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Operating a successful IT department within a hospital is challenging. Faced with daily and constant service requests and meeting end user expectations can be tricky. Despite that pressure, IT is still expected to deliver results on top of rolling out successful health IT projects. Almost all leadership agrees that ensuring the success of their IT departments requires focusing on three core areas: tools, processes and people.

But what is the right tool for the IT department? When considering the different applications and their complexities within a healthcare environment, we sometimes focus too heavily on the electronic health record. We tend to overlook the fact that, while having the right EHR means clinicians can help track and maintain their patients' records and improve their care, having the right help desk application means IT staff can track and improve the systems that clinicians must use.

The IT team using a PSA platform is similar to a clinician using an EHR.

We can identify two groups of professional services automation (PSA) users: for profit users, such as IT providers and manage service providers, and internal support teams or hospital internal staff. While both groups strive to excel in providing the best support they can, for profit groups are aggressive toward ensuring they are leveraging all the capabilities of their PSA to stay in business. 

The analogy is simple: The IT team using a PSA platform is similar to a clinician using an EHR.  And just as there are top lessons for implementing a successful EHR, the following are the top six lessons for implementing a PSA and helping provide a strong base for the help desk.

Notification and workflow engine: Tickets are regularly created and as most IT folks can attest to, they are likely to see a new service request come up while they are already working on another. Distractions are very common and tickets can slip through the cracks. A good help desk tool will be the one that has a customizable workflow engine that can notify and identify priorities for the support engineers and management when tickets including specific criteria such as escalation, category and division are met. 

Project management: In times when budgets are tights, and claims reimbursements are affecting hospital revenue, IT departments are under pressure to stay within their budgets for any initiative that is necessary. But as any project manager knows, having the appropriate tools is extremely critical. IT departments running complex projects prefer to leverage the functionality of specialized enterprise project management platforms. However, some PSA systems offer project management capabilities that can be used within the same system. This allows for a better integration when team members are assigned IT-related tasks and will be tracked for time spent on them.

Activities and task management: Time management is a key component for any professional. For IT experts handling service requests that need quick response and resolution, this component becomes very crucial. IT staff is handling an increasing volume of requests, which causes them to multitask and at times juggle a number of fires at once. To ensure IT engineers stay on top of what they must deliver, tracked activities and tasks in the PSA provide another layer of control.

Productivity tracking: Employee performance has two aspects to it -- the measurable or objective side and the subjective side related to interactions, relationships and leadership. For the measurable performance, organizations can leverage the capabilities of their help desk application to provide near real-time team and individual performance metrics. For hospitals using a PSA as part of a for-profit professional service, this is the measure that is tightly connected with the W-2 ratio, a measure of revenue generated against the cost of a full-time equivalent. In the case of a hospital internal IT department, calculating this measure gives a benchmark against which to gauge productivity of each team member. Calculate time spent on active projects, or service work versus internal tasks and nonservice-related activities, to reach the measurement.

Mobile access: Today almost all IT folks use their mobile devices to stay up to date on email and activities. But what has been more helpful is allowing IT staff access to service requests and system configuration details directly from their mobile phones. Imagine the value to engineers in having the ability to access the details of a service request regardless of their location. The PSA accessed from a mobile device also can show historical notes from tickets as well as contact information for end users.

Asset tracking and monitoring integrations: Almost any IT organization uses a level of asset tracking. Some expand across all devices from networking, desktop, servers, applications and medical devices. However, in some cases these tools would have their own specific interface where all the alerts are being managed. Several IT executives noted that they are able to leverage their PSAs with some of the leading market asset tracking and monitoring products by having any alerts and inventory pushed to their PSA. This enables IT staff to use one centralized platform for managing system-generated or user-requested alerts as well as proactively generate warranty renewal requests and store asset details alongside tickets. 

We are likely going to continue to see pressures on IT to become leaner and more efficient. Projects must stay on budget, on time and achieve end goals. For IT departments, having the right platforms or help desk applications to assist people and processes is a critical step. 

The market offers numerous packages that have proven to be comprehensive, ranging from IBM's Tivoli, Microsoft's System Center Service Manager for the enterprise to the midmarket vendors such as ConnectWise. In some cases we are also seeing vendors providing consulting services as well as access to best practices to help assist the IT departments in their implementation journey.

About the author:
Reda Chouffani is vice president of development with Biz Technology Solutions Inc., which provides software design, development and deployment services for the healthcare industry.

Let us know what you think about the story; email editor@searchhealthit.com or contact @SearchHealthIT on Twitter.

This was first published in November 2013

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