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Four Tips to Transform the HIT Help Desk
By Dan O'Connor, RN

In recent years, value-based care has inundated health care providers with an onslaught of technology reporting burdens to tackle amid daily patient care. According to a recent Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association study, physicians who reported insufficient time for EHR documentation increased the odds of burnout by 2.8 times. Likewise, physicians who reported they spent a moderately high or excessive amount of time documenting at home had 1.9 times the odds of burnout compared with those who reported minimal EHR use at home.

Although proper EHR documentation is crucial for a wide variety of patient care, regulatory, and reimbursement reasons, this additional responsibility can divert physicians' attention from direct patient interactions. Fortunately, the HIT help desk offers significant opportunities to help providers regain and retain their patient-centric focus.

By forming a more modern, EHR-centered help desk, hospitals and health systems can resolve both clinical and financial issues with higher end-user satisfaction—which can ultimately elicit overall cost savings and a higher-quality patient care experience. The following are four ways health systems can modernize the traditional help desk in a value-based ecosystem and create more meaningful help desk call interactions.

Eliminate the ticket-taker approach. Training help desk staff to address calls with a clear, sincere greeting and an efficient data gathering process may seem simple, yet many fail to follow through.

Clinicians want to talk to someone with knowledge of the EHR system and its coordinating applications, not be placed in a ticketing queue, answered by a robot, or prompted to leave a voicemail. They want to be acknowledged as a real person with critical needs that should be resolved quickly and professionally.

If end users are not satisfied with help desk issue resolution and knowledge transfer, the same mistakes will occur repeatedly, causing operational redundancy and patient care inefficiency. Therefore, help desk staff should approach each end-user call as a meaningful interaction.

Additionally, ensure staff carefully listen to each caller using empathetic communication for thorough issue resolution, end-user education, and documentation. Doing so can reduce end-user frustration toward IT overall, as well as lessen siloed cross-departmental mentality.

Dedicate specific staff resources to the help desk. Often a hospital's internal IT staff are expected to balance high-priority implementation and optimization work on top of help desk shifts. As a result, they may rush through help desk tasks and have limited focus for end-user call interactions.

Pulled in different directions, IT staff may then require multiple calls to fully comprehend end-user problems, causing prolonged ticket delays, hindering clinician workflow, and cutting into clinicians' patient interactions.

On the other hand, first-call resolution rates tend to increase when help desk staff are solely focused on end-user calls. Dedicated help desk resources can enable more efficient patient care decision-making and end-user satisfaction.

Extend support to patient portal needs. Patients' technology and data access expectations are heightened in today's consumer-driven market. The Millennial generation (those born roughly between 1981 and 1997) is the main driver of technology adoption. However, Gen Xers and baby boomers are gaining ground.

EHR-based patient portals offer an important way to meet patient technology demands, while uplifting the value-based care patient experience by creating more educated health care consumers. Help desk support can elevate the patient portal experience even further. To do so successfully, support staff need a strong skill set that combines thorough yet empathetic communication with health care, HIPAA, and EHR expertise. With this, staff can solve general functionality issues, offer patients system knowledge, and provide follow-up resources for around-the-clock support on behalf of busy providers.

Elevate resource technology expertise. Nothing can better prepare new help desk staff for issue resolution than shadowing calls. Shadowing end-user calls gives new staff a sense of real-time end-user issues, frustrations, and terminology. It also offers insight into hospital workflows and processes—as well as work culture—to help them seamlessly integrate and communicate effectively as an extension of the IT department.

The effectiveness of shadowing does not stop with new staff training, however. Virtual at-elbow shadowing allows help desk staff to directly see end-user problems remotely from their system for one-on-one real-time issue resolution. In addition to shadowing capabilities, many health systems now seek help desk staff with multilanguage, multi-EHR, IT service management, and voice over internet protocol expertise. By staffing the help desk with well-rounded resources, health systems can elevate issue resolution, documentation, and knowledge transfer proficiency for improved care across the continuum.

Though often overlooked, the help desk stands as a major IT optimization opportunity that is capable of supporting providers and patients alike. From staffing approach to resource expertise, these four help desk considerations tackle both consumer and end-user demand for a value-based care environment. Applying these recommendations reduces the burden on IT support staff and clinicians, while facilitating improved workflow efficiency and care delivery across the health system.

— Dan O'Connor, RN, is the vice president of client relations for Stoltenberg Consulting.