Is your community hospital’s IT stuck in a break-fix mentality?

At many community hospitals, IT operates without a routine upgrade path or standard refresh cycle for desktops, servers and other IT essentials. If you're constantly thinking, "If I can just get another year out of that desktop ..." that's a telltale sign that you're stuck in a break-fix cycle.

Replacing this break-fix mentality with a more strategic approach is essential to making your community hospital's IT department more effective and more economical.

What Causes A Break-Fix Cycle?
A break-fix mentality has a catastrophic impact on your hospital IT budget and personnel. Instead of the manageable task of replacing 25 percent of your infrastructure every year, for example, you end up taking a huge hit every six years or so, when you have to scramble to fund and implement a large IT investment.

Here are three factors that contribute to a break-fix mentality:

1. Unfinished Projects
An underlying cause for break-fix is that a project was never actually finished: The IT team had to move onto the next squeaky wheel before fully completing the project. Afterward, you continue throwing band-aids on the old problem rather than really fixing it.

2. Approaching IT Problems As Purely Technical
Many healthcare facilities replace their primary IT vendor every five years or so because they think the problems they're experiencing come from the vendor level. Approaching IT problems as purely technical prevents you from making the necessary investments in better processes and the people you need for effective IT.

3. Resistance To Outsourcing
Too often, healthcare IT directors try to do it all in-house instead of outsourcing installation or migration tasks. This contributes to the unfinished projects mentioned earlier, perpetuating the break-fix mentality. IT directors worry that they won't be able to fix the system if they don't know how it was built, but they're better off investing their time in learning how to best manage it once it's installed.

Breaking The Cycle: Strategic Healthcare IT Solutions
If your community hospital finds itself in this break-fix cycle, you need three things to break free: standardization, project management and a focus on value.

Adopting enterprise IT standards, like Cisco's, and using reliable third parties to implement them sets the sta ge for more effective, successful IT. For first-time VMware installation or Exchange migration, for example, it makes sense to bring in experts to ensure the project gets done right the first time. These experts are also a support resource, lowering resolution time and giving IT directors the information they need to be successful.

To accomplish this standardization on a community hospital IT budget, you need to be creative and work the discount programs. But, if you manage the contracts effectively and keep a few spares in stock, you could significantly reduce your maintenance fees.

In addition to standardization, healthcare IT organizations need to inject project management disciplines into their execution. True project management starts with planning. Overworked IT directors often fall short in this regard, failing to define clear objectives or a definition of success at the project's outset.

Imagine you're building a new healthcare facility: You'd never break ground without a general contractor looking at the plan and reviewing it with all the subcontractors. Healthcare IT needs to be approached with the same mentality, but community hospitals just don't have the IT equivalent of a general contractor in-house.

This project management function could be brought in from outside as IT management services, or an IT operations consulting firm could mentor your IT director to take on the role. Either way, the IT director has to get out of the day-to-day tasks and take on a more strategic role.

Bringing Stakeholders Together Around Value
Too often, the IT director takes on a "budget police" mentality, focusing on financial savings when talking with the hospital's CFO. Faced with a tight hospital IT budget, a director might decide to invest in a less expensive wireless network provider instead of an industry standard like Cisco.

The economy wireless provider might be cheaper, but it puts an additional burden on your IT staff. Cisco's support might be more expensive than the other provider, but you're getting a known quantity with a proven track record of compatibility, performance and extended life. Once you have Cisco set up properly, it just works.

Even though you're a community hospital, you're running an enterprise IT function that works best with standardization. Instead of focusing on one-time costs, IT directors should bring stakeholders together in conversations about value.

Yes, standardization and project management services cost money. But, consider the risk-reward equation: What does it cost to have none of your projects properly implemented – and to remain stuck in the break-fix cycle?

Phil Stravers has been an advocate for community healthcare since joining ICE in 1995. Prior to joining ICE Technologies, he started and oversaw a national helpdesk supporting technology systems for engineering and architectural design. Since acquiring ICE with Keith in 2003, Phil has guided the development of a services portfolio tailored specifically for community healthcare providers' distinct IT needs. Phil was instrumental in the development of ICE's focus on community healthcare. Phil routinely presents and educates through various healthcare associations, such as the Healthcare Information Management Systems Society (HIMSS), Healthcare Financial Management Association (HFMA) and National Rural Health Association (NRHA).

The views, opinions and positions expressed within these guest posts are those of the author alone and do not represent those of Becker's Hospital Review/Becker's Healthcare. The accuracy, completeness and validity of any statements made within this article are not guaranteed. We accept no liability for any errors, omissions or representations. The copyright of this content belongs to the author and any liability with regards to infringement of intellectual property rights remains with them.

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