Health Care Unified Communications Is Promising and Tricky

The small and medium-sized business sector is the biggest driver of the economy. That statement no doubt holds true for the unified communications sector as well. It’s a tricky area for vendors, VARs, service providers and other members of the ecosystem, however, because each vertical that makes up the SMB sector is so unique.

Last week, I looked at how UC can help first responders. That category overlaps with health care, which clearly is one of the biggest potential users of UC tools and platforms – and one of the most unique.

Yesterday, Melanie Turek blogged at No Jitter about a report written by Alaa Saayed, her colleague at Frost & Sullivan. The upshot of the report, Turek wrote, is that UC is growing in health care, despite the fact that the adoption of IP telephony is relatively slow. The good news is that IPT penetration is set to grow and that wireless local-area network (WLAN) uptake is healthy. More good news is that a survey of C-level health care and pharmaceutical executives shows high awareness of UC. This likely is driven by the long-term use of telemedicine, a discipline that shares many conceptual and technical elements with UC.

Last week, I posted at IT Business Edge an interview with Gregg Malkary, the founder and managing director of Spyglass Consulting Group. Malkary has just released a report on the difficulties and challenges of communicating in hospitals. For instance, some platforms are forbidden in certain areas of the facility, coverage in general is spotty, and the profusion of networks requires that nurses carry more devices than traveling handset salesmen (if there were any). Perhaps worst of all, the glut of devices and networks means that nurses, particularly those with supervisory roles, are bombarded with messages.

This is serious business. Dividing the attention of somebody who administers dangerous drugs to very sick people is not a great idea. Showering nurses with messages also can lead to problems. A call about Mr. Jones’ prescription could arrive while the nurse is at Ms. Smith’s bedside. The nurse, who has anxiously awaited the information, is human and takes the call — which likely is a HIPAA violation.

Luckily, where there are problems, there are vendors. Yesterday, Amcom Software released Amcom Mobile Connect, a system that funnels a wide variety of messages to designated staff through a BlackBerry.

Two things are evident. The UC market can be neatly divided into enterprise and SMB categories only at the highest level. Once the conversation gets even a bit more specific, the particularities  of that vertical must be addressed. In other words, it is more useful to say, “Healthcare UC must include�” than to say “SMB UC must include�” The other takeaway is that health care likely is the most unique of these verticals.

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