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Four ways a strong IT service desk can improve healthcare

(Image credit: Image Credit: Lightpoet / Shutterstock)

The presence of reliable IT support, from dealing with day-to-day staff needs, to handling unexpected tech crises can be a deciding factor in a business’s ability to operate smoothly today. In the healthcare world, the quality of the provider’s IT support can have a major impact on the health, even lives of patients.

Everything from the performance of advanced medical devices, to the use of admin systems relied on by practitioners and support staff can hinge on the capabilities of the IT service desk. With the right solution in place, a hospital can improve efficiency to reduce costs and improve care. In one example, we saw Atlantic Health Systems, a large provider with locations in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, reduce annual IT upgrade, configuration and maintenance costs by $100,000.

Meanwhile, Dartmouth Hitchcock, a large medical centre in New Hampshire and Vermont, was able to unite its disconnected incident management systems to begin efficiently servicing 550,000 tickets that would otherwise be using staff resources. This has become particularly crucial for National Health Service (NHS) trusts where budgets and resources are often balanced on a knife edge.

Below are four areas where an IT service desk will have the biggest impact for a healthcare provider:

1)  Delivering patient care

The clear priority for any healthcare provider is the delivery of clinical patient care. Reliable IT systems are essential in ensuring consistent and high-quality care. IT supports the infrastructure, systems, networks, devices, applications, and services that are essential to running an individual hospital or a regional healthcare system. In addition, healthcare technology ranging from note-taking tablets used by practitioners to electronic diagnostic and surgical equipment, as well as electronic health records, must all work reliably.

Unlike most organisations, healthcare is a 24/7/365 affair, which means technical difficulties will have serious on-going repercussions.  When something goes wrong, it can be a matter of life and death.

The service desk is the hub of these IT dependent systems and the main interface between IT and the healthcare staff.  Effective IT support that delivers excellent end-user experiences should include elements of effective self-sufficiency, where healthcare staff can easily self-resolve routine issues that do not require expert input from the support team.

Such self-service systems, that enable healthcare staff to solve issues themselves clearly means quicker resolution, but also positively impacts the service desk team. By freeing the service team up for more valuable work, complicated tickets can be resolved faster, with better allocation of resources for non-routine issues.

2) Managing supporting systems from EHR to HR

Alongside the more obvious and visible technology used to provide and manage patient care, such as Electronic Health Record (EHR) systems, IT also provides a key role in supporting functions such as admissions, check-in, billing, and HR functions like recruitment, training and staff management. In larger hospitals these can all be complex endeavours involving hundreds of people. Other essential support factors include lighting, HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning), and many other areas falling under facilities management.

The effectiveness of these IT systems has a direct correlation to the productivity of the people using them and the total experience of the patients. Having a single service desk that can provide unified support to IT, HR and facilities can greatly improve the efficiency of all operations across the provider.

3) Meeting regulatory demands

Healthcare is understandably one of the most heavily regulated industries in the world. Providers in the UK are overseen by several different regulatory bodies, with authorities often devolved across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. In England for example, the Care Quality Commission (CQC) regulates the quality and safety of care, covering the NHS, independent providers and voluntary organisations. Other examples include the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory agency (MHRA) which regulates both medicines and medical devices and equipment and investigates harmful incidents.

Alongside the numerous regulatory considerations specific to healthcare, providers also have most of the same standards as other organisations. Cybersecurity has become a pressing issue, particularly with the introduction of the EU GDPR. Healthcare is a popular target for cybercriminals due to the value of medical records, and providers are under closer regulatory scrutiny following the security shortcomings exposed in 2017’s WannaCry attack.

The service desk can play an important role in ensuring compliance across the organisation by helping to manage the required governance, risk and compliance controls (GRC). Alongside meeting regulatory demands, having a solid set of GRC controls centrally managed via an Information Security Management System (ISMS) will also improve the quality of patient care across the entire lifecycle of patient care. An effective service desk will be able to provide visibility of any issues across the organisation and ensure they are dealt with quickly and efficiently.

4) Delivering new medical and supporting services

Healthcare is an ever-changing environment, with advancing medical technology, new internal and external services, and new regulatory and governmental policies all requiring operations to be flexible and adaptive.

Launching a new service or implementing new devices and solutions always carries a degree of risk for any business, with untried technology often carrying unforeseen issues. Once again, with lives in the balance this is a much greater issue for the healthcare sector than almost any other.

As new services and systems are added, the service desk also needs to evolve and adapt to accommodate them so that it can continue to provide effective support. Healthcare providers that are equipped with a flexible and responsive service desk will be much more likely to deliver new medical and supporting services without suffering disruption.

IT support teams will be able to respond to user requests much more efficiently, as well as having greater overall visibility of the organisation, allowing them to spot wider issues rather than simply fighting fires. However, many healthcare providers still labour under legacy service desks that are slow to deploy, hard to upgrade, complex to administer or extend, and often hard to use. These issues combine to make it difficult and expensive to extend and adapt the system to support of new services.

Finding the right service desk and balancing costs

While a service desk can deliver many powerful benefits to a healthcare provider, it is imperative that organisations ensure they carefully chose a solution that will meet their needs. Flexibility is a particularly important attribute, as this will enable the system to be upgraded and altered to take on new solutions and services as the provider changes and grows. The ability to incorporate multiple business elements such as HR and finance as well as IT support will also deliver many benefits, including a more a wider and more strategic view of the provider’s operations.

However, these capabilities need to be balanced against cost, particularly with NHS trusts that are under tight budget constraints. A service desk that is cost effective to acquire, deploy, operate, and maintain will enable the organisation to quickly recoup its investment and free up more resources for providing essential care and supporting services.

There are two main licensing models for service desk software – individual named licenses and shared concurrent licenses. Concurrent licenses can be a good fit with the 24/7 nature of healthcare, as a single license can be shared across multiple shifts to provide better cost efficiency than multiple individual licenses. There are several other variations to weigh up too – for example NHS teams may want to consider a Software as a Service (SaaS) model that can deliver continued and dedicated support and cost effectiveness against a downloadable solution. Choosing a low/no-code service desk with strong ITIL® support and pre-built integrations and extensions can dramatically lower the cost of administering and maintaining the service desk.

Larger providers such as hospitals which need to support a high number of users, staff, and patients, should explore different licensing options that will enable them to maximise their usage. It is also important to assess not only current needs, but requirements that are likely to evolve in the next five to ten years, in order to decide on a model capable of providing long-term cost savings.

By taking the time to investigate and compare different solutions, healthcare providers can find a service desk that fits with their operations and can provide essential support to everything from daily IT issues to critical patient care for years to come.

Chuck Darst, Product Manager, Cherwell Software (opens in new tab)
Image Credit: Lightpoet / Shutterstock

Chuck Darst is a Product Manager at Cherwell Software, and is focused on IT Service Management (ITSM)solutions delivered via Software as a Service (SaaS) or on-premises based on ITIL best practices.