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Hybrid VoIP, unified communications improve patient care

Hybrid VoIP and unified communications improve an aging TDM system for one medical center that focuses on quality patient care.

A hybrid VoIP-TDM and unified communications system was the answer for one healthcare organization when it learned that support for its existing telephony solution would soon disappear.

When BryanLGH Medical Center made the decision to upgrade from a reliable and highly appreciated -- yet increasingly antiquated -- Siemens TDM-based telephony solution, the hospital -- named for one of Nebraska's well-known statesmen and the state capital -- had to make a difficult decision. As a healthcare facility, a fully reliable communications system is of the utmost importance, yet BryanLGH recognized that it needed to be prepared for the future of communications.

Comprising two campuses -- remnants of a previously separate history, Bryan Memorial Hospital and Lincoln General Hospital joined together in 1997 -- named East and West, eight off-site clinics and various mobile groups, BryanLGH had to consider factors including distance and mobility of staff between hospitals and around the region, as well as ease of use for its nearly 4,000 users.

After some initial consideration involving costs and necessary hardware, BryanLGH reached an internal compromise to retain the strengths of the TDM system while becoming fully capable of making a complete migration to VoIP at a later date.

To make this decision, the telecommunications staff at BryanLGH went to their longtime service provider, Windstream Communications. For more than 25 years, Windstream had been helping the hospital to determine and develop the communications solutions that fit the needs of the healthcare community. This established partnership meant Windstream already knew and understood what the medical center's current system was and could easily help BryanLGH identify what type of solution would now fulfill its needs.

In addition to requesting a VoIP-enabled, TDM-based hybrid solution, BryanLGH wanted the new communications systems to take advantage of unified communications features, a standardized voicemail system that worked across all campuses and clinics, and centralized management of the system.

Bids returned by various vendors ran the gamut from telling BryanLGH that TDM was no longer a feasible solution to insisting that a hybrid solution was not available. Susan Hopkins, manager of telecommunications at BryanLGH, said that was the moment she began to wonder whether the ideal solution would be possible at all.

"We were worried that if a hybrid solution could be found, it would be too cost-prohibitive and we would be forced into a strict VoIP-only system," Hopkins said. "Patient care had to come first, and that means a 100% reliable communications system."

When Siemens returned the bid, the communications vendor was able to offer a hybrid TDM/VoIP solution that fit BryanLGH's needs. As the medical center had had previous experience with Siemens -- the East campus was still utilizing its Siemens 9751, though support for it was disappearing – BryanLGH was confident that Siemens could live up to its promise to provide the exact system the medical facility needed, Hopkins said.

The medical center installed two networked Siemens Hi-Path 4000 Real-Time IP systems at its main locations while deploying access points to its remote locations -- this scheme means BryanLGH has enough resiliency to effectively support the level of communications its users need. The Siemens solution also meant that BryanLGH was able to retain much of its existing TDM infrastructure.

Upgrading the voicemail system -- previously two separate systems at each of the two hospital campuses -- involved replacing the existing systems with a Siemens HiPath Xpressions unified communications solution. For the end users, all messages, including email, voice, mobile and fax, are now on one system and available on one interface for both on-site and remote employees. BryanLGH also chose to deploy the HiPath ProCenter contact center solution, which allows incoming patient calls and inquiries to be handled in a more efficient manner. Hopkins noted in particular that the countdown feature, which informs patients how much more time it should take to reach a particular person, is enjoyed by both the scheduling center staff and patients.

"By embedding real-time communications into our mission-critical business processes, Siemens has improved our staff's productivity and efficiency and our overall quality of care," Hopkins said.

Still in the process of transitioning the remaining buildings, BryanLGH anticipates that the new system will be fully installed during October 2007. Placing the less critical sites -- such as the wellness center -- within BryanLGH's scope on an internal VoIP system allows the medical center to become more comfortable with VoIP while keeping the hospitals and critical clinical centers on a TDM system for reliability. The hybrid system, Hopkins said, will ease the transition to full VoIP when BryanLGH decides that is the appropriate next step.

Next Steps

Transitioning to VoIP can be made easier by using a hybrid PBX. David Jacobs explains in this tip.

Variations of VoIP and telephony solutions are discussed in the VoIP models and services guide.

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