UC is key to improving service delivery in healthcare and education sectors

Two of the primary directives of government are education and healthcare. However, delivering these services presents a number of challenges.

January 7, 2013

The central role of government is service delivery to its customers, namely the citizens of South Africa, and two of the primary directives of government are education and healthcare. However, delivering these services presents a number of challenges, particularly in remote and rural areas. One of the major challenges is a shortage of skills when it comes to both medical and educational practitioners, and addressing this has typically involved a lot of travel as skilled persons move around the country conducting workshops and lectures in an effort to impart knowledge transfer.

However, this is neither the most efficient nor cost effective method of service delivery. Government needs to examine the potential of advanced technology in an effort to fully utilise skills and ensure skills development and transfer can take place more effectively. Unified Communications (UC) technology, including video collaboration, offers a solution to the challenges of service delivery in both healthcare and education, delivering multiple benefits to both government and citizens, while at the same time addressing social development in the form of upskilling of people in remote areas.

In the healthcare sector, harnessing the power of UC, along with collaboration tools such as video and data, means that skilled doctors are able to consult to clinics and hospitals in remote areas via video conferencing, and even share files such as x-rays, patient charts and histories across geographic boundaries. These doctors can also conduct workshops from a central location, and collaborate with nurses and doctors in other areas in diagnosing patients for faster, more effective treatment. Surgeons can even direct surgeries with video collaboration tools in operating theatres, and converged technology can enable scans like sonograms to be linked directly into the video collaboration solution.

“In remote areas where nurses are often charged with running clinics, but are unable to diagnose conditions, can collaborate with a doctor in one of the major cities for faster diagnosis and treatment. With sophisticated collaboration tools now available, all the nurse would need is a smart device, like a tablet, in order to communicate. In this way, skills that are typically only available in the private healthcare sector can cost effectively be made available in the public healthcare sector as well, and more immediate solutions can be found to medical problems without the need for travel. This addresses government’s mandate for improved healthcare as well as more efficient practices and a reduced carbon footprint,” says Alain Schram, Chief Operating Officer at Kathea.

In the education space, the challenges are similar – a shortage of skilled educators, particularly in rural and remote areas. UC and video collaboration can be used in a number of ways to improve service delivery in this area. Using video collaboration, lectures can be delivered from a central point to multiple locations, with potentially thousands of students using high quality video. Documents can be shared and distributed, such as lecture notes and worksheets, and messaging systems can be used for students to ask questions during a lecture, which a moderator can accumulate and then pose to the lecturer when relevant.

“Lectures can even be recorded and then made available using video on demand, which means that students can go back to the lecture if they missed something or catch up on a class they were unable to attend. An entire recorded curriculum, complete with notes, can be built up and broadcast to multiple students. These lectures can even be broadcast over smart televisions to large audiences in community centres or even homes. Video on demand also enables the recorded lectures to be dubbed into other languages, so students can receive home language education without the need for the teacher or lecturer to speak the language. The possibilities for education are endless,” says Stanton Naidoo, Country Manager for Polycom South Africa.

“Using UC, it is even possible to conduct collaborative lectures with experts from across the country or even the world. On top of this, presence is another feature of UC that is applicable in both the healthcare and educational spaces. Using presence management as part of a UC implementation, people can be grouped according to their specific skills, it becomes easy for nurses, students or even lecturers to identify the skill they need and a person who is available to attend to their query on the fly. This caters to an increasingly dynamic environment which suits both education and medicine,” adds Schram.

Using UC and video collaboration in healthcare and education has never been a more viable solution. Thanks to widely available 3G, the imminent rollout of LTE, and improved codecs that enable higher quality video to be broadcast over less bandwidth, these tools are now a reality. Even satellite communications have become increasingly affordable, extending the potential of UC further into even the most remote areas. However, one consideration that government needs to bear in mind when it comes to UC implementations is the importance of an open standards-based solution.

“With regard to telemedicine, or UC in the healthcare space, it is simply not feasible to roll this out in a proprietary fashion. Hospitals and clinics contain a lot of legacy equipment that needs to link into the UC solution, and a rip and replace strategy cannot be taken due to budget constraints. In the education space, an open approach ensures that a variety of platforms, endpoints and collaboration software can be utilised, for best of breed solutions,” says Naidoo. “An open standards approach also ensures that users can collaborate regardless of the platform they are using, be this a smartphone, a tablet, a PC, a notebook or a specifically designed UC endpoint. Adopting an open standards-based approach ensures that more people can collaborate easier and more cost effectively.”

Both education and healthcare are critical to the future of South Africa, and thus are top of the list when it comes to improving service delivery. Adopting UC and collaboration technology will enable government to deliver better services to more people, in a more cost effective manner, while reducing travel costs and carbon footprints. By adopting an open-standards solution, best of breed systems can be implemented which integrate seamlessly with legacy equipment, making the most of current investment while paving the way for future technologies. The future of government lies in embracing technology to enable better, more cost effective service delivery across multiple sectors.