Mental Health

Q&A: How to keep healthcare IT from burning out

Hospital IT gets tiring. A seat at the table provides some relief.
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Clovercreativegroup, Elliot-Hospital-Manchester-NH, CC BY-SA 4.0

· 4 min read

Nick Szymanski is the CIO and VP at Signature Healthcare in Brockton, Massachusetts—a medical group and unaffiliated hospital with about 150 physicians and just over 200 beds.

Almost immediately upon his arrival in April 2020, Szymanski jumped in to lead a crew of about 50 IT and telecom staff members in an effort to set up a number of Covid testing tents—and all the tech inside them: the scheduling system, the management of electronic medical records (EMRs), and basically anything with electricity.

“We literally met as a team and said, ‘Okay, what spots are available to us? What schools or community areas? Where are we getting the materials from? And we’re gonna have this done in two days,’” Szymanski told IT Brew.

So, how’s the team in charge of holding up the infrastructure…holding up?

“They’re tired,” Szymanski said, putting it simply. “IT in itself is 24/7. And then you add healthcare, which is 24/7. So, you’re always on in some capacity.”

In a conversation with IT Brew, Szymanski talked about ways to provide relief to a crew that’s working around the clock, including one especially important practice: recognition.

Szymanski’s responses below have been edited for length and clarity.

What are the most tiring tasks for a healthcare IT staff?

Nick Szymanski: When you say, “Okay, we have an eight-month project that’s going to do X, and we’re going to take a breather for a few weeks, and then we’re going to start another one,” they know that if it goes sideways at all, patient care might be impacted. Business operations could be impacted.

When the spotlight is on and it’s huge, that’s exhausting, because they’re still carrying the day-to-day, and you can’t forget about that. The doctors are still calling saying, “I need help with this…”

Can you give me a glimpse of what those projects are?

Nick Szymanski: We’re going to be moving and updating our email platform…We just moved our EMR into the cloud two weeks ago. That’s huge, right?

And then in the middle of all this, we’re actually going to be updating our EMR at least two more times throughout the course of the year. So that’s all new code, all new functionality. That’s testing. That’s educating the physicians, the nurses, everyone, that these are the new bells and whistles.

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What are some structural or company-wide ways to encourage IT teams?

Nick Szymanski: I think having IT leadership at the table with the rest of leadership, who can translate the importance and impact and benefit to what the team might have just done and what they’re looking to do, is huge.

What is most important for our audience to know about hospital IT?

Nick Szymanski: IT needs to be viewed equally as the rest of the service lines, or with somewhat equal importance. Now, it’s not going to be clinical, but always have IT at the table. And if you’re starting a project, and IT is not there, and you don’t even know if they should be there? Still, invite them.

So would you say you are in the room?

Nick Szymanski: I’d say at this point I am. But it wasn’t always that way. So that’s a testament to the leadership here.

Did you feel like IT was well connected during the Covid effort?

Nick Szymanski: We had to be. Otherwise, they would just stand up tents, and there would be clinical caregivers there, but they wouldn’t have a way to schedule anyone. They wouldn’t be able to have a way to check those patients in, track what was given to whom, track what tests were given, and communicate out results.

So Covid gave IT a big platform as well. Folks that may not have traditionally thought of IT as being kind of connected to everything quickly learned that we were…We are a support line. I don’t want it to make it seem like we should get all the spotlight. But we are a huge underpinning in operations.—BH

Do you work in IT or have information about your IT department you want to share? Email [email protected] or DM @BillyHurls on Twitter.

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From cybersecurity and big data to software development and gaming. Our IT Brew newsletter delivers the latest news and analysis of trends shaping the IT industry, like only The Brew can.