Brand Story - Digital agility is a concept that many industries have had to quickly embrace in recent months.
Digital agility is a concept that many industries have had to quickly embrace in recent months. The widespread disruptions caused by COVID-19 resulted in many sectors quickly developing a focus on resilience, such as cross-training teams and enabling employees to work productively in a virtual environment.
Enabling online transactions, strengthening connections between team members at a distance, navigating changing work environments, and responding to customers’ sensitivity to risk and desire for convenience are just some of the new concerns that businesses are facing. Many of these transformations are likely to stick around, even in a post-pandemic world.
The global pandemic has underscored the need for all businesses to anticipate and prepare for crises and redefine the customer experience, with more emphasis placed on digital experiences. Oregon Business will be hosting a virtual event with Comcast Business and other commercial and industry representatives this fall to discuss how companies can and should prepare for the new telework culture.
Few industries have had to reinvent their core models faster than health care. A new reliance on telehealth is creating a whole new patient experience and an unprecedented need for virtual infrastructure and cybersecurity. Comcast Business has built a reliable infrastructure as well as business solutions around connectivity, accessibility, security, ease of management and bandwidth — which are a critical part of the new digital business landscape.
Kelly Bantle, principal of Allegiant Strategies Northwest, recently hosted a Zoom call with representatives of Comcast Business and local health care experts to discuss telemedicine and evolving telehealth.
“Comcast Business offers data and video solutions to a variety of businesses in Oregon and across the country,” says Alan Goldsmith, Vice President of Comcast Business for the Oregon and Southwest Washington region. “We also offer networking solutions that really support HIPAA-compliant applications. These solutions were already part of our existing network and our existing portfolio, but now they’ve become much more relevant.”
Alan Goldsmith, Regional Vice President of Comcast Business
Katie Dobler, vice president of Salem Health Medical Group, says it had already developed infrastructure for video visits in its primary care clinics and in urgent care, but it was underutilized. The pandemic encouraged both patients and providers to adopt it quickly. It has worked out well, particularly within its post-surgery clinic, where patients who do not really need to be seen in person do not have to travel.
Katie Dobler, Vice President of Salem Health Medical Group
“It’s really meeting these patients’ needs. It allows us to communicate on a more frequent basis,” Dobler says. “We are the only hospital in our community so people travel many miles, for a variety of reasons, to come. Telehealth allows patients to recover at home while still receiving the care they depend on from their provider.”
Salem Health averaged 187 monthly telemedicine visits prior to March. Post-COVID, that number jumped to 3,400 average per month visits.
Prior to COVID, about 2% of PacificSource Health Plan’s primary care visits were held via telehealth, but within a 35-day period that jumped to 71%. Now that number is holding between 35% and 45%.
Brian Wetter, vice president of information technology infrastructure and analytics at PacificSource, says the company has mapped its telehealth utilization by ZIP code, which revealed a lot of inconsistencies in access. He says COVID-19 created an innovation environment that allowed PacificSource to advance its infrastructure that it had been trying to move the needle on for quite a while. Now his team is focused on finding strategies to allow its members to access care in the new pandemic environment.
Brian Wetter, Vice President of Information Technology Infrastructure and Analytics at PacificSource
“That’s one of the things that we’re really focused on, on the provider side and on the member side,” Wetter says. “You’ve got to have a good, solid internet to have a productive telehealth visit, especially if you’re using video. So, we’re doubling down on and trying to figure out strategies to make sure that both sides are equipped to handle those visits.”
Access is crucial to a successful telehealth system, and most folks have made that transition successfully and quite quickly, Wetter says. Comcast is deploying products to ensure that continues, Goldsmith says.
“We are actively deploying DDoS, SD-WAN, and work-from-home solutions which support HIPAA-compliant applications,” Goldsmith says. “We’re seeing a lot more demand for those sorts of services than we have in the past.”
DDoS mitigation is an important part of cybersecurity, wherein a server is protected from a targeted distributed denial-of-service attack that can shut down a server due to overwhelming it with malicious traffic. SD-WAN (Software-defined Wide Area Network) architectures are designed to fully support applications hosted in on-premise data centers, public or private clouds, and SaaS services with secured, intelligent connectivity.
At Salem Health, Dobler is planning for about 25% of future primary care visits to take place in the virtual space. In response, it has enacted provider schedules with one remote work day built in. Visits to both its pain management clinic and sleep medicine clinic remain at nearly 100% virtual.
Rural areas, such as Polk County where Salem Health operates one hospital and several clinics, consistently lag in bandwidth. Goldsmith says Comcast is heavily invested in these underserved areas to upgrade Comcast’s network capacity to ensure that video calls are actively supported.
