The timely transfer of information between consulting radiologists and physicians on the front lines of care can mean the difference between life and death. In fact, high quality medical practice in every specialty is deeply dependant on appropriate communication and collaboration between teams of caregivers.
For too long, care team collaboration has been limited to the telephone. While the phone still makes perfect sense for many kinds of communication, its use for collaborative processes is less than ideal. That's why the market has been so receptive to tools that help caregivers be more effective when time and clarity of communication are paramount.
One such example of this can be seen in new solutions from GE Healthcare. GE is conducting pilots using Microsoft's Unified Communications technology within the workflow options of its RIS/PACS solutions (radiology information system/picture archiving and communication system). Consulting radiologists and their extended care teams are able to keep in touch using a variety of communication modalities that can be launched within the GE RIS/PACS. This includes IP phone, instant messaging, chat, and even video chat. A choice of icons pops up on the screen providing one click contact with other caregivers. Rich "presence" within Office Communicator insures that each clinician knows if a colleague is on-line and available as well as his or her preferred means of communication. In a field like radiology, the sharing of visual images is critical to collaborative and diagnostic workflow. Here too, Unified Communications technology adds value by letting teams that are separated from each other across departments or across many miles share and manipulate images in real time.
As I've stated so many times before, I believe we have reached the tipping for these kinds of solutions in healthcare. Not only will Unified Communications technology find its place within our healthcare facilities, it will soon find a place in our homes.
Next February, the broadcasts we receive in our living rooms will be fully digital. Soon, the devices we use to receive those signals and the services those devices make possible will start looking more and more like what we have come to expect from computers than televisions. Can the day be too far behind when our "television" becomes a center for both entertainment and communication? Will we use it to call grandma for a video visit, participate in a class, or receive a virtual consultation from a doctor? I believe that day is closer than we think.
Bill Crounse, MD Senior Director, Worldwide Health Microsoft Corporation