Emerging rationales for using third parties to manage IT

Healthcare providers are looking to counterbalance talent shortages and cybersecurity threats by outsourcing critical IT functions.

Healthcare organizations find themselves in quite a digital transformation quandary these days.

On one hand, technology advances on various fronts give them access to a powerful set of customer-facing and back-office digital capabilities that can help them fulfill heightened expectations among patients and staff for richer, seamless customer and employee experiences.

However, while healthcare organizations are making strides in meeting those expectations, the reality is that many are struggling to find and retain the skilled IT employees they need to implement, support and manage the advanced tech capabilities in which they have invested or are planning to invest.

Talent shortages

The IT talent shortfall is plaguing multiple industries. “Current demand for tech talent greatly outstrips supply,” Gartner analyst Mbula Schoen said in late 2022, adding that she expects the squeeze to persist at least until 2026.

And let’s not overlook the increasing vulnerability to cyberattack that healthcare organizations face as a result of increasing hybrid work environments and ever-shifting, expanding network edges. In 2022, the healthcare industry was the most common victim of third-party data breaches, according to a 2023 report from Black Kite Research.

More advanced forms of cybersecurity, along with the people to manage them, are therefore a must to protect against the ongoing cyber onslaught.

This confluence of factors is forcing healthcare organizations to find ways to address many business risks at once. In addition to the heightened security risk, there’s the high cost associated with technology investments. There's also the risk of services and operations, compliance and talent. And finally, there’s the overarching competitive risk, where keeping pace with disruptors depends on superior customer and employee experiences.

Looking for help

As distinct as each of these risks are, one way healthcare organizations are addressing them is by handing over responsibility for a range of critical IT functions to third-party providers. That includes cybersecurity, network management, digital infrastructure, contact center and more. Outsourcing IT services to a third-party tech expert is one of those areas.

In a survey conducted last year by 451 Research, more than 50 percent of respondents said they currently use managed service providers (MSP) to support their cloud environments, and 73 percent of them expect to rely more on managed services over time.

Managed services essentially deliver an outcome or solution to a customer for a recurring or per-usage fee. Often it’s a product like a software-defined wide-area network (SD-WAN), for example, or a cybersecurity offering like secure access service edge (SASE) that is supported and managed by a third party.

For healthcare organizations, the business case for IT managed services has really come into focus for the important role they can play in an organization’s strategy for addressing those aforementioned risks.

It’s difficult these days to find IT staff who understand how to implement, integrate and manage the latest digital tools — and harder still to find staff with healthcare IT expertise. So outsourcing key IT functions to a third party (preferably with healthcare industry know-how) not only relieves stretched IT staffs from the responsibilities associated with maintaining IT environments themselves, it frees them to drive better business outcomes and customer experiences.

For healthcare organizations, maintaining service is non-negotiable. They cannot afford disruption to their services or communications with patients. Managed IT services enable an organization to shift the risk of equipment failure, maintenance and more to the IT provider. It’s the IT partner’s responsibility to ensure the network is always on, and that the healthcare organization gets top priority for restoration in the event of an outage.

Adding to the bench

Essentially, healthcare organizations and their IT teams get a hands-on partner to maintain business continuity and optimize and protect their network, data and assets. This can be particularly important at organizations that are understaffed or those with IT infrastructures vulnerable to disruption from a natural disaster or other factors.

IT managed services also can help organizations keep pace with rising customer and employee experience expectations, giving them unified communications and contact center capabilities, for example, to deliver a seamless, digitally empowered experience across channels. The more robust a customer experience an organization can provide, the better its chances of accumulating higher Medicare star ratings, also a critical consideration because Medicare Advantage bonus payments tied to these ratings are expected to reach at least $12.8 billion in 2023, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Another advantage with IT managed services is cost certainty. Having an IT managed services partner enables organizations to shift the capital cost for IT investments to the partner, and thus turn potentially volatile IT costs into a more predictable operational expense.

As large as the threat of cyberattack looms over healthcare organizations, and as sophisticated and expensive as these attacks can be, cybersecurity managed services like SASE are gaining appeal for their ability to help organizations assess their security environment, address any identified risks and manage and monitor systems around the clock. Meanwhile, technology obsolescence becomes a non-issue when the service provider assumes responsibility for ensuring processes, software, hardware and other infrastructure are up-to-date and compliant.

With the ability to shift risks like these to a third party, a healthcare organization’s digital transformation effort becomes less of a burden and more of an opportunity to build a sustainably prosperous, secure and customer-focused business.

Brian Gonsalves is senior director of healthcare solutions at Windstream Enterprise.

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