Dan O'ConnorIT departments face myriad challenges: multiple competing projects, mounting deadlines, surging stress, and an industrywide lack of qualified IT staffing. A help desk team dedicated to responding to end-user requests may help alleviate some department difficulties.

Knowledgeable, qualified help desk support can quickly resolve IT issues so that overburdened clinicians can dedicate more time to patient care. To ensure the help desk strategy will be cost-effective, organizations should address considerations regarding the help desk support team’s qualifications and the extent to which the team can generate meaningful savings.

Team Skills and Qualifications

Overworked clinicians cannot afford to waste limited patient care time on delayed service desk responses, hindered connections, or substandard support. The competitive healthcare landscape requires that help desk representatives have strong communications skills to support and educate end users.

Specialized expertise in the organization’s electronic health record (EHR) system also will help the team effectively handle calls from end users. Beyond the traditional ticket-taker mentality, a specific EHR focus allows a help desk to address IT problems quickly and efficiently, thereby helping to mitigate IT-related fatigue among clinical staff. Well-prepared support professionals who thoroughly understand the EHR’s functionality should be able to address clinicians’ requests right away, instead of funneling tickets to additional analysts. Armed with knowledge about the intricacies of application, the support professionals can provide thoughtful, informed response rather than robotic scripted responses. 

Means for Achieving Cost Savings

In addition to staffing considerations, healthcare organizations often overlook the potential cost savings an effective help desk can provide. When existing IT staff juggle multiple roles, they pull time and attention from more mission-critical projects. Call interactions may be rushed or interrupted because of competing pressures. A separate help desk service line reduces expenses in the long run because calls are handled quicker, eliminating wasted clinician time.

For organizations contemplating outsourced help desk support, it is imperative to carefully assess the vendors’ charge structure. The organization should know, for example, whether there are additional charges involved with escalating calls to higher-tier support. Often, there will be a charge for both the initial call and the escalation, even though only one issue is involved. Further, it is possible in such situations that the tickets might be routed back to and resolved by one of the provider organization’s internal analysts, so the organization ends up paying for service on an issue it resolved itself. The organizations should ensure there are contract provisions that protect it from such circumstances.

Other areas of overlooked expense include after-hours support. Around-the-clock support is necessary for a healthcare facility, but nighttime staff should have proper training to avoid tickets mounting after hours and bogging down the internal team during regular business hours. 

A knowledgeable help desk can further promote costs savings costs by educating end-users on how to avoid repeated errors, thereby eliminating potential patient care delays, wasted time, and frustration.

In a fast-paced hospital setting, ineffective IT technical support leads to end-user frustration, clinician burnout, and a constant cycle of unresolved IT issues—all leading to added expense. It is important for a healthcare organization to examine IT end-user touch points like the help desk for areas of capable cost savings. Help desk performance figures cannot stay siloed within IT. Added oversight from finance leaders can help assess ROI for strategic planning involving the help desk including end-user training, application upgrade support, staffing options, or go-live support.


Dan O’Connor is vice president of client relations for Stoltenberg Consulting, Bethel Park, Pa.

Publication Date: Friday, April 13, 2018