Electronic Health Records

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Enabling the IT Help Desk to Support Effective EHR, HIT Use

Stoltenberg Consulting offers tips for fighting the IT help desk ‘ticket-taker’ mentality in support of EHR and health IT systems.

Support for EHR use

Source: Thinkstock

By Dan O'Connor, RN

- In an increasingly competitive healthcare market, patient expectations and the demand for care data is rising. EHR optimization and system upgrades stand out as top budgetary priorities, but IT departments struggle to keep both end users and patients satisfied as stress mounts amid competing projects.

Within the transition to EHR systems, IT staff have to support legacy applications while working through new technology — all while facilitating end-user adoption and understanding. Yet while healthcare IT help desks face a daunting combination of responsibilities, most don’t operate to their full potential. To stay on top of industry regulations and competing projects, today’s hospital help desks must eliminate the ticket-taker mentality to proactively address the following challenges. In doing so, they can foresee and mitigate problems rather than simply solving issues as they arise.

Changing patient expectations

Typically, the assumption has been that millennials are the main driving force behind the push for patient engagement. However, 66 percent of baby boomers today use health technology to access patient records, while half also ask care questions and request prescription refills through HIT systems. Nearly three-fourths of all patients have a significant interest in accessing EHRs.

Such figures reinforce the importance of IT in daily patient engagement. If providers want to compete in a more consumer-driven healthcare market, IT departments must facilitate patient demands, while making sure clinicians understand their role as IT liaisons.

A hospital’s help desk can strengthen physician-patient communication through patient portal support. By addressing tier one tasks and frequently asked questions, like password resets, help desk analysts directly interact with patients while freeing up internal staff for higher-priority IT projects. An effectively run patient portal works to create better, more educated healthcare consumers while lessening administrative patient information collection burden.

READ MORE: AHA, HIMSS Discuss CMS Quality Payment Program Proposed Rule

For a more meaningful patient experience, help desk staff facilitating the patient portal should hold a combined skill set: a strong, empathetic communication style, along with both healthcare and health data expertise. This way, the help desk can answer both general patient inquiries and functionality issues, while providing follow-up resources for around-the-clock interaction on behalf of busy providers.

End-user frustration

The American Medical Association (AMA) identified administrative burden, stress, and lack of time as the top challenges to physician satisfaction. Deepening these burdens, EHR data input and daily use provoke physician burnout and less meaningful patient interactions.

Physicians spend nearly 40 percent of their direct clinical time with patients, physically inputting or updating EHR data. Congruently, 85 percent of doctors blame EHR systems and other health technologies for impersonal patient care.

Thanks to EHR burnout, end users may naturally resent health technology, placing blame on the hospital IT department when things don’t go their way. Since solving issues represents the most common end-user/IT interaction, it’s up to the help desk to represent the department in end-user engagement.

Those who call into the help desk want to be more than a ticket. They want to be acknowledged as individuals with critical needs that should be addressed quickly and professionally. If end-users are not satisfied with help desk issue resolution and knowledge transfer, the same mistakes will repeatedly occur, causing operational redundancy and patient care inefficiency.

More meaningful call resolution

READ MORE: How Surescripts Approaches Patient Safety Improvements

Moving from the ticket-taker mentality, IT systems professionals should handle help desk calls. These expert analysts can directly answer questions on the first call while making modifications and changing preferences for physicians.

If this capability is beyond internal department means, consider outsourcing the help desk to a US-based resource. Find a partner who will directly shadow a user to see what’s going on in his or her environment instead of passing on tickets. Empathy and personable communication are a far better alternative to robotic, scripted responses. End users will feel valued from more meaningful interactions, which will trickle into IT buy-in across the organization.

Also, know when the outsourcing option is too good to be true. If a third-party resource is willing to jump right in, think again. While a help desk often conducts lesser IT functions, properly managing it requires strategy. Before launch, conduct an in-depth service evaluation: consider current applications, functionality, version types, end-user community, number of supported facilities, and organizational culture. 

Take into account your current call levels, as finding a partner who can staff to meet your needs with flexibility is crucial. The major benefit of a third-party is the weight lifted from internal staff. An outsourcing partner can take on after-hours calls, so internal staff isn't woken up in the middle of the night or delayed from major project work. They can focus their time on system development and optimizations instead of break-fix issues. A proactive partner also offers frequent reporting with detailed analytics, which can identify workflow issues or training gaps for end users.

Whether internally staffing or outsourcing the hospital help desk, remember its significance as the face of the IT department. Instead of treating end users—including physicians, nurses and administrative or billing staff — like just another ticket, make issue resolution more meaningful and proactive. An effective help desk reduces IT staffing and physician EHR burden, translating to a more cohesive care enterprise.

READ MORE: Doctor Shares Components of a Successful EHR Implementation

Dan O’Connor, RN, is vice president of client relations at Stoltenberg Consulting



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