Cultivating a Productive IT Services Relationship with the OR

How to meet (and exceed!) operating room user’s IT support expectations.

How much of IT’s support is directed to support services for clinical applications? According to the HIMSS July 2013 Workforce Survey¹, it is a significant amount. Over half of the participating healthcare providers hired 1 to 5 new IT employees over the year, primarily in clinical application support or help desk positions. For those same providers, 57% planned hires in the next year for clinical application or help desk support. With the amount of new faces joining the periop support team, it is crucial that these new players understand the day-to-day workflow, needs and frustrations of the end users to be able to adequately resolve issues.

As hospitals and health systems “centralize” IT support services, IT leaders are finding it more challenging to meet the demands of the OR. While such a move towards centralization makes sense from financial and consolidated / shared services standpoint, these transitions often result in a loss of essential in-the-OR interactions by the IT support team with the OR providers/end users.

The impact of this shift can be extremely costly both from a financial and cultural perspective. As we work with hospitals around the country, we have seen the impact of this shift on the organization as a whole;

  • System implementations are terminated mid-stream;
  • Upgrades are understaffed and exceeding budgets and timelines;
  • Adoption and utilization of the systems decreases and paper makes its way back in;
  • Data reporting accuracy deteriorates and/or;
  • At a minimum… Surgical and Anesthesia information systems are not utilized to their potential –essentially wiping out the potential return on investment.

We completely understand why the IT department gets frustrated with constant urgent requests from the “needy” department (been there, done that). However, keep in mind that sometimes the issues are indeed urgent and that the operating room is a significant driver of the organization’s overall success.  That being said, how can you provide your operating room end-users and management team with outstanding IT Customer Service to ensure that data flows smoothly and that the system is being used at an optimal level? Here are a few ideas:

  1. Understand the unique needs of perioperative system users – walk through the OR from a patient flow and/or data flow standpoint to actually see the workflow process.

    IT team leads have the technical understanding of needs required for system selection, implementation and support (e.g. server structure and load, interface engine, HL7 messaging) but not necessarily the workflow/data-flow background knowledge that is often key to understanding the impact/benefits/pitfalls of important implementation decisions.

    IT departments must find the ‘sweet spot’ for their periop team members – by learning the intricacies and unique needs of the OR.

  2. Dedicate, where possible, just a small population of individuals to the support this key area:

    The OR is a challenge to work with… but developing personal relationships with the folks on the OR’s front line cuts through thick layers of tension and angst when the OR has to “call support”. Providing the OR with a few “go-to” resources for their needs and having these technical resources visit the OR on a regular basis for the all-important face-to-face contact is a significant way to break down cultural and communication barriers between the OR and IT support. Breaking down these barriers and knowing the OR culture can also allow your team to discern when issues are overstated… “If you do not correct this, my patient outcome will be affected!”

  3. Involve the OR in decisions

    Levels of satisfaction, acceptance and prime usage among end users increase dramatically when Nurse/Physician Champions and OR stakeholders have been involved in the project – from system selection to customization.  Nurse/ physician champions become your first line of defense, super users in the field, who can troubleshoot issues and diffuse end user frustration.

    A common complaint among OR managers is that many implementations are IT-driven and not driven by the needs and timelines of the OR.  Another is that software systems are designed and implemented to fit in the workflow required by the system instead of the software supporting the workflow of the provider.  IT support must engage the OR providers and encourage input throughout implementation, support and maintenance of the periop software system to ensure project success, end user satisfaction and optimal use.

  4. Allocate IT time and resources toward training your team on the “art” of customer service – we know they’ve got the science of IT down… but often these individuals lack experience presenting themselves, training or even interacting with type-A individuals – especially physicians (let alone surgeons!)

    Great customer service does not just happen; it is created, practiced, perfected.  It is about forming a relationship with those you serve, an understanding of their needs, wants, struggles and working to find solutions.  Here are a few recommendations for training not only your new resources but your long-term employees as well:

      • Hold Customer Service Basics at least once a year.
      • Plan time for IT staff to shadow the OR team and see how the software is used on a daily basis and listen to their concerns and struggles.
      • Hold monthly/quarterly team meetings (include OR nurse/physician champions) to look for creative solutions.
      • Regularly practice how to manage customer expectations/frustrations (the OR is a stressful area and end user expectations are high).

  5. Engage the experts as-needed (that’s us) and make your own team shine like super-stars! The following are some examples of prime opportunities to bring in outside support – including both staffing shortage needs as well as opportunities to drive positive change:
    1. Evaluating workflow and system design – which system works best for providers and how to customize.
    2. Coordinating IT/OR cooperation – when to involve different stakeholders in the process.
    3. Bridging culture gaps – facilitate understanding between IT and OR priorities.
    4. Facilitating changes – understanding of process/workflow change that comes with implementations.
    5. Augmenting or facilitating a perioperative-specific upgrade or implementation.
    6. Completing short-term perioperative-expertise specific implementation, upgrade or conversion tasks.

Outsourcing to the Experts: Many times, OR and IT departments struggle to find the FTE needed to complete implementation tasks on top of their regular duties – all while trying to meet aggressive project schedules. Over 76% of healthcare providers surveyed by HIMSS¹ outsource a service in lieu of hiring directly and 93% plan to outsource within the next year.

Software systems (electronic health records) do not drive success- people do!

Cultivating a productive IT services relationship with the OR involves great customer service skills, knowledge of the needs and wants of OR staff/physicians, inter-departmental teamwork (e.g. joint work groups) and access to outside expertise.

Expert IT teams implementing, managing and optimizing the technology so that clinical end-users can utilize that technology to provide effective, efficient and safe patient care = success.


Our team of experts can assist your organization in building an all-star team.

Contact us or view our Service Offerings for more information on:

  • System Selection
  • System Implementation, Upgrades, Conversions
  • Workflow Assessment
  • End-User Training - CBT Development
  • Custom Report Writing
  • Go-Live Support
  • Ongoing Support/Outsourcing Help Desk
  • Project Management
Referenced Materials:
1. 2013 HIMSS Workforce Survey, Final Report, July 2013, ©2013 Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society.