Clinical IT Service Desk: Your New Model for Strategic IT Operations?

Today, clinical teams and patients expect healthcare technology to work — every time, any time. With technology touchpoints dispersed across the health system and care continuum, now, perhaps more than ever, quiet and reliable IT operations are a must.

A few years ago, healthcare organizations expected in-house IT teams to keep technology and apps humming. Hospitals employed experts for networking, hardware and desktop support, application deployment and break/fix technical troubleshooting. Their focus: keep the lights on.

Today, however, healthcare organizations have this ravenous appetite for IT innovation. Healthcare information technology (HIT) leaders are feeling the push to become more strategic. Meanwhile, IT teams are stretched thin — trying to deliver modern HIT solutions and comprehensive data to clinicians to help improve patient outcomes, experience, and efficiency and keep daily operations running.

Having job responsibilities that straddle the fence can be frustrating to HIT talent. An evolution is happening as HIT leaders morph their organizations into more strategic roles, rethink their operations and staffing model, and turn to IT outsourcing partners.

Why outsourcing IT operations makes sense

Outsourcing in hospitals is nothing new. In fact, hospitals have long outsourced dietary, laundry and even clinical functions like lab and pharmacy. Third party companies specialize in these services, provide a better service, offer scale, cost savings and more. A hospital should be known for its patient care, not these outsourced services like the cafeteria.

Is healthcare technology that different?

What should your in-house IT team be known for — operations or strategy and innovation?

Several outsourcing catalysts are at play for healthcare IT operations:

  • Demand and workforce challenges. Resource and budget constraints are making it difficult to deliver more healthcare technology with the same resources. Yet, it takes time, energy and budget to recruit and retain IT talent and certain geographies are facing a shortage of specialized skillsets.
  • Service and talent expectations. Consumers and employees have high expectations thanks to the high quality of services and talent they enjoy from retail and online experiences. Those expectations have trickled down to healthcare IT teams. The flip side is the IT team may be delivering great service but they are drowning in the workload.
  • Cost efficiency and financial drivers. The need to gain cost efficiency and scale can be a tipping point for outsourcing. Expanding an IT team or investing in certifications to provide an operational IT service like help desk may not make sense when the investment in IT talent is needed for strategic projects instead.

How a managed services partnership works

Outsourcing IT operations with a managed services partner (MSP) is not something you enter into lightly. Can you achieve your strategic objectives if you have a managed IT services partner on board?

The key to making this new IT operations model work with an MSP — both parties must have a vested interest in success.

Since 2016, CereCore and Ardent Health Services have been partners and it began during Ardent’s EHR transition from McKesson to Epic. CereCore provided legacy support so that Ardent technologists could focus on their new EHR. Fast forward to 2023, the partnership has matured and CereCore continues to serve as an extension of the Ardent IT team by providing level 1, level 1.5 help desk and Epic MyChart support.

“We really stepped back and looked at the cost of managing our own help desk. First you have to set aside one of the biggest obstacles, which is a loss of control. Instead, let's put a partnership together where we still have equal control,” said Rick Keller, SVP and CIO Ardent Health Services.

“A help desk is not a core competency of our IT organization. We realized it was hard to recruit, it was hard to retain, and our service wasn't stellar to begin with as we started to grow. So, that was a key point for us to first acknowledge — this isn't what we do best. Let's find someone who does.”

Through weekly communication and monthly operating reviews, both teams focus on best practices and opportunities for continual improvement. When Ardent began an active directory business initiative, CereCore analyzed service desk metrics related to password reset to help inform Ardent’s implementation strategy and steer their AD project toward success.

“Weekly and monthly CereCore metrics are allowing us to work with our markets to learn from each other — who’s doing what better, or who’s not doing as well,” said Keller. “We are analyzing why there may be more calls for password resets from New Mexico than from Texas, and we are finding many such opportunities to continually improve and refine our processes.”

What’s next with IT outsourcing? Clinical IT Service Desk.

Minutes matter when solving IT issues for clinical teams and providers. That’s why the new model of support on the horizon is the clinical IT service desk.

The clinical service desk at CereCore applies a concept known as “shift left”. Agents know the basics of the major EHR systems and work toward the goal of resolving the incident. Tapping into level 1 and level 2 support services at scale, the clinical service desk can do more than just resolve the issue but also help with training, build changes and more.

As agents apply their healthcare operations experience and EHR certification knowledge, they are able to decrease the cost per resolution. If healthcare clinical teams work at the top of their license when delivering patient care, why shouldn’t the IT team supporting them do the same?

Bottom line: Many types of managed services keep a health system running. Having the right IT managed services partner can keep healthcare technology operating as smoothly and as efficiently as possible, while allowing HIT leaders and teams to take on the transformational work without distraction. The ripple effect of smooth healthcare IT services touches clinicians and ultimately patients. 

Download this decision guide

Give your IT team more bandwidth. Weigh the pros and cons of various staffing models explained in the Managed Services vs. Staffing Decision Guide — it could help you and your leadership team determine if now’s the right time to pursue an alternate staffing model.

Christopher Wickersham, senior director of customer support, leads clinical and IT help desk services at CereCore and has spent more than a decade in healthcare information technology support. Beginning his career as a service desk agent, he has served in a variety of roles from clinical trainer to director of service desk delivery and implementations. Chris continually looks for ways quality support can improve healthcare operations. Connect on LinkedIn.

CereCore® provides IT services that make it easier for you to focus on supporting hospital operations and transforming healthcare through technology. With a heritage rooted in our nation’s top-performing hospitals, we serve as leaders and experts in technology, operations, data security, and clinical applications. We partner with clients to become an extension of the team through comprehensive IT and application support, technical professional and managed services, IT advisory services, and EHR consulting, because we know firsthand the power that integrated technology has on patient care and communities.

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