Beyond a help desk

Highlands Health System’s IT Department may be small, but it is always up to the task.

Most information technology (IT) departments manage multiple systems. Now imagine managing all IT systems for a hospital, six remote clinics, two retail pharmacies, an after-hour’s clinic, an autism center, a wellness center and several owned physician practices—with only a staff of eight. That’s exactly what the Prestonsburg,  Ky.-based Highland’s Health Systems IT department does. And they’re doing such a good job that the IT department was recently ranked 4th in “Where to Work: BEST Hospital IT Departments” in the medium hospital category (101 to 350 licensed beds), by Healthcare IT News.

“The staff appreciated being recognized, both internally and externally, for a job well done. We have long focused on setting an example in how to provide the highest level of customer service, and felt this was a reflection of that service,” said Michael Roberts, director of network services, Highlands Health System.

Small Staff, Big Responsibilities
One way that the team practices quality customer service is through the position of the medical staff informatics specialist, which is a hybrid position between IT and the medical staff director. This insures an open line of communication between the healthcare and  echnology components of the job.

The IT department provides first-line help desk support for all users regarding PCs, printers, faxes, applications, username/ passwords, connectivity issues and training. Tasks and projects are logged using an online database system, developed internally. The department deploys all PCs and printers using an automated imaging process. They also configure, setup and deploy all network hardware, including switches, routers, servers, access points and firewalls. In addition, the department manages network connectivity between all locations.

“Recently, we have begun the process of migrating server infrastructure over to a virtual environment that we designed and implemented ourselves,” said Roberts. “We have around 650 employees, but also provide support for many other third party organizations (remote coders, physician office staff, etc.). We provide remote access for many applications for these people, including access to our PACS system, OB/fetal monitoring system, etc.” EMR Ready Despite all that the IT department has going on there is one project they do not need to worry about: the upcoming deadline for electronic medical records (EMR) system implementation. Their EMR system has been deployed for more than seven years, one of the first in the region to do so. Physicians can now enter orders and medical documentation directly into a computer that can be accessed at different locations around the world. Highlands has the ability for enhanced clinical support – allowing providers access to additional health, medical, pharmaceutical information to improve safety, efficiency and quality of care.

“Currently our focus is on connecting our EMR with various other systems and developing reports that contain meaningful data. We do have employees that serve as application ‘superusers’ for clinical reporting and security of the EMR, as well as early testers for upgrades that will be applied,” said Roberts. Prepared for Challenges just as the IT department has many accomplishments from which to be proud, they also face challenges.

“One of the main challenges the department faces,” said Roberts, “is staying on top of the complexity of our network and applications on it, particular as we expand our reach in the community and increase in the connectivity to other organizations.” Additionally, the scope of  support that the IT department provides has stretched outside the organization to physicians and physician office staff, along with third-party vendors that require connectivity, access and training of their various systems. With the limited amount of staff, this presents a struggle to stay on top of everything.

Roberts isn’t concerned. “We place a strong emphasis on our employee satisfaction and strive to make sure employees have the right tools  they need to accomplish their job,” he said.

“Training is one of most important mechanisms,” Roberts continued. “Our organization has always invested in training employees, based on the principle that it is better to pay to train our employees on how to setup, deploy and manage a system, than to pay someone else to come in and set it up, but then have no knowledge to support it.”

By Melanie Wolkoff Wachsman


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