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Why IT support is crucial in a value-based care era

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The effectiveness of IT support organizations—from application help desks to clinical service desks—were once gauged narrowly by their return on investment. The transition to value-based care calls for a new perspective.

Intel cofounder Gordon Moore predicted in 1965 that semiconductor advances would double every two years—or Moore’s Law, as it has come to be known. His law said very little about the impact such advancement would have on the way we live and work.

That’s particularly true in healthcare, where the industry faces challenges as it moves from fee-for-service to value-based care and by necessity embraces the technologies required to make it happen. But, the impact of Moore’s Law in healthcare has been more challenging than other industries.

For starters, for reasons too numerous to mention, healthcare has traditionally lagged other industries in IT spend and adoption. In addition to that, while Moore’s Law has largely remained consistent across industries, healthcare as a whole still seems to be at the base of an ever-steepening upward curve.

In the face of the industry’s main objective of caring for patients, it’s easy to see why technological innovation in healthcare can be more complex, especially when you consider that this move to value-based care coincides with a reduction of “traditional” revenue and the financial squeeze. Today, healthcare organizations face a perfect storm of change—the need to rapidly transform their business model while doing more with less.

I hear about these challenges firsthand when I meet industry CIOs—most now realize that their focus needs to be upward and outward as opposed to inward and downward. Consumerism in healthcare is driving this requirement by focusing on strategy (upward) and prospective customers (outward).

In addition, value-based care is beginning to operationalize in the form of Medicare Advantage and other programs that require the effective use of technology, including optimized workflows and data stratification. This puts additional stress on the existing structure and calls not only for organizations to innovate, but to move quickly in order to keep up.

Those tasked with leading IT in this new world must also evolve. This means healthcare IT organizations will no longer just be the keepers of the organization’s hardware, software, systems and networks. They must transform their organizations into innovation hubs that support the collection, management and usage of the data that the move to value-based care requires. This includes everything that’s necessary to run a business model that requires real-time data capture, rapid data analytics and actionable intelligence to gauge performance and enable informed decision making, both for patient care and business operations.

Not surprisingly, to face this new reality, some organizations are turning to external partners to take on some “traditional” IT work. While this might sound reminiscent of the outsourcing trends of the 1990s, organizations today are more thoughtful and selective about what they seek outside support for and how to get it done.

Application management is a good representative example. EHR implementations, which can be complex, created the need—almost overnight—for a more advanced support component. IT departments, which are already stretching to do more with less, now face demands to provide fast and accurate support for EHR applications—often at the point of care. For most, it is simply too much.

And unlike other industries, it quickly became apparent that serving the provider (physicians, nurses and other clinical staff) community cannot be commoditized—the work being done is too important. And no organization is the same. Add to this the fact that IT support and help desks are ground zero for all IT initiatives—in effect, where the promise of technology and the reality of its usage intersect. Thus, the scope of this challenge becomes readily apparent.

In response to this reality, many hospitals have added a clinical or physician service desk component to their existing support organization. Some utilized internal capabilities, but many more are looking to outsource service desks, including EHR support, and clinical system support, whether it’s for imaging or the myriad other connected technologies that directly influence care. In the past, the outsourced play in IT was tied directly to ROI. But, with healthcare organizations being forced to innovate with stagnating IT budgets, a more strategic approach is needed.

Specifically, while ROI will always remain a key determinant of success, a subtle shift in thinking must be made. Now more than ever, it’s important for help desks and IT support in general to be viewed through a different lens, one that focuses on the impact IT support ultimately has on the effectiveness of care, not simply the ROI or impact on total cost.

This shift is not arbitrary. It is driven by the move to value-based care, in which the quality of care more than anything else determines success, from how well hospitals fare in a new era of healthcare consumerism to how they are paid. For that reason, effective organizations will increasingly view IT as an enabler of effective value-based care, not an operational issue or reflection of it.

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