Partial outsourcing can free up resources to allow healthcare IT teams to focus on development, innovation, and value.
In today’s rapidly changing healthcare technology landscape, healthcare IT departments must balance strategic initiatives — such as population health, security, governance, system optimization, and data management and integration — with sustaining the existing IT environment through ongoing EHR optimization and system maintenance.
Additionally, there is constant pressure to reduce IT budgets while still fostering the development and innovation that increases the value that IT can deliver.
“The only constant in healthcare IT is change,” said LeAnne Wintrode, Epic Practice Director at Healthlink Advisors. “CIOs have lots of competing priorities, and due to resource constraints, they are being forced to do more with less.”
Balancing IT and Maintenance
As a result, many healthcare IT departments are just trying to keep up — and keep the lights on.
In fact, research shows that IT departments across all industries spend 80 percent of their resources and budget on supporting the infrastructure and applications they already have in place.
“Healthcare organizations need to keep the lights on, but they also need to align with constantly shifting business needs — and this requires balance and effective use of resources,” said Wintrode.
To thread the needle between strategic and maintenance needs, Wintrode said healthcare organizations must make decisions that solve their resourcing and prioritization issues — carefully considering their needs to avoid creating new problems.
Here are a few common resourcing options for healthcare CIOs, and the pros and cons of each:
1. Hire more full-time staff.
PROS: Full-time team members are more likely to be invested in the success of initiatives, their co-workers, and their employer. They also retain institutional knowledge that can provide long-term benefits to the organization.
CONS: Unprecedented labor shortages are expected to continue to rise over the next several years, which may make it challenging to hire IT professionals with the desired skill sets.
2. Hire a consultant from a staff augmentation firm.
PROS: Organizations will have access to the exact skills they need when they need them, and published rate sheets and contracts allow CIOs to plan and budget for these resources.
CONS: Because consultants bring specialized expertise, they come at a higher price and may be better suited to short-term, specifically defined projects. Additionally, firms may not offer partial FTE contracts, which could result in an organization paying for services they don’t need. When consultants leave, they take valuable institutional knowledge with them — even when transitions are well-planned, well-executed and well-intentioned.
3. Full or partial outsourcing through a managed services partner.
Full outsourcing involves partnering with a managed services organization to provide an entire IT operation, which may involve “re-badging” existing employees to become full-time employees of the managed services partner.
Partial outsourcing is a flexible, blended approach where the organization retains key employees as FTEs while receiving support from the managed services partner in specific, agreed-upon areas — such as EHR support, governance, security, or PMO management — on a short- or long-term basis.
PROS: Managed services partners provide organizations with access to the skills and expertise they need and can evolve with the organization’s changing needs. Managed service contracts often involve meeting certain requirements, eliminating the need for organizations to manage resources or transitions while facilitating information retention. Organizations also have the option to take a phased or pilot approach to using managed services, with the option to expand services later.
CONS: Contracts are often long-term and intricate, meaning it takes longer to establish a managed services partnership than simply leveraging contractors or hiring FTEs. Performance issues can be challenging to address if contracts do not provide appropriate specifications and out-clauses. Also, organizations have less control over non-employees and their work product.
Choosing the Right Managed Service Option for Your Organization
To select the right managed service resource to help maintain current IT systems and achieve strategic goals, organizations must analyze their needs, priorities, and existing resources.
“Full outsourcing has not historically been successful,” said Wintrode. “Although it may be tempting to make significant cuts in the IT budget, full outsourcing is stressful and comes with significant risk. However, partial outsourcing can be a great option when executed properly.”
When conducting this analysis, here are a few things to consider:
- Strategic goals. How do the organization’s needs align with its strategic goals? Are there initiatives the organization hasn’t been able to move forward with due to lack of resources?
- Priorities. Make a list of all IT initiatives and determine what initiatives must proceed immediately.
- Skill sets. What skill sets does the organization need to support its priorities? Where does the organization have coverage? Where are the strengths? Where are the weaknesses or areas where the organization needs help? What feedback has your staff provided on their tasks and projects?
- What should stay in-house? Projects and optimization tasks that require face time maybe ideal for an internal FTE or short-term consultant due to additional costs or challenges associated with onsite work.
- What should be outsourced? Keeping-the-lights-on tasks are integral to system maintenance, but are invisible to stakeholders, making them preferable for outsourcing to a behind-the-scenes, offsite managed services provider.
As an organization works to answer these questions and determine the scope of work for a potential vendor, hiring a consultant to assist in the process can be an asset.
“A consultant with extensive managed services experience can help figure out what the organization has, what the organization needs, and how to manage those resources,” said Wintrode. “With knowledge of industry best practices, a consultant can also help to manage risk, ensure proper governance, and streamline the contracting process.”