A recent conversation at a highly-respected and decades-old EHR vendor brought up the issue of tech-support for EDs and clinics, and how that best can be managed. The issues are complex, and yet important when it comes to patient safety, healthcare staff backing, and the continuance of key operations that depend upon your EHR.
Those in the healthcare EHR industry know full well that a vast majority of support calls stem from issues potentially solved locally, with little or no technical know-how needed. That is why most all tech companies, medical or not, provide FAQ support information, commonly online or on paper, that can be used to quickly consider and resolve issues. It’s like the manual in a new car when you need to figure out a “how-to” but want to keep the vehicle running. And few in healthcare have the time for their vehicles (EHRs) to stop running or slow down. At times though, more than the manual is needed, either for more in-depth information, or for hand-holding through some simple problem that nevertheless induces anxiety. Still, support teams commonly consist of rotating responsibility by the program developers, they rarely have time (or patience) for hand-holding.
For example, most facilities use printers, either for patient-care instructions, prescriptions, or for other printed care documents. And yet, printers are often a big stumbling block for end users, who may be technically unskilled, new to the system, or rotational members of a staff that services multiple care facilities. Problems with these devices, however, are usually rather easily corrected. Nevertheless, an EHR system that is functionally brought to its knees because the printer went out, can induce panic in the facility staff.
And then there are software, hardware, or internet-based technical issues that do crop up. Who of us has not gone partially bald waiting hours online for Microsoft or Apple to provide an English speaking helper to resolve a problem that is making smoke pour from our ears, and impairing our lives. It happens with all devices, from “smart” phones to ipads to laptops. Yet, in the hospital or clinic environment, delay of this sort is not only frustrating, but dangerous.
How does a tech-support crew best solve such matters? For one, be sure that your vendor has provided you with key items of access. They are:
An FAQ-problem list of the most commonly encountered glitches, and how to solve them. This list should have easily located, step-by-step instructions, understandable by even the most novice clinician doing a new shift at the facility. It should include an instruction to shut down (all devices) and restart as a next-to-last-ditch effort, and then to move to #2 if this fails. The FAQ sheet should be placed in a secure, known, location at all sites, and available to all users of the system.
Phone contact information: this should be clearly stated on the FAQ sheet. It may be helpful to distinguish more than one number, one for emergencies that have not been resolved locally, and another for issues that can wait until the next business day for resolution.
Support management by the EHR support service should include an initial re-routing message of the sort one hears from hospitals and physician offices: “if this is an emergency, hang up and dial 911.”
In the case of technical emergencies, it might say: “if your system is down, press 1.”
Or it might further define a true EHR emergency and say, perhaps “if you have a technical issue with your system, and it is now impairing the care of patients, press 1.”
When the issue is not urgent, further information might route the caller to voicemail to leave a message for the staff when they are available to respond.
Follow-up and analysis by the vendor: all EHR vendors should be interested in learning how requests for help are handled and resolved A mechanism for doing so, either by email, website contact, or direct call, should be set up. That way, all involved parties can continue to improve their relationship and their abilities in keeping every installation of the system up and running.
Be sure that you and your vendor discuss elements of support, and how it is to be managed, so that you can work together to keep your facility seeing patients as efficiently as possible.