Photo: Dickenson County Behavioral Health Services
Dickenson County Behavioral Health Services is a small, rural community service healthcare organization that provides a variety of mental health, substance abuse and development services to the residents of Dickenson County, Virginia. Since the facilities are located in the remote mountains of southwest Virginia, there is not much broadband service.
The organization used to rely on the same type of cable-driven Internet that people had in their homes.
“We had the same speeds that most residences had, but we were trying to serve a 10,000-square-foot building and 37 employees. It was horrible,” said Kevin Mullins, executive director of Dickenson County Behavioral Health Services. “We had constant outages and low connection speeds. Our practitioners were trying to integrate telehealth, but it was a nightmare because the video kept freezing. We knew we had to find a way to get the Internet access we needed to serve our staff and patients.”
Additionally, the organization had terrible WiFi. It only had two off-the-shelf routers in the building. Those routers were designed for personal residences and greatly affected the ability to support the Dickenson community.
The organization was barely getting a signal – and when it did, it was bad and choppy. Sometimes it was only getting 15 Mbps down and 1 Mbps up.
The first technology solution that was proposed to solve the connectivity challenge was the delivery of a high-speed, fully managed Internet access and WAN service from vendor ENA. This service would virtually eliminate the challenges the healthcare organization was experiencing with its cable-driven Internet and enable it to deliver seamless and reliable access throughout the facility.
The second technology solution proposed, following the deployment of ENA’s managed Internet access service, was ENA’s managed WiFi solution.
“Our clinicians really love the mobility this technology has afforded them and how the much more conducive working environment has enabled them to better serve patients.”
Kevin Mullins, Dickenson County Behavioral Health Services
“Prior to implementation, the ENA team conducted a site visit and examined the layout of our building,” Mullins recalled. “They did heat-mapping to determine our specific needs and to ensure they were not overselling us equipment and services. Their wireless engineer provided us with a detailed summary of his findings and advised that we’d need 10 access points to extend 100% coverage to our entire building and parking lot.”
MEETING THE CHALLENGE
Dickenson County Behavioral Health Services is using ENA’s Internet, WAN and WiFi services to deliver robust and reliable connectivity throughout its building, Mullins said.
“I’m so grateful we made these upgrades before the pandemic because this technology enabled us to facilitate face-to-face consultations over FaceTime and Zoom,” he said. “Our practitioners and staff are now conducting telehealth sessions simultaneously with multiple individuals, which was not an option available to us years ago.
“Additionally, this technology has enabled us to serve our community in ways that fall outside of our traditional scope,” he continued. “For example, because we are so rural, many of our students lack broadband access at home. With our new WiFi solution, we can extend coverage to our parking lot, so we have students and parents pull into our parking lots to complete their assignments. That has been a huge boost for our community.”
The organization also has seen a big shift in the way its practitioners work, especially since implementing the new WiFi network.
“Our clinicians really love being able to use their laptops instead of their desktop computers,” he noted. “They can travel from station to station and work together throughout the building. They love the mobility this technology has afforded them and how the much more conducive working environment has enabled them to better serve patients.”
In terms of integration, the organization now is able to support and facilitate software programs more effectively. Its electronic health records vendor is Credible, and all patient records are stored in the cloud. The new WiFi network makes it much easier and faster for staff to access patient records and has expanded the ways they use the EHR.
“We’ve experienced the same success with video-conferencing technologies,” Mullins noted. “The video sessions we are conducting now would have been impossible to facilitate before we deployed our new WiFi network. Most of our sessions are now conducted virtually and are a real lifeline for our community.
“As a result of COVID-19 and its impact, we’ve seen a large uptick in the number of patients experiencing depression and/or anxiety,” he added. “Rather than having to come into the clinic, which can be an anxiety-inducing activity, patients can meet with one of our clinicians in a safe virtual environment.”
Qualitatively, Dickenson County Behavioral Health Services’ WAN and WiFi networks have made a big difference in the way it operates.
“Prior to implementation, we did not track latency issues or drops with our telehealth sessions, because it was a given,” Mullins said. “It happened every visit. Now, it’s a 100% turnaround. We have no disruption of service and no lag time.
“We now can host seamless telepsychiatry and telehealth programs, which has resulted in a huge increase in our number of patient contacts,” he continued. “It is so easy for them to get on Zoom and connect with a practitioner. We often will have patients pull into our parking lot and use our WiFi to participate in a face-to-face virtual session with one of our clinicians.”
Additionally, the organization previously had used a software program that tracked operational efficiency. Based on that data, it could see staff production numbers increased following the deployment of ENA’s services.
ADVICE FOR OTHERS
“Any healthcare organization in need of faster, more reliable WiFi and broadband services should upgrade its network,” Mullins advised. “These capabilities have opened so many new doors for us and continue to introduce new opportunities.”
The organization was able to move to Microsoft Teams as its primary data platform, because now it has the infrastructure in place to effectively support it. Overall, it has been able to upgrade many of its internal systems and added additional software to be more cost-effective.
“For healthcare providers, both in rural and suburban settings, it is absolutely worth every penny you are going to pay to upgrade,” he concluded. “Rural areas like ours do not have a lot of access to broadband solutions like ours.
“It has been an absolute game-changer in our ability to provide high-quality services and increase our digital footprint. The benefits outweigh the costs and will ultimately save you money while enabling you to be more efficient.”
Email the writer: [email protected]
Healthcare IT News is a HIMSS Media publication.
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