TOH enhances communications using Teams
April 1, 2020
OTTAWA – In a matter of weeks, spurred by the COVID-19 crisis, The Ottawa Hospital has gone from 3,000 active users of the Teams platform to 5,000. Teams is enabling clinicians and staff throughout the multi-site hospital to work more closely, even when apart, through the use of the platform’s secure instant texting, group communications, document sharing, and videoconferencing.
“Everyone who doesn’t have to be at the hospital for patient care has been directed to work from home,” said Jean-Claude Lemonde (pictured), director of IS operations for The Ottawa Hospital.
Still, they’ve got to be in constant communication with staff at the medical centre, and with others working outside the hospital, to remain effective. That’s where Teams has come in.
He noted that the organization has had Microsoft Teams in its toolbox for several years, but the current situation with COVID-19 has encouraged more staff to use it. When some members try it, they find that they like it.
In his own department, which has 85 persons reporting to him, Lemonde says that Teams has made the task of keeping the hospital’s entire network and systems up and running more efficient.
Using a group chat function, problems in the network or systems – such as outages – can be reported instantly to team members, and the root cause of the problem can be found very quickly.
“We hear about the problems faster, and we can address them faster,” said Lemonde. “We’ve removed half an hour to one hour to resolve a major incident in this way.”
“It’s important,” he continued, “as every minute counts in your Information Services operations.”
He said that Teams was also used recently in the creation of Ottawa’s COVID-19 Assessment Centre, and helped to get the centre’s Information Technology infrastructure up and working very quickly. The Ottawa Hospital collaborated with the City of Ottawa and the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO) on the project, and each organization used Teams to communicate.
“The centre went live in four days,” said Lemonde. “The biggest contributor to having the IT infrastructures ready in time was the use of Teams.”
Among other things, the City of Ottawa was responsible for implementing the Internet at the site, while The Ottawa Hospital took on the job of getting the network working, which required routers, wi-fi, computers and printers.
“As you can imagine, there was a lot of collaboration and coordination required,” said Lemonde. “We would not have achieved this velocity of implementation without Teams. Phone calls and regular e-mails are too slow and lack context. With Teams, we often had responses within seconds.”
Lemonde said there are many people in the hospital – as there are in society in general – who resist change and some of them were reluctant to use Teams.
“Once they try it, they never want to go back,” he said. “It’s like what happened with smartphones.”
But he said that it is worth continuing to convince staff to adopt modern platforms and better ways of communicating and collaborating, especially in times of crisis.
Not all communication is done in Teams. Within the hospital, when clinicians are working with patient information, they’re instructed to use the secure messaging function that’s embedded in the new Epic Electronic Health Record (EHR).
However, for administration, business, and discussions among staff and clinicians, people are now using Teams over emails more and more. According to Lemonde, if there’s a discussion about hospital programs or operations, clinicians are using Teams.
“On a smartphone, if you see a message come up on the Epic app, you know that it’s patient-related,” he explained. “If it’s in the Teams app, it’s for other hospital-related business; it’s a good way to containerize information.”
The hospital has begun looking at using Teams to support patients in communicating with family members using its messaging and videoconferencing functions.
While some patients can do this through their own computers and tools like FaceTime and WhatsApp, Lemonde explained that other patients come to the hospital without computers or social messaging accounts.
“We’ve already got Teams here, so we can help patients reach their loved ones and give them support,” he said.
For this reason, the hospital has just ordered 300 more iPads.
“It would be very sad if these people could not see their families and loved ones,” he said, noting that patients are more alone than ever before due to COVID-19-related visitor restrictions.
Lemonde observed that enterprise tools like Zoom and personal tools like FaceTime, Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp are being used widely in the COVID-19 crisis.
However, he pointed out that Teams is a highly secure platform, and personal tools are not a good fit for enterprises. As well, he prefers Teams because its tools are all integrated – the messaging, group conversations, document collaboration and videoconferencing all work together.
“You can even edit documents in the app while you’re meeting and participating in discussions,” he said. “Other platforms don’t do this so easily.”