You’ve likely heard a lot about collaboration lately. Collaboration is now considered an integral part of corporate innovation and success. According to this study by IBM, the CEOs of top companies all give collaboration skills top billing for driving firms’ achievements:

“CEOs regard interpersonal skills of collaboration (75 percent), communication (67 percent), creativity (61 percent) and flexibility (61 percent) as key drivers of employee success to operate in a more complex, interconnected environment.”

Choosing a “Collaborative Architecture”
But what trips up a lot of companies’ leadership is not whether they should create a collaborative environment, but how to do it. According to this Harvard Business Review article, companies are often in such a rush to implement collaboration that little, if any, thought is put into the nuts and bolts:

“All too often firms jump into relationships without considering their structure and organizing principles—what we call the collaborative architecture,” write article authors Gary Pisano and Roberto Verganti. They’ve come up with a method to identify the best strategy for your company, which begins with these key questions:

“Given your strategy, how open or closed should your firm’s network of collaborators be? And who should decide which problems the network will tackle and which solutions will be adopted?”

To help you create such a structure, here are some tips to create a healthy and productive collaboration project.

7 Tips to Help Build a Better Collaboration:

  1. Move from individual idea-generation to a group, and then back to solo work.
  2. Mix virtual and in-person meetings, if possible, and use a variety of methods that will give attendees visuals and important cues, like body language.
  3. Create a great physical space that’s comfortable, encourages participation and fosters great ideas.
  4. Keep your supporting documents and files organized.
  5. Use a mix of technologies to create a virtual collaboration environment, including integrating mobile components to adapt to the increase in mobile application use.
  6. Keep collaboration groups small and fix a beginning and an end to a collaboration project to avoid overwhelming participants and scope creep.
  7. Create collaboration events, like 3M does for its employees from different divisions to get innovation happening.

Choose Your Tools Wisely:

  • Online: You can look to a product that designed for collaboration, like 37Signals Basecamp or Teambox. As the value of collaboration has become more recognized, the amount of programs designed for collaborative projects has kept pace, so test drive a few to find the best fit.
  • Video: Video conferencing technology has improved to the point that great visuals, complex data, and real-time performance mean long distance collaborations are no longer second rank to in-person meetings.
  • Social: Take a look at WebEx Social, which is a social network for corporations. Some companies are exploring ways to use Pinterest, which now has business accounts, and Google can be a good tool as well.
  • In-person: Maybe you agree with Yahoo’s Marissa Mayer that physical presence leads to better ideas, in which case create areas around your office that will foster exchange. Google likes communal areas, as does Etsy, because cubicles kill creativity.

Interested in learning more about how your company can collaborate its way to success? Contact IVCi to discuss the best collaboration solution for your needs.

American Telemedicine Association’s policy guys, Jonathan Linkous, CEO, and Gary Capistrant, senior director of public policy, are back with another monthly installment of This Month in Telemedicine.

They’re predicting an additional 30 to 40 million Americans will be added to Medicaid roles by next year, and there are now 20 states looking to expand Medicaid coverage to accommodate this surge. Better start preparing now, says Linkous. “I think next year we’re going to see a whole different world, in a few short months it’s happening so the time to gear up is now,” he says.

Funding Opportunity
The Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation has just launched another billion dollar funding opportunity. It’s looking for “big, bold projects,” particularly any that will be actionable on a multi-state level. Letters of intent are due by June 28, and the full applications are due August 15.

Austin Meeting Recap
Linkous and Capistrant also discussed the ATA’s recent meeting that was held at the beginning of May in Austin, Texas. During the meeting, the first of four best practices was released. They’re for state Medicaid programs, and the ATA has been working with special interest groups and refining the guidelines, and they should be available soon. They cover specialties such as telemental health, home telehealth and remote monitoring, school-based telehealth, and specialties like diabetic retinopathy.

The ATA also distributed a draft version of their state best practices guidelines, which is now being reviewed by special interest groups. Additionally, a new and expanded version of their toolkit is now available on the ATA website.

“We try and provide more information for you all to use,” says Capistrant. “But also to try and act as a clearing house and identify what the various states are doing so that all the other states can benefit from that without duplicating efforts or trying to draft something from scratch.”

Federal News
On the federal level, the ATA is very focused on dealing with getting Medicare coverage approved, and some opportunities for Medicaid as well. The bill sponsored by Senator Scott Thompson is working its way through the system, but because that bill is more of a big-picture attempt to solve and clarify telemedicine issues, the ATA felt the need for a bill that would deal with smaller-scale issues that could move quickly and be approved relatively easily. To that end, they’ve been working with Congressman Greg Harp, R-Mississippi, to assemble a package of incremental changes. “Hopefully, [it will be] easier to get support and budget estimates,” said Capistrant. They’re also hoping to be involved in physician payment reform.

