“The cost for all of Google Workspace was less than CHA had paid just for on-premises email. We saved over a million dollars a year, and we went from only being able to use the software onsite to using it on any device, anywhere.” —Jim LaPlante, Senior Director of Technology and Biomedical Services, Cambridge Health Alliance
Cambridge Health Alliance (CHA), a Massachusetts-based health system serving more than 140,000 patients, was forced to rapidly change the way its employees worked in response to the COVID-19 crisis. Fortunately, it had already begun this transition in 2016, when it adopted Google Workspace for collaboration.
In 2016, CHA was considering whether to continue with its existing office collaboration solution. The landscape was changing, the products it was using were expensive, and the organization had been having difficulties with delivering reliable email service using its on-premises email solution.
James LaPlante, Senior Director of Technology and Biomedical Services at CHA, says, “The cost for all of Google Workspace was less than CHA had paid just for on-premises email. We saved over a million dollars a year, and we went from only being able to use the software onsite to using it on any device, anywhere.”
Rapid transition enabled by technology
“The interpreter’s face was the only unmasked face these patients saw during their entire inpatient experience. This highlights how important the technology is. It doesn’t have to be distant, remote, or cold. It can actually be warm and provide that human connection.” —Vonessa Costa, Director of Multicultural Affairs and Patient Services, Cambridge Health Alliance
As the scope of the COVID-19 crisis expanded, CHA relied on Google Workspace to facilitate the many changes necessary to keep staff and patients as safe as possible. All staff who could do so shifted to working remotely, using Gmail, Google Chat, and Google Meet to stay connected. It was also necessary to reconfigure the hospitals and clinics to provide dedicated spaces for COVID-19 patients and reduce the risk of exposure for other patients. “We reconfigured our entire hospital system at the beginning of the pandemic, shutting down some services and moving some equipment. We used Google Forms and Sheets for tracking, fulfilling equipment orders, and other requests—all coordinated with our hospital command center,” says LaPlante.
Members of the Google Workspace team jumped in to provide CHA with a solution to accommodate extra frontline staff. It also helped onboard CHA’s Emergency Management Director on the use of a livestream using Meet, making it possible for CHA leadership to set up all-hands meetings about COVID-19. Livestreams are Google Workspace’s way of accommodating groups of up to 100,000 participants in a video meeting. Participants can access the meeting via a single click from a Meet-enabled conference room, their Google Calendar, or Gmail, whether they are in a CHA hospital, clinic, or working from home. “The team streamed teaching seminars through Meet, demonstrating the correct procedure for donning PPE,” explains LaPlante. “The teaching sessions were also recorded so that if some people couldn’t attend the original meeting, or if they joined the staff after the training was held, the training didn’t need to be repeated.”
CHA was able to maneuver more quickly in response to the pandemic because of its years of experience with Google Workspace. LaPlante says, “We had gone through that learning curve, figuring out the culture that we needed in order to rapidly collaborate on Docs and Sheets and to connect via Meet. It accelerated everything tremendously.”
Each week, CHA held livestream “state of the union”-style addresses to share the latest information on the pandemic. The staff consolidated COVID-19 data into Sheets and shared that information on Google Sites. CHA used tablets to provide video-based interpreter services and to enable patients in isolation to connect with their families. Vonessa Costa, Director of Multicultural Affairs and Patient Services for CHA, provides perspective: “In some cases, the interpreter’s face was the only unmasked face these patients saw during their entire inpatient experience. This highlights how important the technology is. It doesn’t have to be distant, remote, or cold. It can actually be warm and provide that human connection.”
Epic EHR + Meet for Telehealth
“Seeing each other face-to-face through the computer using Google Meet has been an absolutely essential piece in our ability to remain viable, healthy, and connected.” —Dr. Brian Herrick, Chief Information Officer, Cambridge Health Alliance
For two years, Cambridge Health Alliance had been taking steps to prepare for the eventual deployment of telehealth capabilities. When the pandemic hit, the organization needed to rapidly accelerate that effort to continue to serve its community safely. Google Workspace partner Maven Wave, an Atos company, worked with CHA to accelerate the integration of CHA’s Epic electronic health record (EHR) system with Google Meet for Telehealth. This enabled healthcare providers to conduct HIPAA-compliant telehealth sessions that launch directly from the Epic EHR. Taking advantage of Google Meet for Telehealth was also cost-effective, because the functionality is included in all Google Workspace license offerings.
Maven Wave also added safeguards to the video conference itself. The system uses the Meet platform and gives both caregivers and providers full-featured Calendar integration. Plus, it ensures that the teleconference link is created instantaneously, making it virtually impossible for the connection to be compromised. Traditionally, with Meet created in a calendar invite, the patient’s name would be featured, potentially exposing personally identifiable information (PII), including email addresses. To mitigate this, Maven Wave built a shadow calendar as a connector on App Engine, where Meet for Telehealth sessions are housed, to declutter the provider’s calendar and obscure PII. Further, the solution automatically scales to meet demand without the hospital’s IT department needing to intervene.
The Google Meet for Telehealth solution helps ensure continuity of care for patients and saves valuable healthcare provider time. CHA patients now have the ability to seamlessly connect with their care teams, including authorized three-way conferences with family members or medical interpreters as needed, and they experience an authentic alternative to an onsite office visit.
Finding meaning in the numbers
Since May 2020, CHA staff has conducted more than 10,000 teleconferences a month using Meet. By June 2020, 85 percent of CHA’s employees were working remotely. The integrated suite of collaboration tools offered by Google Workspace made it possible for CHA’s team to focus on their patients rather than fighting with the technology.
Dr. Brian Herrick, CHA’s Chief Information Officer, takes a broader view: “How do we stay connected in this time when we are physically distanced, when we’re physically isolated? How do we maintain that connection? Technology has played a huge part in maintaining that connection with our communities—between patients, their families, and their healthcare providers, but also from an internal perspective as a healthcare organization that is facing a crisis, and whose members need to support each other. Seeing each other face-to-face through the computer using Google Meet has been an absolutely essential piece in our ability to remain viable, healthy, and connected.”
*Google Workspace was formerly known as G Suite prior to Oct. 6, 2020.