It seems like every day there are new headlines in the telecommunications industry about unified communications, the latest acquisition, release or new cloud service. The term “unified communications” has been around for a long time; but it means different things to different people – just take a look at some major software companies or hardware manufacturers.

Microsoft has taken its Office Communications Server, transformed it into Lync, and gained significant mind and market share with the product. In addition, they have worked closely with Polycom to integrate video conferencing into the Lync ecosystem. Cisco, on the other hand, has significantly invested in Jabber which has expanded the definition of UC, as well as, telepresence.

Unfortunately, there have been some roadblocks that prevent true ubiquity of UC solutions throughout enterprise organizations.

A recent study from CompTia (an IT industry association) took a look at many of these topics. From an adoption perspective, respondents to the survey reported:

  • - Challenges in integrating UC tools with existing technology
    - Lack of ability to incorporate mobility, social networking, collaboration and video conferencing
    - Difficulty calculating a return on investment

The interesting thing about all of these challenges is that they can be easily solved through integrated cloud services. How so? Let’s take a look at each one individually.

Challenges in integrating UC tools with existing technology:
When organizations look to implement a UC solution; integrating the server architecture, managing operating systems, and maintaining new equipment can be extremely challenging. These problems; however, can be virtually eliminated by hosting a UC solution in the cloud.  With the cloud, comes an experienced team of professionals who manage the technology; alleviating many of the technical pressures. Organizations can then focus on integrating the technology into their existing environment; whether it is defining set processes to use the tools or driving a cultural change within the company to encourage adoption. The cloud also allows companies achieve the benefits of UC almost immediately with practically none of the frustration.

Lack of ability to incorporate mobility, social networking, collaboration and video conferencing:
Incorporating these technologies comes down to one thing – interoperability. Microsoft and Polycom have addressed this by linking their technologies to allow UC clients to participate in video conferences with enterprise systems; and Cisco has integrated video into Jabber to communicate to the rest of its portfolio. Connecting to consumer solutions (Skype, Google Talk); however, require cloud services which create “meet me” conference rooms in the cloud and can connect any video platform, application or appliance effortlessly.

Difficult calculating a return on investment:
As with any collaboration tool out there, it can be difficult to truly understand the cost savings/ROI/etc. In order to do so, organizations must assess the specific goals of a UC deployment. For example, is it about travel cost reduction or improved productivity? Many these benefits are hard savings that can be easily tracked and reported with a cloud service. By connecting travel to a video management system, organizations can easily see the trips that were replaced by video which translates into cost savings and increased productivity.

The bottom line is that cloud service providers can help an organization review their UC needs and challenges then deploy scalable services to make adoption seamless and ROI attainment clear.

At any given time there are several different languages being spoken in an emergency room.  Spouses, children, friends or relatives are usually there to interpret; but what happens when an interpreter is not immediately available?

Calling one over audio is an option; however, it can get extremely confusing handing phones back and forth while a remote third-party translates.  For the hearing impaired, Video Relay Services are an option; however, according to FCC regulations they are designated for telephone calls only and cannot be used when both hearing and hearing impaired parties are in the same room. 

Enter Video Remote Interpreting (VRI); a growing field that bridges the communication gap by translating spoken words into American Sign and other languages over video. An offsite interpreter hears the voices of those speaking and then relays the message into the camera which the other participant can hear or view on their screen. 

These services are extremely useful in hospital emergency rooms where quick communication between patients and caregivers is essential.  In smaller cities it can take a significant amount of time for an interpreter to arrive onsite; however, with VRI doctors and nurses can simply connect to a remote interpreter for instantaneous communication. 

A quick video from Paras and Associates explains how video is not only revolutionizing Telemedicine by providing access to medical specialists, but by providing immediate access to an interpreter.

What happens when you put a Cisco CTS 1300 and a couple of super genius IVCi audio visual designers in the same room?

A panoramic camera view that allows all three room segments to be captured, as well as, auto switches to the person speaking for a close up view.

