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With the upcoming cold and flu season almost upon us, and our continued battle with the COVID-19 pandemic, healthcare organizations may need to supplement existing staff to handle a surge of patients during this convergence. Surge staffing is essential for both healthcare providers and patients, enabling hospitals to keep pace with increased an patient population and help to reduce the chance of staff burnout.  Implementing surge staffing requires coordination with and support from a health system’s IT team, to ensure both the IT systems and the new staff are prepared.  

When planning for surge staffing, your EHR, IT systems, devices, and processes must be adequately prepared to handle the increase in temporary staff. If your system is not set up appropriately to handle an influx of new users who need to be up and running quickly, the transition can suffer.   

There are four key areas that any hospital should consider when planning or implementing surge staffing: 

  1. Template updates to reflect roles and privileges for surge staff:
    It is important to have user templates prepared in your EHR system for common temporary surge staffing positions. Once you have those created, new staff members can easily be added to the system with the correct privileges already established. This preparation reduces the chances of errors and improves security posture ensuring everyone has the appropriate access. 
  2. New user creation and provisioning
    As you bring in new locum staff or residents, you will likely have a queue of new users to configure and provision for active directory, EMR, and other applications. If your organization has access management software already in place, this may be a fairly simple and automated exercise, but it will still be a large increase over normal operations, and you will need to allocate staff accordingly. Some IT departments struggle with timely user provisioning during normal operations, and for those teams it is especially important to have a plan in place to ensure there are no delays for the new, life-saving staff.
  3. Device Consideration
    Make sure your IT department understands the device considerations for a temporary staff increase. Will some of the temporary staff need to be issued laptops, dictation microphones, or any other devices? Even if not issued to individuals, consider whether equipment needs on individual units increase to accommodate additional users needing to chart simultaneously.
  4. Training and support – both for new users and new workflows (e.g., temp beds)
    Recognize that your new, temporary users will require tailored training programs on how to access systems and on EHR workflows. Be prepared with training programs tailored explicitly towards getting these users up to speed and documenting in the EHR quicklyTAlso consider that existing users may need training on new workflows that result from surge units and additional hospital capacity.
  5. Offboarding
    Finally, make sure that you work with HR and other operational leaders to develop a plan for offboarding temporary employees once the need is past. Hopefully this will follow your normal termination procedures, however, given that there will likely be a large volume of turnover in a very short time period, make sure you have a plan to collect any issued devices and deactivate users so that you protect your physical assets and data security. 

As provider organizations continue to deal with the many challenges of COVID-19, Optimum Healthcare IT Optimum is here to help. Click here to see all of the service offerings that Optimum offers to help your organization meet its staffing and technological needs during this pandemic. 

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Geoff Blanding

EVP, EHR Services & Optimum CareerPath

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