Previously I wrote about some benefits of having a local area network in your office, including the ability to connect a variety of equipment from diagnostic devices to business productivity tools. Another newer technology that can take advantage of your network is what is known as a VoIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol) phone system. Using VOIP phones can boost revenue as well as help with other things. This phone system uses an internet connection – typically a broadband connection such as fiberoptic – instead of a traditional copper wire connection used by standard telephones (known as POTS for ‘plain old telephone service’).
VoIP technology has some especially attractive features for multi-location practices. We have a major satellite office that is about 20 miles away from our main office, in another county. All communication between the two offices used to be made with long-distance phone calls. Apart from being inefficient, it was also costly.
Recently we had the opportunity to access the local power utility’s fiberoptic backbone which eventually linked with the adjacent county. This drastically reduced our data connection service costs – particularly helpful with our EMR and EPM (electronic practice management) systems. Subsequently, we started looking into the VoIP technology to replace our aging telephone system.
The hardware can be pricey, once you throw in all of the handsets needed (anywhere from $70-100K for a practice our size and number of locations). Then you have to factor in the labor and additional equipment required as well as time for employee training.
We chose a regional IT company called Verteks Consulting, which recommended a VoIP solution by ShoreTel. Now data and voice run on the same network. The system has the ability to transfer calls between offices as if they were just extensions; if the user forgets the extension, the phones also have a built-in directory with search function. Docking stations for the iPads can be used for conference calls or video conferencing using the office network from any location that has an internet connection.
The system also comes with a cool mobility app, downloadable to smartphone or iPad, which allows doctor and employee phone numbers to be ‘mobile’, following them wherever they go. The system keeps track of where staff members are and calls can be transferred from office phone to smartphone seamlessly even during a conversation. Phone calls made from a smartphone or iPad appear as if they were originating from the office, even if the individual is at home. This ability to ‘know’ where an individual is at any given time is known as presence.
One of the best parts of the system was how seamlessly the transition was for the staff. The handsets look and act like regular phones. The mobility app required just a short tutorial to set up a ‘favorites’ list – once created, you no longer need to call around to find someone but merely dial their extension and the system essentially finds them wherever they may be (a good or bad thing, depending on your point of view).
Don Cushing, our practice administrator, has projected that the system should pay for itself in three years through a combination of staff savings, efficiency, and reduction of legacy phone line costs. We have also seen savings in internet costs as a result of migrating our data connections to the fiberoptic backbone as well.
As with any implementation of complex technology, it pays to have it done right the first time. Don Gulling, CEO of Verteks Consulting, says that when considering an IT services company for a VoIP solution, “Practices should consider the firms experience working with similar sized organizations and should put heavy emphasis on the firm’s history of delivering service after the sale by checking multiple references, including recent ones as well as ones that are 2+ years old or older.”