Enabling Remote Work While Supporting the Front Line of the COVID-19 Response: 5 Things Health System IT Leaders Need to Know
- March 30, 2020
Imagine you’re a healthcare information management coding specialist. For the past seven years, you sat in the same cubicle, analyzing critical electronic health records information for hundreds of patients a day. Today, to help control the spread of COVID-19, you’ve been handed a laptop and a four-page list of instructions for setting up a secure workstation at home. Bewildering? Sure. Now multiply that times 20,000, and you’ll have an idea of what health system CIOs are grappling with.
Having a remote work policy as part of a pandemic response plan is one thing. Putting that plan into action is something else entirely. As many non-essential staff begins teleworking — often for the first time – hospitals and health systems are scrambling to adjust, while demand for clinical IT and application support is at an all-time high. The herculean effort to provision the necessary hardware and software, provide training and ongoing support, ensure compliance with privacy regulations, and keep at-home workers productive will tax even the most prepared IT team.
Put on your own oxygen mask first, then help others
Over the past couple of weeks, NTT DATA Services’ healthcare service desk teams have been working tirelessly to support hospitals in the US and Canada as they navigate the seismic technical and cultural shift of standing up large-scale remote work initiatives.
To ensure business continuity for our healthcare clients and protect the health and safety of our teams, we evaluated operations at NTT DATA’s four support centers across the US. We quickly enabled a majority of our 200+ healthcare service desk agents to work from home. This project gave us a chance to evaluate our own processes and refine best practices. In less than three days, our entire operation was up and running remotely, all the while supporting clients and gearing up to provide extended services to healthcare organizations.
For example, in addition to providing dedicated clinical support staff, we are standing up a team of 13 technical field service agents to focus solely on remote work migration for a large health system in the hard-hit New York City area. This team is currently helping more than 10,000 employees from one of the city’s largest academic medical centers to move from the office to a productive and secure at-home work environment. Service desk agents will continue to provide ongoing training and support for these at-home employees, which frees up hospital IT staff to focus on mission-critical applications like data analytics, EHR support, and telehealth services.
We’re all navigating new territory, but we’re applying valuable lessons learned from years of experience supporting healthcare clients. In addition to the remote work tips shared by the NTT DATA Services security team, here are some considerations for healthcare providers to keep in mind as they implement new remote work initiatives.
Determine your strategy
Don’t try to migrate everyone at once. Expect that productivity may lag during the transition and plan around it. Consider a phased-in approach and prioritize groups of employees according to job function, organizational needs, or work environment. If your IT organization has managed integrations as part of mergers and acquisitions, you already have a blueprint you can follow. At NTT DATA Services, we use lessons learned from our own acquisition to help other organizations navigate change and drive growth.
Prioritize privacy and security
Consider an up-front risk assessment and another after 30 days to identify vulnerabilities and ensure HIPAA compliance. Remind healthcare employees about best practices for protecting PHI and keep them informed about COVID-19 related phishing incidents and malware. Continuously monitor and harden your network and consider limiting access to streaming services – if you don’t already do so – to preserve bandwidth.
Select the right technologies
Numerous technologies exist to help both employees and IT transition to modern, flexible working styles. Expanding your footprint and use of virtual desktops or virtualized applications is a rapid and secure way in which employees, working on corporate or personal devices, can gain access to the tools they need to perform their work. Fully leveraging your cloud-hosted solutions for communication and collaboration will allow your employees to continue to efficiently work together, even in a virtual environment. And mobile device management platforms that most healthcare organizations have in place today – such as Microsoft Intune or VMWare Airwatch/WorkspaceOne – are already equipped with everything you need to control, manage and secure devices, regardless of their physical location.
Adjust service desk staffing and incident routing protocols
Ensure you make available multiple queues augmented by skill-based routing and omnichannel servicing models that your users are accustomed to (voice, chat, email, SMS). Continue to monitor and adjust your plans as you move from the migration phase to the sustaining phase and as volumes dictate. Implement processes to keep non-critical calls from coming in during peak hours and drive your workforce to self-help tools. These tools have existed for a while, and now is the time to reinforce them. Enable colleagues to help each other. In systems where clinicians are taught that using a self-help tool for password reset can actually help them more quickly reach the help desk for critical support in the process of patient care, we have seen a dramatic acceleration in the adoption of self-help tools.
Redefine the criteria for success
To accelerate time to productivity for your remote workers, put in place a structure that enables and maximizes first-call resolution versus routing those calls to Level 2 support. Additionally, enable issue and work order ownership at the service desk level. Having a single point of accountability ensures user satisfaction, whether the issue or work order is solved at that level or further escalated. Once in the sustaining phase, initiate continuous, targeted campaigns to promote self-help and self-service tools/training to enhance productivity and help employees adjust to the “new normal.”
Our health system is under tremendous strain during this pandemic. Whether it’s a doctor or nurse delivering care on the front lines or a member of the support staff working from home for the first time, these hardworking professionals deserve not only our thanks and support but also a seamless IT experience. We’re humbled to play a small part in making that happen.