaccine surveys for recipients to safely report side effects. These notifications can be sent to both individuals and groups with optional response tracking, text interaction, and auto-forms to capture information that helps improve critical decision-making.

Assisting the fight

Avaya is talking from experience as its solutions include many innovations that have been on the front lines of the COVID-19 response. For example, Nebraska Medicine, one of the U.S. state’s largest healthcare systems with a network of nearly 40 specialty and primary care health centres, prepared for expected increases in call volume by using Avaya OneCloud to rapidly deploy a cloud-based conversational platform to help them prioritise essential calls and reduce workload on their customer service agents while continuing to deliver outstanding patient care.

The company’s virtual care solutions have also been at the forefront of helping infected patients and their families to maintain critical, supportive communication. Avaya Video solutions were deployed at a number of hospitals across China that helped staff as well as patients to communicate and collaborate during very difficult, demanding times. For example, the company deployed a fully-automated video conferencing solution at the Huoshenshan Hospital in the Wuhan province, which was famously fully constructed and admitting patients within nine days. This solution was designed to allow patients in enclosed ICU clinics to have secure, quality video calls with their family in the hope that such communications could help boost a patient’s positivity and motivation in fighting the virus. In another example of the COVID-19 battle, the features such as symptom-checking, testing, and then vaccine adoption are elements of combating the pandemic which are accelerated by enabling citizens to self-qualify via automated services such as an AI-assisted chatbots. As an example of this, Avaya partnered with the Ministry of Communication and Information in Egypt to develop and roll out a user-friendly chatbot service designed to help citizens who were deaf and hard of hearing overcome challenges with COVID-19. The chatbot service uses sign language with artificial intelligence to help citizens to receive advice and guidance in relation to healthcare services and Covid-19 on a mobile app or web browser, a service which was a first of its kind in the Arabic or African world.

In Saudi Arabia, King Abdullah Medical City has been successful in coordinating an effective Covid-19 response, helping to slow its spread and meeting the population’s medical needs while keeping healthcare providers safe by setting up expert steering committees that can meet and collaborate safely through Avaya Spaces. Avaya Spaces Video Consultation, an Avaya Spaces add-on specifically designed to enable safe healthcare virtual consultations, puts safety and security first. Although customers can access their video consultation from any connected device, it is only a one-link invite that allows them to connect to a virtual waiting room before being seen by a member of the Medical team. The same link can permit a patient to reconnect to the session should they be disconnected due to bandwidth or connectivity issues. Once the patient has completed their session and disconnected, all data associated with session, such as chat history, patient name, and shares files, are destroyed in order to protect patient data rules and regulations. Avaya Spaces Video Consultation makes it easy and quick to schedule, queue, and conduct video consultations without needing to download apps or plugins.

Healthcare continuity

Avaya OneCloud healthcare solutions are also playing a vital role in enhancing the experience for patients, families, care teams and all others that touch the patient journey. Avaya enables healthcare organisations to engage across the care continuum delivering experiences that matter when they truly matter most. By connecting people, resources, data, and more, Avaya is helping customers optimise their operations and reduce risk while strengthening the level of care they can provide to patients and customers.

American Hospital Dubai (AHD), one of the pioneering private healthcare providers in the Middle East distinguished for its outstanding facilities and care standards, recently partnered with Avaya to improve patient outcomes. With superior call centre operations and customer relationship management capabilities, AHD has personalised the patient experience, simplified access to care and helped streamline operations. The technologies implemented align with the hospital’s healthcare delivery transformation journey by enabling it to serve patients with the most appropriate, convenient, and cost-effective care, making sure care providers are with them at every step of the journey, on the communications channels they choose. The Avaya solution has helped AHD aggregate various data – such as patients’ demographics, interactions with its website and call centre, and financial and other relevant details – to create a comprehensive profile for its patients. The digital solutions implemented by American Hospital Dubai give patients a range of ways to connect with the provider, supporting multiple inbound and outbound communication channels. They also streamline behind-the-scenes systems that keep up with data and information. Through a CRM connector that integrates with the Hospital Information System, the hospital has shortened patient call response times. This is supplemented with an extensive knowledge base, which drastically reduces call times, ticket-issuing time, and improves patient satisfaction. By connecting people, resources, data, and solutions, Avaya helps American Hospital Dubai optimise its operations and helps care team members communicate seamlessly so that they are more accessible.

What has arguably been the most difficult time in public health history has become a defining moment of reform in health services, not just related to epidemics but also to serve the basic needs of patients. Beyond COVID-19, healthcare providers such as Shared Health Manitoba are using Avaya OneCloud solutions to automatically triage calls and help customers get the services they need. Avaya solutions are also assisting with the proactive engagement of patients to support with general appointment reminders, follow-ups and costly patient no-shows. Even healthcare adjacent institutions, such as Olmsted County in Minnesota, are experiencing great success with virtual waiting rooms.

People are suffering due to COVID-19, but they are also suffering because communications are being stretched to the limit. Healthcare providers need to be able to handle more interactions, over distance, with fewer human resources. They need to have more creative options to engage and inform. They need a more elastic communications network. Not just now during crisis mode, but long-term. By embracing digital communications as a service, healthcare providers can hasten and streamline the rollout of this life-saving vaccine as well as creating a communications service that enables a more interactive, engaged patient with their healthcare services, that ultimately will better protect the patient and our populations.

Dave O’Shaughnessy, Healthcare Leader for EMEA and APAC, Avaya.jpg

Dave O’Shaughnessy

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