Healthcare Crisis Underscores Strategic Importance of Strong IT Support
By Rob Dreussi
Rob Dreussi is CIO of HCTec of Brentwood, TN.
Take a moment to thank those who work on the IT service desk. Who knew they would play an essential role in maintaining operational continuity and getting our patients and providers up and running on telehealth?
Every large-scale crisis exposes shortfalls and creates opportunities for improvement in healthcare. The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the need for hospitals to think differently and more strategically about their IT service desks.
EMR patient portal usage has increased as telehealth and other patient-facing solutions are being rapidly deployed. Maximizing that kind of technology, keeping it running, and supporting it properly requires people with specialized HIT skills, training, and experience. Technology may be the tool, but people and solid operating processes are required to make it work.
This crisis is a powerful reminder of the IT service desk’s higher purpose—helping providers and patients by either resolving their immediate problem or finding the best next-level person to assist them. A mature IT service desk employs a diverse team of experts, including agents, coaches, trainers, workforce analysts, quality analysts, and related technology SMEs. Collectively, this team enables healthcare providers and patients to leverage technology rather than be hindered by it.
However, IT service desks have struggled to meet the increased demands related to the COVID-19 pandemic because their resourcing plans are based on historical support volumes. Who could have predicted:
- Call volumes that are doubling and tripling.
- Supporting new applications almost overnight that typically would have been deployed over months.
- Assisting end users while they shifted in mass to working from home.
- Continuing to deliver services while the IT service desk itself shifted to working from home.
- Onboarding and training new agents 100% virtually.
Keeping up with all the change has been really hard.
The pandemic has put a spotlight on how the technical and user-facing skills that are needed for effective IT support have increased dramatically over the last decade. The demand for this dual skillset will only continue to increase as hospital clinical and overall operations grow increasingly reliant on technology. Already Meaningful Use and the movement toward value-based care have driven the adoption of complex clinical and business systems that require constant maintenance and inspire far greater security concerns.
Simultaneously, the expectations of providers and patients alike are rising, as we all have become accustomed to customer-friendly, tech-savvy support from companies like Amazon and American Express. As a result, the IT service desk’s role now includes representing the voice and brand of the health system. Delivering a strong overall experience — whether to patient, provider, or administrative user — is more critical than ever. In this new environment, the staffing, required skills and management of the IT service desk requires a more advanced and strategic approach.
It’s no surprise that COVID-19 has forced HIT support personnel to work overtime, late nights, and weekends. Their efforts are essential to ensuring that healthcare providers and their patients receive the support they need to improve delivery of care in a time when people need it most.
COVID-19 has made painfully obvious to a broader audience what we have always known — technology doesn’t always work as designed. It has also made it glaringly apparent that in healthcare we need people who understand how to effectively support technology so that patients and providers alike can leverage its power to improve care and outcomes.