As payer reimbursements continue to shrink and the number of high-deductible health plans continues to grow, healthcare organizations must find new ways to optimize their revenue cycles to increase patient and payer collections. One often overlooked strategy is better investing in revenue cycle staff so they more consistently and capably perform their jobs.
Lay the foundation with training
Regular and comprehensive training is a good first step in engaging revenue cycle staff. The training should focus on the tasks involved in a staff person’s job, as well as communicate where the individual fits in the broader revenue cycle department—and the impact of his or her performance on others. For example, front-end staff should understand the importance of correctly entering patient demographic and insurance information and how poor performance could have downstream effects for the back-end staff; such as, significant rework, delayed payments, and denials. Front-end staff also should appreciate the value of sharing an estimate with patients and collecting payment at the time of service, as opposed to having the back-end end staff follow up with patients after the encounter. Individuals are less likely to pay in a timely fashion or pay in full if the request for payment comes after the care episode ends.
Organizations should consider incorporating team-building exercises that partner front-end and back-end staff into training. These exercises can help the two groups get to know one another better and build collaborative relationships. When everyone feels they are on the same team and striving for the same goals, they are more likely to think creatively about different ways to solve problems.
Staff should also receive training on patient interaction. In most cases, patient access or front desk staff are patients’ first person-to-person point of contact. Similarly, the billing and collections staff are frequently the last interaction patients have before their care encounter ends. Making certain that staff are well-versed in how to engage in compassionate conversations, active listening, and other key communication strategies is critical to ensure they can reliably and consistently support a positive patient experience. Mock scenarios can cement learning. For example, providing situations in which staff members must recognize a patient who is struggling financially and could benefit from a payment plan can help staff proactively identify these individuals and put plans in place to meet patient needs while still capturing payment.
Elevate performance with the right tools
Well-trained employees can still struggle if their tools for collecting payments, generating claims, and following up on denials are cumbersome and don’t share information. Many organizations use multiple software programs that specialize in certain revenue cycle functions. Often these tools do not communicate with one another—or if they do, they have clunky connections that make data sharing difficult. When organizations onboard a more integrated platform with a user-friendly interface, it can speed up payment and improve accuracy, helping staff better perform their jobs.
An end-to-end solution allows employees to access all aspects of the revenue cycle with a single log-in so they can see the broader picture of the patient’s financial experience. For instance, patient access or front desk staff can see not only what the patient owes, but also how much the insurance will cover, what’s been billed so far, and if there is any remaining balance. Staff can generate a patient estimate with a click of a button and then request an initial payment from the patient, using integrated payment technology to hold the individual’s credit card number on file. Similarly, when a back-end staff person responds to a denial, he or she can see exactly what information has been documented and how the claim went out, identifying the problem so that it can be quickly resolved. If a patient has made a payment, the staff member can make note so that any patient collections work considers the patient’s initial financial outlay.
Robust job training coupled with end-to-end revenue cycle technology establishes strong roots from which a high-functioning revenue cycle department can grow. When staff are fully engaged in their work and feel empowered to do it, they can meet and even exceed performance targets, realizing a solid and nimble revenue cycle that is well-prepared for the future.
Lisa Waterfield is health system and hospital solution consultant at Waystar.