Healthcare IT: Why ITIL Best Practices are Critical to Success

Posted by on April 25, 2019

Young healthcare IT professional showing fellow employee the importance of ITIL best practices for healthcare.

If IT has found a critical foothold any field, it is especially important in healthcare. Tablet computers and other mobile devices are used to access electronic medical records (EMR) systems, medical imaging systems, and many other components of today’s medical facilities and doctors’ offices. Everything from a patient’s vital signs to his or her family medical history lives within information systems, which often interact with a wide array of devices used in operating rooms and other diagnostic, treatment, and critical care areas.

Keeping healthcare information systems running at optimal levels is of the utmost importance in providing high quality care. ITIL, also known as the Information Technology Infrastructure Library, is the de facto global standard for IT best practices. Adopting these best practices—as well as running software that supports them—is extremely important in the world of healthcare.

Incident Management and Problem Management

Incidents—unplanned interruptions of IT services—can and will occur. Good Incident Management practices help return services to normal operation as quickly as possible. This fast recovery is vital in healthcare IT, where outages can prevent staff from working efficiently and patients from receiving needed care.

(For more complete guidance on ITIL Incident Management, see Anthony Orr’s Essential Guide to ITIL Incident Management and Essential Guide to ITIL Problem Management.)

I spoke recently with the IT service delivery manager in a hospital who told me one of their operating rooms had to be taken out of service for half a day because of an IT failure affecting equipment. Would the failure happen again? Were other operating rooms susceptible to the same issue? These questions and others were handed over to the Problem Management team.

In addition to documenting known errors, Problem Management:

  • Seeks the root causes of incidents
  • Works to diminish the number and severity of incidents
  • Looks for ways to prevent reoccurring incidents
  • Acts to eliminate errors

Across the world of IT service management (ITSM), Incident Management is generally more widely adopted than Problem Management. However, in the realm of healthcare, Problem Management takes on added importance, since interruptions in service can have life threatening consequences. When staff cannot access records or control needed devices, the quality of patient care suffers.

Service Configuration Management

In order to keep healthcare IT humming, IT service managers need to assess and approve changes to the IT environment using Change Management. To understand the potential impacts of change, however, they need to have a clear grasp of that environment. In the healthcare world, any unintended consequences of change can be dire. Service Configuration Management (previously referred to as "Service Asset and Configuration Management" in ITIL v3) ensures that accurate information about the individual components (configuration items, or CIs) and their relationship to one another is available as needed to inform proposed changes. If they understand both the current configurations and the relationships between CIs, service managers can be far more confident about the outcomes of changes needed to provide continual improvements to information systems.

Release and Deployment Management

Today, software updates are frequent and may address known errors exposed through Problem Management—often called “bugs”—or may be in response to a security vulnerability. Recent events in healthcare IT have shown that unpatched vulnerabilities can expose personally identifiable information such as patient records and cause costly Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) breaches, according to the American Medical Association. The ITIL process of Release and Deployment Management ensures the orderly and timely release of these updates, improving IT services and helping to keep personal information secure. 

The Right ITSM Tool

Good ITSM is not optional for healthcare; it is required. Having the best tools for the job of automating and coordinating ITIL processes is a necessity. The right solution will:

  • Be fully HIPAA compliant from the standpoints of field-level encryption and secure hosting.
  • Give service managers information from multiple processes
  • Cross reference the details of any incident against the knowledge base and the known error database
  • Show the history and outcomes of changes to the environment
  • Provide information about CI’s and their relationships
  • Offer a rich dashboard that organizes critical Problem Management metrics

It is not the ITIL processes themselves that are critically important; it is the outcomes produced. While healthcare IT isn’t holding a scalpel, the outcomes you achieve directly impact patient care, for better or worse.

Looking to move at digital speeds while still upholding ITIL principals? Our ebook, 7 Deadly Sins of ITIL Implementation, reveals practical strategies for adapting ITIL to meet the needs of your digital enterprise.

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