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Un-complicating Healthcare IT

The Importance Of A Patient-Centered IT Department

Jun 27, 2017 7:49:00 AM Posted by Al Comito, RN | Team Lead, Systems Engineers

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In the world of Healthcare IT, there are those who excel and those who struggle.  Struggling or not, it would seem that very few IT Departments can boast that they are “Patient Centered.” Being “Patient Centered” means looking out for the best interest of the patient and knowing the IT Department’s direct impact on patient care. Think about this statement for a minute:

A healthcare organization’s primary responsibility is the care and well-being of the patients that it serves

Shouldn’t the care and well being of a patient be the responsibility of everyone in the healthcare organization and not just fall on those who directly impact patient care? This type of organizational paradigm shift could also make for better patient satisfaction and increase HCAHPS scores (Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems scores).

Being a “Patient Centered” IT Department means more than just fixing a software glitch or a network outage.

Consider these 3 key aspects to having a “Patient Centered” IT Department:

  1. Set the correct priorities when managing the day to day IT operations and projects
  2. Set standards for hardware, software and IT operations
  3. Answer the key question for every IT decision

Set the correct priorities when managing the IT day-to-day operations and projects

Whether you admit it or not, there is usually a hierarchy in every healthcare organization that is based on educational levels. Those with the most degrees or education usually get the priority service from IT. While there may be good reasons for this hierarchy, it does not usually lead to a “Patient Centered” IT Department. To truly be a “Patient Centered” IT Department, priority IT services should be determined based on the patient.

To set “Patient Centered” IT priorities you must look at the way a patient navigates though the healthcare delivery system and understand where the bottlenecks may occur. By understanding the way a patient moves through the healthcare delivery system you can begin to prioritize your IT response. A high priority should be given to any person or department that has direct contact with a patient. Notice that I said direct patient contact and not direct patient care. Even though the registration department does not care for the patient directly, they have direct patient contact that can affect the speed of which a patient flows through the healthcare delivery system. If a department is adapting their workflow to meet a shortcoming of an EMR or faulty IT equipment, the chances for patient delays are significantly increased. A significant amount of patient dissatisfaction in patient surveys are a result of a patient or patient family member perceiving a delay in treatment. If an IT Department can minimize delays by prioritizing these issues correctly, there is great potential to change that patient’s experience.

Conversely, if an issue is not directly related to the care or well being of the patient, then a lower priority should be considered for that issue. This is a paradigm shift for many healthcare organizations because of the dynamics of the facility. It is a change in culture but it is not impossible to achieve. This change will not happen overnight. There will always be exceptions to these priorities, however, once you start down this path, it can become infectious throughout the healthcare organization.

I have seen this “Patient Centered” approach work when IT leaders develop a commonlist of response priorities and then educate system engineers on how what they do directly impacts patient outcomes and satisfaction. By educating the engineers on the business aspects of the organization and how a patient flows through a healthcare delivery system, it puts a human value on what they are doing. It is not just fixing a computer, but can have a substantial impact on patient outcomes. When the technical teams have a good understanding of the potential consequences of a delayed reading of STAT MRI by 15 to 30 minutes because of computer or circuit glitch, that shifts the focus from just an inanimate object to a human perspective. The STAT MRI is an easy scenario to understand, but the same principals are true when dealing with other departments that have direct patient contact. The consequence may not be as apparent, but the delay in those departments can change the perception of care that a patient receives.

One way to develop this understanding is to plan “field trips” within your healthcare operation. It’s an investment for sure, but an important one. Take your technicians out of the IT office and have them spend a day observing and working in the ED, Lab, Pharmacy, and Registration. That perspective starts to “put some skin” on the end user and patient scenarios, which can really drive home those operational priorities. Once those day-to-day operational priorities are established, real change can begin. The priorities should be clear and concise. They also must be flexible. They should be seen as a guide and not the Holy Grail of IT operations.

Set standards for hardware, software and IT operations

Standards for hardware, software and IT operations are important for a multitude of reasons. There are certainly economic benefits for standards, but there are also functional reasons as well. By having standards for hardware and software, an IT Department can improve efficiency and service. Improved efficiency can translate into less time spent on resolving issues and more time available for improving end user performance and workflows. Standards allow the IT Department to decrease the complexity of the IT operations by decreasing the variety of items that they have to support. Hardware and software standards can be phased in over a period of time. This is especially true if the IT Department has an established replacement cycle for hardware and software.

IT operational standards are an integral part of transforming your IT Department into a “Patient Centered” IT team. Those standards should include an issue response standard based on the criticality of the issue. That response matrix should include service level standards for critical, high, medium and low priority issues. But it goes farther than just setting these priorities. A mechanism to measure and enforce these standards must be in place in order to achieve a true transformation of your IT Department. Engineers also need to be held accountable to successful execution against these standards. You should also consider incorporating escalation paths along with communication plans (who needs to know what, when and how often, using what means - based on the criticality of the issue) In IT, communication is always the customer service item that dissolves trust, so bake the communication into the standard.

Another integral part of setting IT operational standards is developing and executing an IT Plan. The IT Director and CIO should develop this plan with input from all departments within the healthcare organization. This should be at least a three-year plan that is reviewed and revised every year. The execution of this plan should fall primarily with the IT Director. This plan should take into consideration the benefit to the patient satisfaction and outcomes and support the facility’s global initiatives. The CIO should be engaged at the executive level in order to make sure that the IT Plan aligns with the organizational initiatives. The IT Plan should include a reasonable amount of projects as well a staffing assessment (i.e. – resource / labor plan) to understand the impact of these projects on IT resources.

Once you have these standards in place you will start to see a shift from being a reactive IT Department to being a proactive IT Department. By shifting to a proactive IT Department you can more easily focus on the objective of becoming “Patient Centered”.

Answer the key question for every IT decision

Many different criteria are often used to make IT related decisions. The one criterion that is often missed is: How will this decision impact the care or the well being of the patient? If this question cannot be answered with a positive impact to the patient, then you should consider if this is the right IT decision. Answering this key question will help keep the IT Department focused on the organization’s primary responsibility.

By setting the correct priorities, implementing standards, developing and maintaining an IT Plan and answering the question of how IT decisions impact the care or well-being of the patient you can transform your IT Department into a “Patient Centered” IT Department. This will most likely be a change to the culture of your IT Department. Like most culture changes, it will not happen overnight. By implementing these 3 key concepts, you will build the framework that sets a foundation from which to transform your IT Department.

If you'd like any help implementing or improving your IT department's patient-centered culture, give us a call at 877-854-8420 or fill out the "let's talk" form today!

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Al Comito, RN | Team Lead, Systems Engineers

In Al's role as Team Lead, he is leading and directing a team responsible for the execution of IT projects and daily operations related to network, server and desktop administration at hospitals and clinics around the nation. He and his team ensure that IT infrastructure is highly available and performing optimally in a wide variety of computer hardware and software for ICE clients.