“We’re investing huge amounts of capital to not only upgrade our existing infrastructure, but also build it out into more remote areas as demand changes,” Goldsmith says.
Another thing Comcast is doing to support its Xfinity residential customers is its Internet Essentials program. This program offers high-speed internet at only $10 per month plus taxes to people who may not be in a position to afford more robust connectivity. Customers may qualify for the Internet Essentials program if they are eligible for public assistance programs such as the National School Lunch Program, Housing Assistance, Medicaid, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Supplemental Security Income (SSI), and others.
“We are really trying to make sure that we connect as many people as possible, especially in light of the changing health needs and the changing internet demands that are required to support that,” says Goldsmith.
Dobler says Salem Health providers have reported that a telehealth visit is almost like entering into the patient’s home. “This window into patients’ lives has really been eye-opening,” Dobler says. “Our providers are interested in where their patients are coming from and always want to know more. Virtual visits sometimes offer insights that might not have been possible in a typical care setting.”
Key considerations that factor into developing and expanding telehealth systems include HIPAA-compliance, privacy and the ability to control a customer’s data. Goldsmith says those are key facets that Comcast as an organization, and in particular Comcast Business, are committed to.
When customers subscribe to DDoS mitigation, for instance, Comcast actively detects DDoS attacks on its network. “We then identify and divert any traffic away from those websites that may impact customers and then deliver the clean traffic to the customer’s websites,” Goldsmith explains. “There are several solutions that we’re actively developing that will go along with this too. There will be enhanced Wi-Fi security, and obviously we’re always working on improving the WAN [Wide Area Network] solutions to ensure that these levels of privacy and these levels of encryption continue to be advanced and continue to be cutting edge.”
Post-COVID, PacificSource pivoted most of its employees to a remote-work environment. Previously, the company had no more than 300 people working from home — a hard limit due to the limitation of the company’s VPN [Virtual Private Network]. Now 1,600 employees, nearly 100% of the company’s workforce, work in a remote environment. The VPN has almost quintupled in capacity, says Wetter, and Comcast has been a key part of the strategy of getting everyone working from home effectively and safely.
Previously, PacificSource’s call center staff worked on physical phones.Those have now moved to soft phones. Its phone system already had that capability, but it was not well used. PacificSource has embraced a number of different technologies, including some employees connecting from home on laptops via VPN; some employees using their personal computers to remotely access data centers; and some using virtual desktop infrastructure.
“We have a variety of modalities that we’ve been able to fit into empowering different types of knowledge workers with their daily work,” Wetter says. “All of the services that Alan talks about have been critical to making it through this transition. It’s been incredible, quite frankly, and it has gone significantly better than I could have ever dreamed.”
When it came time for Salem Health to ramp up its virtual visits by orders of magnitude, practically overnight, Dobler says the group’s medical leaders “just started huddling and meeting right away.”
“They still meet with the providers on a daily basis,” says Dobler. “They do a check-in at 7:30 in the morning, each day, to see if there are any barriers.”
Some new providers had not used telehealth infrastructure at all, so the team spent the necessary time to make sure that all providers were comfortable with it. Comcast Business also took steps to refine the business solutions it offers to ensure that apps and solutions really worked.
“One thing that we did in partnership with Independence Health Group,” explains Goldsmith, “was offer a service called Quil where our residential customers use our X1 platform and have educational health videos that customers can view and interact with.”
Quil offers personalized and interactive health content to consumers and their caregivers, which helps to take some of the educational load off the health care providers, Goldsmith says. Comcast has also enhanced its work-from-home solutions for health care and all industries.
“The work-from-home solutions are great because they offer a separate ‘pipe’ that goes into customers’ homes just for the business need,” says Goldsmith. “So, your kids are there and the family can be online playing video games or streaming video at school and that doesn’t interfere with the business bandwidth. It’s dedicated for work-from-home solutions.”
Goldsmith emphasizes security, and the efforts Comcast Business has taken to allow customers to configure the security of its networks to their individual needs.
“The network is constantly evolving and constantly changing in response to the demands from our customers and from the environment within which we operate,” he says. “We always try to predict which way it will change to preempt our customer’s needs.”
LEARN MORE: Watch for details on the upcoming event by visiting oregonbusiness.com/events
Brand stories are paid content articles that allow Oregon Business advertisers to share news about their organizations and engage with readers on business and public policy issues. The stories are produced in house by the Oregon Business marketing department. For more information, contact associate publisher Courtney Kutzman.