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Mar 21 2013   11:47AM GMT

The clinical help desk: Improving clinical information system adoption, physician satisfaction

Posted by: Jenny Laurello
Cancer Treatment Centers of America, clinical help desk, Detroit Medical Center, help desk, IT staff, outsourced clinical help desk

As the manager of clinical systems and senior project manager at Detroit Medical Center (DMC), Danielle Sun has a lot on her plate. Managing IT operations, systems integration and clinical workflow through the nine hospital network can be a challenge, to say the least. But what keeps the wheels greased and operations running smoothly? Sun credits her extremely dedicated IT staff, which includes a 24/7 accessible clinical help desk to support operations and handle mission-critical requests at the drop of a health IT hat.

“How do you keep your IT staff current? How do you look into the future?” Sun questions. “In the last 10 years, things have exploded exponentially. The DMC has made significant investments in IT and the clinical help desk is there to help support the needs of our advancing clinical infrastructure.”

Chris Downs, director of IT account management at the Cancer Treatment Centers of America, feels similarly about the payoff of migrating to an outsourced clinical help desk for improved efficiency, physician satisfaction, technology utilization and an assurance of quality care.

“We’re all about patient experience. We have clinicians bringing their own devices and patients who want to do the same. What keeps me up at night? Security. I just got an email about another stolen laptop today. But trying to keep up with what clinicians and patients want is overall what improves the patient experience. We originally moved from an in house help desk to a generic, nationally known help desk, but it didn’t get us what we needed.” So Downs migrated his organization to a clinical help desk, which he believes has made all the difference in clinician utilization and adoption of technology that directly impacts patient care.

The clinical help desk utilized by both the DMC and Cancer Centers of America, run by CareTech Solutions, is a solution that both Sun and Downs see as a critical part of clinician and patient  satisfaction, improved care, and maintaining an overall successful clinical workflow.  “The help desk keeps everything moving. Clinicians, stakeholders, technologists and the help desk are constantly working together. Most of our calls from clinicians — approximately 80% — are, ‘how do I do this?’, and we support IT implementations because of our clinical help desk infrastructure,” notes Sun.  

“When the ED [emergency department] physicians call in with an issue, their number one priority is to get right back to the patient, so we have standards about what requests are triaged out to in-house specialty teams and what goes right to the help desk. The clinical help desk can handle approximately 70% of incoming calls initially. But if it’s for device support, it then goes directly to the device group. If it’s an application issue, it goes to the app group. And if I call in from the ED, that goes right to the top,” Sun continued.

Looking at ways to improve IT support for clinicians and offer self-service options while also considering cost reduction and efficiency gains potentials were integral parts of the vendor selection process for Downs.

“We looked at culture fit of the technology.  Paramount for us was the ’mother’ standard of care. We treat all of our patients like we’d treat our mothers. We also wanted someone who could be brand standard across six centers and who understood the clinical aspect — 24/7/365 availability and 100% uptime was something we demanded. We also wanted to treat them as a partner, not a vendor.”

“Previously, there was not an onsite relationship manager, which we now have, and which has improved the overall process. Scalability was another key issue. As our organization continues to grow, we need a product that keeps up with that,” said Downs.

Sun echoed similar sentiments, adding that your clinicians “need to be in step with your help desk,” receiving “ongoing training and communication. We did an upgrade at the DMC in December and there was quite a bit of training. What seems inconsequential to me might not be for others, and the clinical help desk did an excellent job of supporting that.”

Their best bits of advice for those considering outsourcing their clinical help desk capabilities?

Downs pointed out that “there’s a cost to doing everything, but there’s also a cost of doing nothing,” and investing in clinical help desk support now will benefit his organization in both the long and short term, especially given the dynamic, clinically driven IT environment that is now standard throughout the industry.  “EHRs are in constant evolution and the help desk is the first touch point to your users. This is not where to cut costs.”

Added Sun, “If you want to be world class, you need to provide the mechanism to support EHR adoption and a structure around it. In many worlds, you’d need to have a lot of users first saying that there is a problem, where your end goal then becomes to resolve it before it comes major. But if we have a system problem, the help desk handles all of that initial communication up front and we know of the first issue right off the bat. This way we’re proactive, not reactive, and this keeps our physician adoption and satisfaction rates high.”

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