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Un-complicating Healthcare IT

#TBT (Throwback Thursday): Healthcare Specific Help Desks

May 26, 2016 10:39:12 AM Posted by Phil Stravers | Partner, V.P. Strategy & Development

We've decided to do a re-post of an article that was written 5 years ago because it’s just as relevant today.  Given the increase of interest we are seeing on this topic of healthcare specific help desks, we thought we would repost for a good read. 

Eli Tarlow from Continuum Health Partners and Paula Smith of Oakwood Healthcare gave a terrific presentation on building an effective help desk in the healthcare setting at HIMSS11.

While both of these organizations are large, with significant staff in IT, there are some concepts and best practices that can be applied in any size organization. You may have seen the EMR Adoption Model provided by HIMSS Analytics, and similarly, they set goals in their help desk based on a similar model called the Service Desk Maturity Model:

(Click to view larger)(click to view the image larger)

The object, obviously, is to move to Stage 6 and in doing so, your Help Desk will inevitably improve. They referenced sources like the Help Desk Institute and ITIL as great places to get benchmarking information as well as best practice and I would encourage you to check those out.

At ICE, we have used both of these organizations to formulate our strategies for approaching service and have found them to be a wealth of information. Having said all of that, you will notice the title here is Healthcare Specific Help Desk and so far, I’ve given you no such thing. So, this is where the insights from the seminar come in.

Insights On Healthcare-Focused Help Desks

Healthcare and the use of IT is a 24 hour a day business:

If you don’t use IT in all shifts today, you soon will be and that creates demands for service beyond the normal business day that is completely unique to healthcare.

It’s not realistic for us to think that our already overworked daytime staff can continue to stack on volumes of after hours calls without moving on to greener pastures or worse, staying and making life miserable for your end-users. So, after hours service is an item that must be addressed through outsourcing or creative scheduling, SuperUser structures, etc.

Monitoring Systems:

If a physician needs to call you to tell you that something significant is wrong with his IT system, you are living in yesterday’s help desk paradigm. Technology monitoring and self healing systems are becoming as pervasive as the technology itself and we need to leverage those systems so we know something is wrong before the clinician does and can correct it before significant work stoppage happens.

If your front line support is no good, the back-end server room performance doesn’t matter:

(If you read nothing else, read this.)

If you lose the confidence of one user through a poor support experience, that experience is guaranteed to affect the behavior of at least 10 of their peers. I’m in favor of having good servers and reliable systems, but if you don’t support the APPLICATIONS that run on those systems well, you won’t have enough actual USERS to justify the servers. Customer service is KING.

End User Profiling:

They introduced me to a phrase that I hadn’t heard of – “end user profiling”. Now, I have long been familiar with specific user profiles in the IT setting, but note the phrasing here “profiling”. Their help desk encourages profiling, (unlike the TSA) and this is where the healthcare specifics really hit home. How you approach a physician in a support situation is incredibly different than a business office clerk, so your methods for receiving requests and responding to issues needs to match the user profile. An example they gave that I think illustrates the point specifically is, it’s very important to know that Dr. Soandso is a cardiologist that only works in his office on Tuesday and Thursday mornings. How you deal with him or her is completely different than the 8-5 ”regular” office worker. We aren’t talking about special treatment here, we’re talking about taking an approach based on the type of user that will produce a higher degree of success.

*On a related note (my editorial – so don’t blame the presenters mentioned above):

In any support setting empathy is an important asset, but empathy without understanding is like a warm, wet blanket warding off a cold winter wind. It feels good at first, but it will quickly become something you despise and will avoid in the future at all costs because it produces a negative result. So knowledge and understanding of HIT and the particular users environment is critical. This is why it’s also important to make sure your help desk and support staff is given time to experience what goes on in the different end-user departments. I know this is a huge investment of time, but one that will pay great dividends over the long haul.

I’ll leave you with a few questions to assess how you are doing in your help desk.

If you answer no to any of these, you might need to rethink your approach:

  1. Do you have a dedicated number and multiple methods for accessing the help desk or do people just always call “Bob”? Does everyone know what the appropriate method is? Do they use it?
  2. Do you have proactive monitoring systems in place today?
  3. Do you have a plan for sustaining support quality for all shifts when you are clinically automated?
  4. Is your help desk spending time learning the unique constraints of the end-user environments?
  5. Can your help desk support an end user without having to walk to their desk to do it?
  6. Are you tracking your help desk incidents? Do you know what your response times are? Do you know what your most common issues are? Do you know who your “frequent flyers” are?

There are more questions and certainly there are solutions, but if you are struggling with this or any part of providing a quality HIT environment, please give us a call. We know community healthcare IT and we want to help.

How Much Will A Help Desk Cost Me?

Phil Stravers | Partner, V.P. Strategy & Development

Phil Stravers, Partner and EVP of Strategy & Market Development at ICE Technologies, Inc. has been in consulting and management roles within the information technology industry for over 25 years and has spent more than 20 years helping hospitals and clinics “make IT work better”. Phil has had the opportunity to act as an Interim CIO for numerous hospitals which gives him a unique perspective on their challenges and associated solutions. Phil really enjoys sharing lessons learned and frequently presents at various hospital associations, HIMSS events and healthcare board rooms all over the country. In addition to his passion for improving Health IT, he loves baseball (die hard Cubs fan) and has spent more than 15 years coaching young baseball players. Phil lives in Pella, IA and often shares concepts learned from his background in coaching along with the Dutch farm culture and work ethic that his home town is known for.