As discussed during previous ATA webcasts, 104 counties lost Medicare coverage in February because of redesignation as metropolitan areas. The ATA is working on restoring coverage to the affected counties. The ATA is also working to remove some major barriers, like metropolitan area access, stroke diagnosis, and services for homebound patients that aren’t currently covered by Medicare. Homebound patients present a particularly strong argument, says Capistrant. “They’re not in the position to travel to a doctor’s office, so there’s a compelling clinical case for care in the home.”

Bipartisan Effort
There’s bipartisan interest in telemedicine, says Linkous, which is something the ATA has cultivated. “We’ve always made sure this is a bipartisan effort,” he says. “We’ve worked very hard to avoid any type of partisan positioning.” The ATA has had congress people of both stripes approach, and voice support for telemedicine.

In state action, Georgia and Alabama both have proposals from their respective medical boards under review. They’re improved versions of past proposals although still there are still issues: they don’t deal with the full range and diversity of telehealth uses and situations e.g. emergencies, and also interpretative services such as cardiology, radiology, etc. For example, in Georgia, telehealth ICU would require patients to I.D. every health practitioner who had previously served them, which is a burdensome task for all involved.

In the Alabama proposal, telehome care is exempt from rules if delivered by a licensed homecare health agency but community health centers and physician practices are excluded.

The pair also took issue with certain language in both proposals, identifying it as “anti-telehealth”; particularly requirements for prior physician-patient relationships, meaning the physician has to see patient in his or her office first. “That’s a code word for people who want to kill telemedicine,” says Linkous. ”It’s about protecting your market and protecting yourself from competition that telemedicine provides. And when you do that, there are 5.5 million Americans received teleradiology services and they’re gone, they don’t get it anymore because of the prior physician-patient relationship [requirement].”

“This call may be monitored for quality assurance.”

How many times have you heard that throughout your life? The reality is, as technology continues to change at a rapid pace, the way we communicate with our vendors and service provides is rather primitive. When the cable bill arrives with the wrong charges (surely that never happens!), one has to pick-up the phone only to wait on hold for twenty minutes to ultimately get a resolution. Or maybe a recent purchase for a child warrants some technical support; again a phone call and wait time must be endured. At the same time, it can be very difficult to explain a problem to a support agent by merely describing it.

For years, there has been talk about moving video technology into a business to consumer world. But, what does this mean? Simply, customers could connect to the very same contact center they call now, but speak to the appropriate agent via video. The advantages of this are significant! Suddenly, all customer service interactions would benefit from everything video conferencing has to offer. The agent can work with the customer and gain a better idea of their understanding of a particular topic. Second, the customer can point the camera at the item being discussed (extra parts to a new toy that don’t seem to have a use) and immediately give the agent better insight into the issue. Finally, video could put a more personal face on what can seem like a very impersonal interaction.

While video contact centers have been a topic of discussion for a while, why is now any different? There is a convergence of several key market and technology trends that could make this idea a reality.

The Proliferation of Video, Everywhere
Video is truly everywhere. Consumers are already accustomed to communicating with family and friends over video. Whether it is via a social network, Skype, or another service, video has truly gone main stream. At the same time, many people are used to going to work and using video as a tool to complete assigned projects and tasks.

Mobile Devices
The explosive growth of mobile devices, such as smart phones and tables, has put multiple video enabled devices into nearly everyone’s pockets. A user can grab their phone and make a video call just as easily as a voice call. These devices have not only helped make video ubiquitous, they have also made video far more accessible than ever imagined.

Advanced Contact Center Technology
Even though most customer service interactions have been limited to voice, the technology driving these connections is rather advanced. Many organizations had implemented technology that allows them to hire the most talented support agents and place them anywhere. In addition, these solutions are able to route calls intelligently to both an available agent and the most skilled agent for the issue at hand. Customers have become far savvier and do not accept being transferred multiple times. Technology has helped route customers to the right person at the right time.

WebRTC
WebRTC has been discussed many times on this blog and the technology is one of the main catalysts of the video contact center. If a user requires help, the desire to spend 15-20 minutes downloading an application to their computer or smartphone is nonexistent. With WebRTC, one click could immediately initiate a video call right in their browser. With no downloads needed, the customer would get near immediate access. Unfortunately, there is no technology that can eliminate wait times completely!

As all of these elements come together, the promise of the video contact center is very real. The ultimate question comes down to the customers themselves. Will they embrace this type of interaction and will they push the vendors they do business with to implement this technology? What do you think? Would you welcome the opportunity to get support via video?

