Supporting a healthcare technology infrastructure

By Chris Harding

Technology is being used to create an integrated system of care that connects patients, clinicians, payers, and support organizations so that all key stakeholders can exchange information more effectively. Among the business challenges that confront the healthcare industry are service, quality, safety, rising costs, and a shortage of skilled staff to meet the needs of an expanding number of stakeholders.

With an ever increasing amount of information being transferred electronically -- from not only healthcare providers but all stakeholders in the US healthcare system -- IT professionals are taking a stake in how to design and implement electronic healthcare records (EHR). When the EHR system is down, it can cripple a healthcare organization and trickle down to the key stakeholders involved. For instance, physicians cannot effectively see patients if they can't pull up their patient records.  When systems are down, they are unable to document visits for insurance, order tests with labs, or provide referrals with associated hospitals or specialty groups.  Physician practices would benefit tremendously from support across a spectrum of services, including remote monitoring, help desk and technical field support.

Stabilize Your IT Efforts

Supporting the automation of an EHR within a healthcare network creates many challenges. For instance, one physician practice may seem insignificant from an IT perspective but usually it's hundreds of practices that need to be tied back to a hospital and associated payers. This can be an IT nightmare, and happens when practices do not have an in-house healthcare IT professional and use outsourced IT resources that are not experienced working within healthcare IT.  Today, such resources are woefully inadequate, falling short of correctly automating and supporting practices. 

Ultimately a "Tech Team for Docs" comprised of healthcare IT professionals, would remedy such a situation.  The team would evaluate the current state of the target model office environment to understand the primary applications being used in order to automate processes.  An initial assessment would include the examination of gaps in coverage for meeting a secure and effective healthcare IT network infrastructure. The next step would be the development of a clear roadmap of all milestones, activities, timelines and costs associated with meeting the specific requirements derived from an initial assessment.    

Workflow in healthcare is an important term for the healthcare IT Professional and needs to be part of an initial assessment.  The workflow describes the full process of how the office, patient, hospital, payers and associated groups work with each other -- from the moment the patient calls to setup an exam, to the billers working on the claims.  Healthcare organizations receives hundreds, maybe thousands, of documents each day --all of which contain data that needs to be entered into back-end systems.

There is a need for ongoing support that proactively and remotely monitors mission critical systems (early indicators, rapid responses), and offers help desk support or on-site field service support.  Help desk support can troubleshoot and correct the majority of practice-level issues.  It looks at the most current and most requested research, and interprets how that affects the day-to-day clinical practice.  With so much involved in installing a new system, it's not possible for an office to learn everything about the software in the first couple of months. The help desk provides information and assistance to a practice's users of the computer network, streamlining traffic, activity, and third parties on behalf of a physician practice.  It also helps in minimizing communications that can occur when multiple vendors are involved.  If remote monitoring or help desk support can't resolve such issues, then on-site field service support can be valuable. 

"With EHR implementation comes the need to have a trained and skilled IT manager to oversee issues like hardware and software upgrades, network connectivity, and the assured privacy and security of patient health information," states Dr. Amanda Parsons, Assistant Commissioner for the Primary Care Information Project at the NYC Health Department.  "In fact, we have made it a mandatory component for practices who wish to receive subsidized licenses or technical assistance from us because we have learned over time that those who don't get IT support end up with complications that hinder practice workflows and negatively impact patient care."

IT managers don't want to be called into the physician group in the midst of a crisis. By being proactive before any issue causes a surprise and working with a carefully chosen IT resource -- a "Tech Team for Docs" -- should prevent calamities and offer support across the entire spectrum of a physician organization for remote monitoring, help desk, and field service.

Chris Harding is President & CEO at Concordant, which provides healthcare IT consulting services, specializing in ambulatory EHR adoption and implementation.

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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