Patient service is the number one priority for the 20 medical specialists working for the Kidney Specialists of Minnesota, P.A. (KSM). And in any healthcare setting, especially medical offices, having an effective business communications system is a critical component for caring for and servicing patients. During a recent renovation and expansion of their corporate office, the team at KSM saw an opportunity to replace and upgrade the multiple analog and digital telephone systems they were operating at their three locations in Brooklyn Center, Roseville, and Richfield, MN. After a search that lasted over six months and consisted of multiple demos from big-box business communications providers including Avaya, Cisco, Mitel, and Shoretel, KSM chose Digium’s Switchvox phone system as the most affordable and versatile solution for their patient-based practice.
Consisting of over 80 employees and medical staff, KSM provides medical services to patients throughout Minnesota’s Tri-Cities who suffer from chronic kidney disease, hypertension, diabetic kidney disease, and end-stage renal disease (ESRD). They also care for those who are recovering from kidney transplants or other kidney related illnesses.
“One of the biggest concerns in researching a new phone system was to find a solution that still allowed patients to reach a live person during office hours, and not a computer,” says Brian Steingraber, director of Information Technology (IT) for KSM. “Although price points were certainly a big consideration, the ability to continue personalized communications for our patients while using the automated IVR only after hours and on holidays topped the list of feature requirements in our search.”
The Switchvox Solution
KSM was operating a mishmash of four or five digital and analog telephone systems at their three locations, including three older model Avayas. All of the legacy phone equipment was an expensive maintenance nightmare, according to Steingraber. “We began the research for a new telecommunications system two years ago, but we did not really know what to expect in terms of cost, and we didn’t have a budget set aside for it.”
To help ease the selection and deployment process, Steingraber put in a call to James Finstuen, a communications technology specialist at Ideacom Mid-America. A Digium partner and Minnesota-based reseller. Mid-America offers Switchvox as an ideal Unified Communications (UC) solution for small and mid-sized businesses. Finstuen arranged for a Switchvox demo and overview webinar for the KSM team at the Brooklyn Center location, so they could fully compare Switchvox to Shoretel, Mitel, and the other solutions being considered. “Brian is very tech savvy, and he knew that what KSM wanted to accomplish would require building out their current data network into a MPLS network to accommodate voice communications (VoIP), so there was more involved than just buying a telephone system,” says Finstuen.
“After getting some preliminary pricing on the competing solutions and investigating what was required to build an infrastructure for VoIP, we realized we were looking at about $85,000,” says Steingraber. “Then when our renovation and consolidation project at the corporate offices in Brooklyn Center became a certainty, we found a way to group it in as a line item under that larger budget.”
In addition to patient communications, the list of features and priorities included enterprise SIP to cut down on costly, time-consuming, and complex communications management across their multiple locations. With a single Switchvox appliance at the Brooklyn Center location, KSM could install and maintain local voice trunks without incurring long distance charges among offices, and share call capacity dynamically across the enterprise.
This single integrated hub allowed for 4-digit dialing between their 85 to 90 doctors and employees, and the ability to forward and transfer calls between sites. The solution also had to be simple to use and expandable since KSM foresees the addition of new employees and the possible opening of new locations in the near future.
“We looked at many options and sat through demos with all the big name systems,” says Steingraber. “We even considered a Shoretel Cloud service and a Cisco hosted service, but the more we dug into it, the more we realized it was going to be significantly cheaper up front to go with a premises-based solution. When we went through the Switchvox webinar and demo, the mix of features and price points for that system were definitely the deciding factor.”
Along with support from Ideacom, it took about six months for KSM, to build an MPLS network on the second floor of the multi-tenant office complex they had previously taken over in Brooklyn Center. They redid all the cabling and purchased some POE switches, which would allow for easy changeover from analog to VoIP; and they changed ISP providers.
Steingraber says the implementation of Switchvox went smoothly. They deployed the Switchvox 360 in July 2014, which is designed for up to 400 users needing high performance and high redundancy. They also purchased over 80 Digium high definition D40 phone sets and about 20 D70 executive phones.
“We had a huge challenge finding a phone service provider even after talking to several carriers. We picked one, but the transition has been difficult,” says Steingraber. “We deployed the Switchvox last fall, but just last week we imported new numbers and finished the Richfield and Roseville transition. The delay was due completely to problems with the phone service provider.”
So Easy the Hard Part is Remembering Not to Dial “9”!
Steingraber says even after two years, KSM is still realizing the changes and full capabilities the Switchvox VoIP solution offers.
“The doctors don’t want to give out their private numbers, but they do want the staff to be able to reach them at any time, so we are getting their cellphones set up with Switchvox Mobile so that can happen,” says Steingraber. Since migrating off their legacy phone system, KSM has already experienced a huge gain from efficiency savings. “We went from the smallest changes on our old system taking days, and even weeks to get done, to now being able to add or make changes in minutes and seconds with Switchvox.”
“We don’t have a call center, but we do have a very high call volume with a lot of staff members taking calls. We do not use the automated IVR during business hours, but our receptionist can transfer calls to any location of a specific medical staff member. The system is so simple that to tell you the truth, the hardest part for the staff is getting used to not dialing ‘9’ before they make a call!”