This month’s telemedicine videocast from the American Telemedicine Association focused on a major change in the population tabulation that directly affects telemedicine reimbursement, as discussed by ATA’s CEO Jonathan Linkous and Gary Capistrant, senior director of public policy.

Federal Policy Changes & Activity
The hot topic was the re-designation of many counties from rural to metropolitan, which resulted in the loss of Medicare telehealth reimbursement. Due to a change to the Standard Metropolitan Statistical Areas, 97 counties newly designated as “urban” will lose reimbursement privileges because Medicare reimbursement for telehealth services is not available to populations in metropolitan areas. On the other hand, 28 counties will gain coverage because they are now designated rural.

While this is a setback for telemedicine and Linkous proposed two ways to deal with the situation: the first, to grandfather in counties that have been redefined as metropolitan; the second is to expand Medicare reimbursement for urban populations. “This really shows the need to do that,” said Linkous.

Also mentioned was the F.I.T.T bill (Fostering Independence Through Technology), which is sponsored by South Dakota Democratic Senator John Thune and Minnesota Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar. The bill aims to establish a pilot program for home health agencies serving rural communities to use remote patient monitoring.

Capistrant and Linkous also discussed FDA regulations about medical devices, licensure and interstate health commerce, and the need to coordinate the various roles that the federal government plays in healthcare. Linkous points out the very real potential for backlogs—the FDA, Linkous says, has received 100 or so applications but can only process 20 a year.

“The good thing is there’s a lot of innovation in mobile health. The bad is it’s taking a long time to get through regulation, and, number two, you can’t get paid for it.” - Jonathan Linkous, CEO American Telemedicine Association

State Activity
They also discussed the ongoing issue of licensure, and the burden acquiring multiple state licenses places on telehealth providers. The Federation of State Medical Boards is proposing a form of state reciprocity but, Linkous points out, getting all the states on board could take a long time—a decade or more. He offered the example of the nursing compact, which was started 15 years ago and less than half the states have signed on to date. (The ATA has not endorsed any one approach).

Big Med Developments
Larger healthcare systems are seeing the potential business benefits of telehealth, and are looking to expand their footprint and brand by providing more services to a larger population. Linkous gave the example of the Mayo Clinic Care Network, an affiliation program. They have a goal of reaching 200 million patients by 2020, through both their own hospitals and the affiliation network by using “e-consults”, i.e. telemedicine. Cleveland Clinic also has an affiliate program. “It’s an interesting contest,” says Linkous, noting this is a business decision and cost-reduction tool. Mercy Healthcare is using telehealth for a broad range of services, including stroke, autism, and cardiac care, and they’ll soon be breaking ground for a virtual healthcare center which will house subspecialists and a teaching facility at their headquarters outside of St. Louis.

New Online Education
ATA will be launching an education service on their website with webinars, videocasts, and online courses, with many continuing medical education accredited. The organization is looking to develop a major educational center—online, of course—for telemedicine providers.

Annual Meeting
ATA’s annual meeting will be held in Austin, Texas, from May 5 to 7. For a free exhibit hall pass, click here to register and enter  the code VIPcomp13.

The next This Month in Telemedicine videocast is on April 23.

The ABA TECHSHOW is taking place April 4-6, 2013 in the Windy City (Chicago, IL). Visit us at booth #614!

IVCi is partnering with Blue Jeans Network to showcase how video collaboration solutions can help law firms meet today’s legal challenges, such as geographically dispersed clients and timely access to subject matter experts, while helping minimize expenses.

In a previous article, we discussed how firms can use video to build client relationships, as well as, manage their ever growing case load by keeping in touch with traveling clients effortlessly through video enabled smartphones or tablets. Additionally, firms can use video conferencing to depose remote witnesses or interview difficult to reach subject matter experts without the time and cost associated with business travel.

Firms can also use video conferencing solutions to attract and retain top associates. Partners can interview potential candidates remotely so that only the most qualified candidates are brought in for further discussion. Plus, law firms can help differentiate themselves by utilizing the latest technology and making the firm more attractive to new recruits.

Additionally, partners and associates can attend meetings with remote offices and confer on any range of topics that would typically be discussed in a face-to-face environment.  Plus, attorneys can attend classes and seminars over video as part of distance learning courses to satisfy CLE requirements. This frees up valuable time and resources by avoiding travel to various firm or seminar locations.

Stop by our booth at ABA TECHSHOW for a demonstration and learn how video collaboration solutions can help your firm. Click here for registration information.

Additional Resources:
Video Conferencing Hits Legal Age