As electronic health records become more widely used in the healthcare industry, providers are changing how they make decisions on which application to use.

For an increasing number, technical support will be an important differentiating factor.

And more providers are not happy with the service they are getting now, according to a recent survey from Black Book, a market research firm that regularly studies vendor satisfaction across several industries.

Its recent survey of 2,200 users within healthcare found that a third of respondents are not satisfied with the level of technical support they are receiving. And some 82 percent of hospitals surveyed by Black Book now say comprehensive outsourced technical support from their electronic health record vendor will be a leading competitive differentiator as they make product decisions this year.

“Enterprise tech support is a highly complex and niche area in healthcare, where specialists can make a big difference in client loyalty,” says Doug Brown, managing partner of Black Book. Thorough product support is essential “to ensure all the provider’s business goals are aligned with technical readiness.”

To handle increased volume, more EHR vendors are turning to outsourced tech support centers to service customers, and experiences with these centers are mixed. Black Book’s findings suggest that “the expertise and quality of tech support services are weighing heavily on users’ overall loyalty.” Some 61 percent of hospital respondents to the survey say they prefer that their EHR vendor provide direct, comprehensive tech support; some 79 percent of those receiving help from third-party outsourced firms are significantly dissatisfied with the level of response and the quality of service.

Providers rated overseas “offshore” tech support centers as the worst on a variety of products. Black Book said 97 percent of physician practices and 93 percent of hospitals prefer domestic centers that employ representatives that speak English as a first language. Negative experiences with offshore tech support “have tarnished the users’ overall perception of the vendor’s brand and product lines,” Black Book researchers concluded.

“EHR and HIS vendors cannot afford bad customer experiences, and with new revenue responsibilities, tech support organizations can’t miss a beat to best serve established clients,” Brown says. “Unfortunately, many vendors leave tech support duties and quality to the users and third-party outsourcers.”

Providers are feeling the pressure to reduce IT outlays, and are considering outsourcing tech support to make room in their budgets to purchase other applications, such as analytics, population health tools and revenue cycle management. The survey found that 87 percent of hospitals with more than 50 beds are considering these options.

Some 16 percent of hospital respondents reported that they outsource at least half of their tech support needs now, and by the end of this year, 35 percent of hospitals with more than 100 beds expect to double what they spend on outsourced tech support.

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