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EHR Tech Support with Clinical Focus Enhances Patient Care Quality

Higher satisfaction with EHR tech support directly translates into better patient care quality in hospitals, a new survey suggests.

EHR usability and patient care quality

Source: Thinkstock

By Jennifer Bresnick

- Making sure that the voice on the other end of the EHR tech support hotline has some clinical know-how could be a promising way to improve patient care quality and the health IT user experience.

Lackluster technical support can prevent healthcare providers from taking full advantage of their EHRs and other health IT tools, indicates a new survey from Black Book, leading to subpar patient care and an increased chance of physician burnout.

Eighty-five percent of the more than 4400 respondents to the poll said that inadequate customer service impedes their ability to deliver quality services to their patients.

In contrast, 77 percent of nurses and 89 percent of physicians say that an improved EHR user experience, backed by excellent technical support, boosts hospital loyalty rates.

"Healthcare IT initiatives of any size or scope require strong user tech support," said Doug Brown, Managing Partner of Black Book.

READ MORE: EHR Usability Shortfalls May Up Pediatric Patient Safety Risks

"Clearly providers must leverage their IT investment to achieve intensifying clinical goals while gaining a competitive advantage to keep patients and physicians loyally coming back to your organization."

Healthcare organizations looking to add to their health IT suites or replace existing EHR systems are specifically seeking companies that offer robust, accessible, and solution-driven tech support, the survey added.

Eighty-five percent of hospital chief medical officers participating in the survey said that excellent tech support, including timely engineering interventions, would be a “leading competitive differentiator” for vendors in 2018.

Eighty percent of IT managers and CIOs noted a steep uptick in the number of clinical end-user complaints after an EHR implementation, with physicians among the most likely to gripe about technical issues.

By the end of 2017, two-thirds of mid-size and large hospitals plan to double their tech support spend to meet the growing demands of population health management, interoperability, and EHR optimization initiatives.

READ MORE: 10 Healthcare Big Data Analytics Outsourcing Mistakes to Avoid

And with 49 out of 82 CMOs expressing significant discontent with their existing tech support relationships, a stronger focus on cultivating a successful help desk will be extremely important for vendors.

"Healthcare IT vendors may be raking in billions of dollars in profits from their offerings, but they are not inspiring much long term loyalty to hospitals from their clinical employees and physicians if they fail to provide adequate technical support for their products," warned Brown.

"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.”

While outsourcing has been a popular solution for many hospital health IT needs, third-party tech support lines have not received much support from end-users.

Eighty-two percent of hospitals using third-party tech support partners are “significantly dissatisfied” with the services provided to them within a year of go-live.  On the flip side, 93 percent of users whose vendors offer direct, comprehensive customer support are highly satisfied with their relationships.

READ MORE: EHRs Contribute to Patient Safety Risks, Communication Errors

More than three-quarters of outsourcing clients say the experience is not tailored to their unique organizational needs, resulting in additional frustration when trying to get answers to questions that may involve customized interfaces or connections to legacy tools.

"Clients could potentially be leveraging one vendor for their help desk services and another for their upgrade services and so on which can lead to an overall disparate support strategy,” said Brown.

"Customized levels of support to match the client's organizational needs align clinical collaboration and innovation in ways that clients expect and appear to result in better and faster issue resolutions.”

Offshore call centers staffed by workers with an incomplete understanding of the US health system received very negative ratings from clients, who expressed frustration with communication and language barriers.

One hundred percent of survey participants said that poor experiences with offshore tech support centers have tarnished users’ perceptions of a vendor’s brand and products.

"Enterprise tech support is a highly complex and niche area in healthcare, where specialists can make a big difference in client loyalty by catering from Level 1 to Level 4 product support to ensure all the provider's business goals are aligned with technology readiness," said Brown.

“Unfortunately, many vendors leave tech support duties and quality to the users and third party outsourcers, yet it's turned out to be one of 2018's most critical components of client loyalty to their EHR/HIS."

Cerner, Allscripts, MEDITECH, and McKesson received the highest satisfaction scores for their multi-layered technical support capabilities. 

Stoltenberg Consulting ranked first in satisfaction among third-party outsourcers, followed by companies including Merge (an IBM company), Hayes Management, CGS, and Atos (formerly Anthelio).

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