The Stoltenberg Blog

Healthcare technology insights for competitive value-based care strategy

How Effective Are Your Health System's IT Cost-Cutting Measures?

By Joncé Smith, Vice President of Revenue Cycle Management

IT budget cuts have become a way of life for health systems still dealing with the lingering financial and operational uncertainties of the COVID-19 pandemic. Facilities squeezed by unprecedented financial burdens must scrutinize IT costs closely.

At the same time, leadership must also contend with continued workforce shortages that may have hospital IT departments scrambling to find reliable staff — without having to pay excessively. The current environment makes an IT staff augmentation/alignment strategy an attractive and practical option, but only when done correctly. When done incorrectly, it too often creates unintended long-term costs and other challenges.

For example, IT staff who merely enter an issue ticket into the system and "document" it–but don't actually resolve it right away–can create costly downstream obstacles. Not only do costs escalate each time the ticket gets passed off, but some issues may generate negative consequences to the revenue cycle in terms of claims submission delays, as well as to clinical care system access, documentation, or direct patient interactions.

There is simply no room to hinder efficiency, frustrate end-users, or impact the patient experience during EHR system support, virtual and remote care coordination, or other system optimization efforts. Therefore, hospital executives must carefully consider their IT cost-cutting options to optimize financial and operational results.

How to cut costs and improve IT responsiveness

Here is a look at four attributes hospital executives should evaluate to ensure that their IT staff alignment strategies are both operationally and financially effective over the short and long-term approach:

  1. Flexibility. Often, hospitals and health systems may try to limit their costs by locking into the most basic, inexpensive Tier 1 service desk support. Although appealing on paper, this fixed and inflexible option frequently means hospitals pay for little more than a call-center approach. In other words, someone answers calls and enters tickets, but with no true resolution. The result is a mounting stack of tickets for internal teams while end users experience frustrating call-back runaround and resolution delays. The cost of real issue ticket fix may double or even triple.

    A better option is to pursue the ability to flex IT staff up and down in response to changes in your hospitals' healthcare IT systems, staff volume, and internal IT skill mix. Look for solutions that allow a more robust Tier 1 offering, as well as Tier 2, and Tier 3 support to scale to the length of time and level that is genuinely needed. Such flexibility ensures dependable IT support while driving year-over-year cost savings.

  2. Multi-functional approach. On the surface, it might seem cost-effective to make sure available IT staff resources have just the skills necessary to meet immediate demands. However, only staffing to your short-term requirements can create bottlenecks and delays when the need arises to recruit, interview, contract, and onboard for evolving projects. In addition, this approach overlooks the tremendous flexibility afforded by having multi-certified IT resources skilled in multiple applications, especially in situations where new facility acquisitions occur requiring consolidation expertise of multiple systems.

    A better option is to leverage a team of multi-functional IT staff who can understand, follow, and resolve issues to keep those issues from becoming costly priority-one tickets. A multi-functional IT support team that works together can resolve issues faster, and use its holistic view of health system workflows to ensure IT resolutions don't create unintended downstream consequences.

  3. IT support hours. Some hospitals try to save money by limiting access to IT support during overnight hours. Often in this approach, overnight clinical staff may not even be able to leave voicemails about IT issues, which means they're forced to call back during business hours–when they may not be scheduled to work. As a result, IT problems tend to stack up overnight, with potential for negative impacts on patient care. A better option is to guarantee that doctors gain immediate IT response no matter the time or day of the week, so they have more time for direct patient care.

  4. IT analytics capabilities. Many facilities have implemented analytics platforms, but meaningful, realistic utilization may still be a work-in-progress. Thus, hospitals should seek to apply analytics capabilities to the IT service desk to create a more EHR-centric service. Getting a clear, data-driven picture of EHR trends allows health system leaders to maximize IT utilization patterns across the care continuum, assess performance accountability, and ensure continued ROI from their EHR investment. It also enables faster, more effective resolution of requests in ways that enhance the end-user experience.

In reality, many typical initial IT staffing cost-cutting tactics end up creating larger financial and operational problems for hospitals and health systems. However, by taking a holistic view, alternative IT staffing measures can help sustain aligned long and short-term clinical and financial goals.

Stay tuned for additional healthcare leadership insights.

Strategize Your IT Roadmap

Strategize Your IT Roadmap

Stoltenberg Consulting solely serves the healthcare industry. Trust our team's extensive EHR expertise to build your health system's competitive IT strategy forward for value-based care alignment. Contact our executive team today.