With the help of several magic boxes, a few third party tools, and a whole lot of IVCi ingenuity, this truly unique design enables collaboration by not only allowing participants to view the presenter, but to view the other participants reactions.

Now you can easily bounce back and forth between meeting participants without losing sight of what really matters!

Health care organizations throughout the world continue to implement telemedicine solutions at a growing rate to help extend the reach of health care. The benefits are enormous, for both the patient and the health care provider:

  1. No matter where a patient is located, they can gain access to the specialists they need to diagnose and treat their ailments.
  2. A health care provider can check in with patients remotely, helping to reduce costly re-admissions.
  3. In an emergency setting, a patient’s specialized needs can be responded to in a quicker, more efficient manner.

While the list of benefits is extensive; a major challenge of telemedicine is the economics behind it. Health care organizations have been able to offer telemedicine-based consults to patients for some time; however, the business of health care has not kept up.

Insurance organizations (including Medicare and Medicaid) did not offer parity for these visits versus a real-life encounter. Providers would find themselves being denied reimbursement for the telemedicine services that they had provided.

But as with many other technologies, the bureaucracy is catching up. Over the last several years there has been a shift throughout the US and “reimbursement equity” is now being offered for telemedicine consultations. Most recently, Maryland and Pennsylvania have joined the list of states signing such legislation into law. Maryland’s law is simple: Insurance companies must pay the same fee for telemedicine services that would otherwise be covered with an in-person visit.

State laws regarding telemedicine reimbursement differ. Currently, there are fourteen states with some form of reimbursement equity: California, Colorado, Georgia, Hawaii, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Virginia.

Medicare has its own policy as well. Generally, the reimbursement is on par with the same service when it is provided face-to-face. There are some limitations that include the location of the facility, eligible medical services, and the eligibility of providers and facilities.  To read specific rules relating to Medicare, click here.

Telemedicine reimbursement is a complex issue, but one clear trend is emerging: it is moving into the mainstream. With so many states already moving towards parity, it is only a matter of time before more follow. The result of this will be continued growth of telemedicine practices and patients gaining more access to the affordable, specialized healthcare they need.

Additional Resources:
Telemedicine Solutions Overview
Extend the Reach of Healthcare with Telehealth

Related Articles:
Sound Masking Your Way to Medicare Reimbursement
Baltimore Business Journal – Maryland law may spur video Dr. ‘visits’
Pennsylvania Governor Corbett Improves Access to Quality Health Care through Telemedicine Initiative

I spent my childhood in St. Louis, MO and by the time I graduated high school I was ready to leave. I decided to go to college 1200 miles away in Boston and eventually moved to New York where I’ve finally settled down. Now, my best friends and I are all scattered across the country – Denver, Chicago, St. Louis, Phoenix, Washington, DC. We went from seeing each other every day to only during the summers and holidays and now it’s been a few years since we’ve all gotten together as a group.

Last year we were talking about getting a group trip together but schedules just never seem coordinate properly and trying to agree on a central location was practically impossible. As we continued through our crazy lives I couldn’t help but miss those crazy slumber parties and wondered how we can stay in touch better.

Then one day, while talking to my friend it hit me, why don’t we start a book club over video chat?  Shortly thereafter the most amazing idea was created.

Wine Wednesdays! One part book club, two parts happy hour, and six parts great laughs and good conversation.

Since we are all avid readers, we selected a fun book to read; then about a month later, we all gathered in a cloud meet-me room with our books and bottles of wine. We started sharing our thoughts on the book and as the night (and wine) progressed we were reminiscing and sharing funny stories of things that this book reminded us of. Next thing I knew it was going on 1am and my husband was yelling it’s bed time, you have work tomorrow.

So we all said goodbye and vowed to do it again soon because it was completely amazing and so much fun. We recently picked our next book which I am eagerly reading because I cannot wait for our next date. Although, I think we’re going to move Wine Wednesday to a Friday because I’m just not cutout for late night drinking on work nights.