Photo: River Valley Counseling Center
River Valley counseling Center's Holyoke Clinic in Holyoke, Massachusetts, always was trying to make ends meet with its technology.
Its efforts to revamp and improve its technology were merely trial and error.
Staff were putting band-aids on their technologies, struggling to figure out what the root of the issues were when disruptions would occur. Was it the computer itself? Network connectivity? A glitch in the signal? To put the extent of the issues in perspective, some hardware was more than a decade old; it could easily take clinicians five minutes just to reach the login screen.
"When we thought one thing was addressed, another hurdle would pop up," recalled Chassity Crowell-Miller, LICSW, a clinical social worker at the clinic. "This element of touch and go was particularly challenging for mental healthcare, in which providers may be helping with sensitive, traumatic issues and were unnecessarily disrupted and inhibited by the outdated technology.
"Overall, our clinicians' ability to help, as well as our patients' treatment and overall experiences, were negatively impacted," she added.
It's important to note that the organization's Holyoke Clinic tends to an underserved population, with many patients being of low socioeconomic status. Across the community, there are high poverty, school dropout, substance abuse and violence rates.
"For providers in our community and beyond, the past two years have been like nothing they have ever seen in the field," Crowell-Miller observed. "At the onset of COVID, while many organizations and communities were able to transition seamlessly to virtual learning and working in order to continue their work, River Valley counseling Center's Holyoke Clinic was not set up for this abrupt move to technology.
"While telehealth has improved access to many outpatient services, marginalized patients – rural, poor, older and minority patients – may not have benefited equally from telehealth's expansion," she continued. "With all this in mind, River Valley counseling Center needed to receive the equipment, infrastructure and IT counsel necessary to support its people in our Holyoke location – both in person and via telehealth."
The cost of outdated technology often is not discussed, but for providers to do their jobs effectively, sound technology infrastructure is a table-stakes requirement, said Stephen Moss, senior vice president and general manager, connected workforce, at Insight, a health IT and infrastructure company.
"The last two years have forced health providers to play IT catchup and significantly accelerate digital transformation," he said. "For many like River Valley counseling Center, it calls for starting with the basics.
"They are navigating the impact of legacy infrastructure that is sometimes decades old, not to mention extremely outdated devices that magnify the frustration of resources that should make their work easier actually impeding their ability to care for patients," he continued.
River Valley's challenges stood out to Insight.
"To help, we focused on how to improve productivity and the client experience, particularly to address the lag and frozen sessions during telehealth consultations," Moss explained. "A simple upgrade to 50 new Intel-powered desktops and laptops has made daily multitasking an afterthought rather than a source of frustration for clinic staff.
"To be able to hold a telehealth session without hang-ups not only allows River Valley's medical providers to more effectively address their clients' needs, by eliminating disruptions, they're gaining credibility and the ability to treat more people on a daily basis," he added.
The Insight and Intel teams took a hands-on approach to provide and implement the right technology, at the right price, said Jason Kimrey, vice president, U.S. channel and partner programs, at Intel.
"The strategy was informed by the mindset that having the best technology was the most effective way to maximize productivity for River Valley and its counselors," he said. "To help guide the process, we collaborated and leveraged our partner ecosystem to understand the unique challenges and pain points for the organization."
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MEETING THE CHALLENGE
With River Valley's considerations in mind, Intel prioritized implementing more modernized devices and hardware that provided an opportunity to update core infrastructures, Kimrey said. Intel upgraded network switches, physical hard drives, chips and more to accommodate for the increased bandwidth necessary for telehealth usage, he added.
"As a team, Insight's counsel helped combine and implement all of this," Moss explained. "Going from barely conducting any services remotely before the pandemic to now doing most of their work via telehealth is a monumental culture change. Coping with new technology shouldn't be a burden on caregivers; it needs to be an intuitive, simplified experience.
"When we work with organizations like River Valley, we start with understanding what their unique challenges are, who is impacted and what they need to accomplish in their daily work," he continued. "Then we figure out the right technology based on individual caregiver personas and their needs to optimize their user experience, productivity and ability to help their clients."
Insight handles rapid provisioning, configuration and deployment for virtual desktop environments so new devices are ready to go out of the box with minimal setup and networking connection required by the organization's IT team or employees, he added.
"Insight also has the ability to provide virtual IT support for day-to-day management of the health of the devices, which frees up organizations with limited internal IT resources, such as River Valley counseling Center, to focus on more meaningful transformative projects," Moss said.
"For River Valley, they've gained the ability to quickly provide new devices to their staff that are ready to go with the applications they need," he added. "Their care providers now can work just as effectively from home or at the clinic."
Technology is critical to making peoples' lives better, and River Valley has really felt that, Crowell-Miller stated. Thus far, highlights for River Valley, she reported, have included:
- Improved client and clinician experience. There have been tangible benefits for the client experience – both internally and externally. The provider organization has increased its telehealth services from 5% pre-pandemic to 95% during the height of the pandemic, while removing common barriers like lag time and income lost from prior no-show rates. Now, because of the ability to adapt, adjust and shift to telehealth, when necessary, clinicians can meet the patients where they're at.
- Increased productivity. The technology addressed a loss of productivity and slowness for River Valley counseling Center, which impacted the quality of services it was able to provide. Even just logging onto computers is much faster and happens within seconds. Specifically, the organization has dramatically improved productivity by up to an estimated 25% for clinicians with minimal access to technology at home, making it easier to use the office for virtual or in-person visits when necessary.
- Providing community resources. River Valley counseling Center now is able to get a better foothold to help and serve the community. This technology isn't just transactional from a healthcare provider standpoint; having this infrastructure in place is mutually beneficial for the clinicians and the patients in ways beyond traditional appointments and hosting telehealth sessions. This technology has helped River Valley counseling Center put the resources in the hands of clients. River Valley works on these computers while seeing a patient in person, and staff are able to help provide resources like databases, printed materials and more for the patients.
ADVICE FOR OTHERS
"Because every organization is different, it's really important to ensure you're working with a technology partner that understands not only the healthcare sector and how technology plays a vital role in patient care, but also the unique challenges and needs of your operations, clinicians, patients and the community you serve," said Crowell-Miller.
Email the writer: [email protected]
Healthcare IT News is a HIMSS Media publication.
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