Managed Services: A Scalable Solution for Community Connect Support

May 28, 2024John Manzuk 

Connect programs are a growing part of our industry.

As IT partnerships across healthcare organizations continue to grow significantly, shared operational and technical support is becoming increasingly complex. In the host/affiliate partnership model, affiliate organizations gain access to the host organization’s electronic health record (EHR) and additional integrated systems in exchange for an annual program fee. This model, frequently referred to as Community Connect, or Connect, offers significant benefits for both the host and affiliate organizations:

  • A shared, integrated medical record improves patient experience, care coordination, and quality of care.  
  • Host organizations spread the costs of their IT footprint to gain scale and create expanded digital relationships with providers. 
  • Affiliated organizations access tools and resources that would otherwise be out of reach.  

But Connect programs are not without their challenges. IT staffing within the host organization can be particularly difficult to estimate and manage. Sales pipelines are inconsistent, so the analyst work effort needed for an affiliate implementation wave can vary wildly. Each new site that partners with the host organization requires support, which can feel negligible for individual sites or provider, but adds up with each wave that goes live. Connect sites require daily attention for break-fix issues and small requests, and they also need to be accounted for in change management and education as the EHR and related systems evolve via projects, new applications, new features, and upgrades.

We’re proposing an alternative approach to Community Connect support: partnering with a Managed Services provider. Managed Services providers can function as an extension of the host organization and provide high-quality, cost-effective, and scalable support for Connect programs. This approach isn’t limited to post-live support – Managed Services teams can manage Connect projects and enhancements, new affiliate site implementations, and data & analytics services. Daily Connect maintenance and support is typically the foundation that other engagements are built on, so we’ll start with that approach and tackle additional Connect program scope areas in future articles.

What defines a managed services affiliate support engagement 

Managed Services engagements are based on a scope of work and Service Level Agreements (SLAs) that measure the quality of the work performed. The fee is usually fixed, not hourly. These engagements provide clear, known value for the spend compared to hourly-rate, staff augmentation approaches. The baseline managed services scope for a Connect program is post-live Tier 2 EHR site support. Affiliate organizations still contact the host organization via a service desk or other portal to report incidents and submit requests (Tier 1 support), and issues that can’t be resolved by the service desk are routed to the Managed Services provider. SLAs are based on ticket resolution, and customer-service metrics derived from surveys sent to a percentage of end users after issues are closed. 

Exploring the benefits of partnering with a Managed Services Provider.

Every healthcare IT team is challenged by an overwhelming and growing set of priorities to balance, and Connect program add to the list. Connect support grows incrementally over time as waves of new sites go live, so it’s hard to estimate when the incremental growth creates enough demand to increase the team size, which results in fractional staffing challenges in the interim. This also complicates how host organizations calculate the financial performance of their Connect program. 

A managed services approach to Connect support can be liberating for the host organization in many ways:  

  • Connect site support is the primary focus of the Managed Services provider, and contractual commitments ensure quality support. 
  • The support cost is easy to calculate as the program grows. The Managed Services support fee is usually per site or per provider. 
  • The Managed Services provider is responsible for incremental support increases as each wave goes live. 
  • Managed Services providers often staff senior team members with experience supporting Connect programs.  
  • The Managed Services provider can represent the connect program in change control and large IT initiatives like upgrades and new application roll outs.

The best Managed Services providers offer these services as an extension of the host organization. They onboard their team to the host’s change control processes and provide affiliate support within the host’s build guidelines and change management. The host organization has visibility into the quality of support via SLAs, ticket metrics, and collaborative change control, but without having to manage staffing challenges or provide day-to-day oversight. This leads to a solid support foundation for affiliates, which results in better retention as contracts come up for renewal. And with the solid support foundation in place, conversations with affiliate sites can focus on end user adoption, optimization, and improvements, not concerns about support quality.  

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