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Knowing the Difference Between Legitimate Help Desk Support and Hindrance Desk Support in Radiology


With an evenhanded perspective, this author looks at the challenges and frustrations for both sides of the IT help desk line in radiology.

A social media contact of mine recently changed his username to “HindranceDesk.” My brain obediently made the antonym-connection to a term we all know: help desk. I asked him if he was maybe feeling a bit frustrated with his tech support.

He noted he actually was support, and felt this nickname was a little more “truth in advertising.” It is refreshing to hear such humble self-reflection from an insider.

I have blogged about the subject before, and it is far from specific to radiology or even health care. When I think of reaching out to the “Help desk,” or whatever they’re called in a given venue, I hesitate. It’s a near certainty that I will be spending a fair amount of time to do so, and there’s a good chance that I will experience some aggravation in the process. However, the probability of getting my problems solved is much lower.

Few if any folks feel warm and fuzzy when they think about tech support, but it’s not all the fault of the support system. The deck is stacked against support from the get-go. One never contacts them for happy reasons: “Hey, just wanted to let you know everything’s working great! I have no problems to discuss. Let’s chat about fun stuff instead.”

No, the situation is always that something should work, and it is not working. You are at at least displeased, if not frustrated or downright angry, before you even reach out to them. Imagine what it would do to your morale if you knew that every clinician who called you would be in a foul mood before you even picked up the phone.

It is usually a little more transparent (if not blatant) in telerad, but most of us are in the same boat when things are not working properly. Our productivity is taking a hit. Maybe that means the next paycheck is going to be lighter or there will be a hit to the bonus in a few months. (Alternatively, we’ll be that much closer to a reprimand for not meeting our metrics.) Maybe we will just wind up working later in the day/night because we don’t get to log out until all our cases are read.

Even if such factors were nonexistent, there’s little to eagerly anticipate in the process of getting support, beginning with actually getting a hold of them. Whether I’m waiting on hold, in an instant-message queue, or submitting a “ticket” for a callback sometime in the nebulous future, it rarely feels like I’ve got access to a squad of minutemen. With most of us in health care constantly on the hook for providing “STAT” service, no matter how unwarranted the urgency is in a given situation, it feels like a pretty big disconnect when we are the ones who need help … and won’t get it anytime soon.

That’s not just a matter of being impatient. Depending on the circumstances, I might be unable to do any work whatsoever while waiting. Maybe my system is just too bollixed, or maybe I have got potentially vital clues to my situation on the screen (like pop-up windows with error message code numbers), and I want to leave everything “as is” for support to see. Alternately, knowing that support is going to be with me sooner or later, I am reluctant to pull up a full-body cancer follow-up that will be interrupted halfway through.

Once that hurdle is cleared, the burden is on me to adequately explain my situation (not always easy to do, especially if you can’t “reproduce the problem” while they’re watching) and navigate a bunch of questions that IT pretty much has to ask because they have no way of knowing whether I am a blooming idiot. If they skip over such basic things and one of them turns out to have been the issue, they risk wasting a huge amount of their time.

Of course, I’m notan idiot (at least, regarding this), and have been playing the telerad game for over a decade. Not to mention I had more than a little familiarity with computers and the like before I even went to med school. That said, I confess that it does wear on me when I have to go through the routine: Yes, everything’s plugged in. Yes, I tried turning everything off and on again. No, my other internet stuff is working fine so you can’t blame this on my Internet service provider (ISP).

That last bit dovetails into another all-too-human aspect of support. Fairly early on, they’re looking for quick and easy ways out of the situation, something readily done if they can blame your situation on something out of their control. If they have even a half-baked excuse to tell you that the issue is with your ISP, support has your potentially unsolvable problem off of their plate. Even if you wind up calling back later on, somebody else in the support team will get the hot potato. The guy you first dealt with is in the clear.

There is another result of support being manned by mere mortals. They’re not all super-duper subspecialists in everything you could possibly need. They have got a certain basic training, and maybe some flow charts to help them systematically walk through most common problems. But, sooner or later, they get to the limits of their knowledge. Sometimes, those limits aren’t too much beyond those of the caller, if she or he happens to be a seasoned rad or other technologically savvy individual.

A lot of these issues are diminished if not eliminated for those fortunate enough to have dedicated IT personnel. That is, a radiology department that has its own support people, rather than sharing a pool with the rest of the health-care system, or a telerad section with its own people, separate from the larger rad department. The more drilled down and focused they are on your area, the more familiar with your particular issues they are likely to be and likely more able to research stuff that turns out to be beyond their knowledge base. Plus, they are that much more available to you when you need them.

In other words, this would constitute more of a help desk and less of a hindrance.

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