Guest Column | April 3, 2018

Watch Out For These 3 Help Desk Red Flags

By Dan O’Connor, vice president of client relations for Stoltenberg Consulting

Clinically focused EHR technical support is an often-overlooked necessity for health systems in the evolving value-based care landscape. IT help desks are crucial to value-based care revenue models simply because they help providers be more productive, reduce costly errors and can improve the patient experience. In fact, 85 percent of clinicians’ patient care delivery is impeded by subpar tech support, while 89 percent of physicians and 77 percent of nurses feel more loyal to an organization when advanced tech support delivers a high-quality end-user experience.

Despite these figures, when healthcare leaders structure their health systems’ IT service desks, they fail to provide users with representatives that can help them with all functions of the EHR and other clinical applications. To help eliminate this siloed approach, it is important to examine three potential red flags of the IT service desk that your organization should avoid. The following list sheds insight on how to realistically structure, staff and outsource the hospital IT service desk:

Red flag #1: A robotic cue. A true service desk is not a “bot” application. In order to be truly effective, today’s health system service desks must eliminate the ticket-taker mentality, moving from traditional help desk to service desk. Personal communication and resolution should be led by service desk analysts who are cross trained in a health system’s EHRs and suite of applications. Scripted, automated responses are irritating and unhelpful to the end user. Without the human connection, physician burnout will only build with mounting frustrations. This could lead to lack of organizational buy-in and damage super-user support for future IT initiatives. In addition, lacking a knowledgeable representative on the phone increases the likelihood that the same end-user errors will reoccur, worsening service desk performance statistics and operational spending. With an effective service desk analyst personally leading a call interaction, one-on-one end-user shadowing session with the analyst can effectively resolve issues and provide live, direct training to prevent unnecessary repetition. This personable interaction comes full circle to make end users feel understood, respected and valued.

Red flag #2: Solely dependent on internal IT staff. The pool of qualified health IT staff continues to be limited, with nearly all providers (93 percent) looking for IT support for areas like help desk and clinical application support. According to Computer Economics, large organizations with an IT operating budget of $20 million or more have increased outsourcing spend from 6.3 to 8.7 percent of their IT budgets, while midsized groups have also allocated more to outsourcing from 4.7 to 6.5 percent. Many of these facilities choose to outsource service desk functionality due to the commodity of skills needed for effective support and the economies of scale service providers can offer for cost savings. When internal IT staff do not have to worry about the service desk, they can instead focus on more mission-critical projects, such as new EHR implementations, version upgrades, custom-build work or optimization. An outsourced IT service desk service line reduces expenses in the long run while decreasing lost IT department and patient care time.

Red flag #3: Out of sight and mind. To cut costs, many service providers staff their service desk capabilities with offshore- or nearshore-based representatives. Doing so typically hinders effective call communication and knowledge transfer to end users, mostly due to misunderstanding of the U.S. healthcare delivery system. When outsourcing the service desk, select a firm who takes the time to study and seamlessly follow the organizational operational procedures, IT landscape and employee culture with a personal touch. As such, the firm should invest in a formal observation and transition period.

Lost in competing pressures on the IT department, many organizations also fail to track service desk performance. Ensure functionality exists to record and store calls for reference with a minimum one-month backlog. This is vital for new analyst training and call interaction transparency. Look for data insights from quantitative reporting tool measurements, like first-call resolution, average call length, wait times, satisfaction surveys and trends in types of issues. By assessing call trends, an IT service desk can identify workflow hurdles or common end-user department errors for further improve IT training. A proactive service desk will also assess call volume trends to properly staff for demand, making adjustments to eliminate waste.

Trusted support is invaluable

The healthcare industry and its distinct patient privacy, clinical care and reimbursement requirements make IT end-user support complex. Although there is a sea of outsourcing options, without proper HIT industry knowledge and experience, end-user inquiries may be treated like numbers in a cue. Remember that lackluster technical support leads to end-user frustration, repeated errors and heightened clinician burnout. Eliminating these red flags and selecting a qualified and knowledgeable U.S.-based service-desk partner can result in greater productivity, but also more satisfied providers and patients.