The Hospital IT Help Desk: How it Affects Revenue and Patient Engagement

July 26, 2019
The hospital help desk can shed light on multiple areas of IT challenges that trickle down into potential lost revenue and the patient experience

According to the 2019 Health IT Industry Outlook Survey from Stoltenberg Consulting, a majority of health IT leaders (42 percent) rated “updating technology to improve the patient experience” as the top organizational goal for the year, followed by “measuring improvement in patient care” at 33 percent. With value-based care pressures in full force, patient engagement moves far beyond an initial visit towards an interactive picture of care. Often overlooked, the hospital help desk can shed light on three areas of IT challenges that trickle down into potential lost revenue and the patient experience.

Go-live communication

A healthcare organization’s electronic health record (EHR) implementation or new version upgrade is a significant, high-pressure event, peaking with the go-live. During the go-live, if communication channels are subpar, frustration and repeated end-user errors can mount, impeding efficient clinical care. Without an effective transition center, support may dwindle from IT initiatives and system adoption can be stifled.

During many go lives, the IT help desk is the front line, acting as the unified hub for transition communication across the continuum of care and the real-time window to go-live success. The help desk can assess trends like call volume, call length, ticket times, first-call resolution and ticket close time to pinpoint where deeper one-on-one EHR end-user education is needed or where there are spikes in departmental workflow or access issues.

End-user education and access gaps

Strapped for time, clinicians and business office staff are already overburdened by EHR use. Without proper system training and documentation backed by EHR-focused help desk staff, they may fall back on individual data entry workarounds that impede the full picture of care or hinder correct claims processing. As the forward-facing facet of IT, if a help desk’s communication and end-user issue resolution is lacking or doesn’t thoroughly emphasize the importance of proper EHR use, clinicians may revert to outdated processes.

According to Pew research, in one case, an oncologist relied on both EHR and paper documentation. When a patient’s dose of vincristine was not documented on the paper chart, it was unnecessarily re-administered. Had the IT help desk been a reliable clinician resource, the complex patient EHR documentation concerns could have been properly ticketed and resolved early on, eliminating reliance on faulty paper charts.

In another case, without access to a patient chart’s free-text notes, clinicians incorrectly administered a blood pressure medication to a child. Had the data access issue been documented and resolved by the help desk for the pediatric care team and pharmacy early on, patient safety wouldn’t have been at risk in this instance. Without clear communication, one-on-one end-user shadowing and thorough ticket documentation, lackluster help desk support can perpetuate EHR errors and misuse—and lead to negative patient outcomes.

Patient portal support

Hospital staff aren’t the only EHR end users. In a more transparent, consumer-driven industry, demand for EHR patient portal support is rising. Instead of waiting for their next care visit, patients should be able to contact a provider’s patient portal support line for help with FAQs, system set up, access issues, portal navigation and end-user training for function-based inquiries. Doing so creates a more engaged patient for care plan adherence and lower hospital readmission rates. It also frees up front office and clinical staff for valuable, in-person patient interactions.

Additionally, a big part of meaningful patient portal adoption is communication. By reframing the patient culture with education on care plan access and transparency, the help desk can ignite better engagement. Patient portal utilization curbs appointment no shows, which reduces lost revenue and front-end staffing time to manually call and rebook. Portal appointment reminders at booking, one week prior and on the same day of the appointment significantly slash last-minute cancellations or no shows. Direct patient pay through portals also decreases Days in A/R and increases cash flow, again saving staff time for billing mailouts.

In the past, the traditional hospital IT help desk was seen as a simple password reset hub. Today, with the full scope of EHR support in mind, healthcare leaders now see the help desk’s significance in IT system adoption and issue resolution across the continuum of care including direct patient engagement.

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