By Sue Ostrowski
While hospitals focused on treating COVID-19 patients, other areas of their business—and income—may have seen a sharp downturn, says Beth Bingman, senior vice president, Treasury Management sales manager at Huntington.
“At one point, many states prohibited elective and nonessential procedures, and people have generally been reluctant to go to the doctor for preventive care or minor illnesses for fear of exposure to the virus,” she says. “Plus, the cost to provide PPE supplies has dramatically increased, which can weigh heavily on expenses. To balance increased expenses and decreased income, healthcare facilities may have furloughed staff, and they are trying to do more with less.”
Even when there are patients to bill—and staff to bill them—patients may not be able to pay due to job loss resulting from the pandemic. This was a challenge before the pandemic, and it has the potential to be worse in today’s circumstances.
Unpredictability of healthcare income and expenses
“The increase in COVID-19 cases has sent most of the hospitals’ back office staff to work out of their home, making it more difficult to manage productivity and staffing levels,” says John Langenderfer, senior vice president and managing director of Healthcare Banking at Huntington.
“This shift has required hospital management teams to learn to manage functionality remotely for billing and collections. This has prompted many managers to turn to automation to fill this gap.”
While technology investment may help offset some of this manual workload, there is a strong need to continuously find ways to reduce operating expenses and increase operating efficiency.
“Healthcare business leaders need to ensure their valuable employees are properly equipped to assume additional duties during the epidemic,” he says.
Implement an external revenue cycle audit
To ensure your healthcare facility is maximizing revenue, work with an institution with a deep understanding of the complexities of revenue cycle management. Langenderfer says your relationship manager can help you better optimize the revenue cycle process. We can benchmark your results against best-in-class operators and provide recommendations to improve.
“Make sure you are maximizing all potential technology available to you to maximize your revenue,” says Langenderfer. “No matter how well you believe your organization is performing, with the continued evolution of technology and products, you may be missing an opportunity. A fresh view from a focused revenue cycle professional can help you continue to improve your results.”
He says specific to COVID-19, it’s more important than ever for healthcare providers to have tight controls over their revenue process.
“The way providers are paid changes daily, and they need to keep up with claims and make sure they are correct before submission so as not to delay payment,” he says. “It’s much more complex than just sending a bill and getting paid.”
An increasing reliance on technology
Bingman says that with people working remotely and taking on additional roles, healthcare facilities are increasingly relying on technology to manage their revenue cycles. While many continue to send out paper statements and rely on patients to send checks or credit card information back through the mail for processing, that is not the fastest or most efficient way to collect.
“Within the last year, we have seen an increased demand for automation of consumer payments and elimination of paper printing and statement production,” Bingman says. “Fortunately, Huntington has technology to support our healthcare customers with this and many other operational treasury management functions.”
Moving away from paper statements and allowing patients to pay medical bills online can free up staff, allow people to pay the way they’ve become accustomed to paying for other services, and can potentially improve how quickly the facility can realize that revenue.
The future of healthcare payments will be fueled by technology. As organizations continue to move in that direction, they will improve the patient experience by making it easier to pay, potentially increase their liquidity, and free up staff to focus on other tasks. Those that fail to do so, staying with the laborious process of having staff mail paper statements that patients must mail back with payment, may be left behind.
“If you can automate your billing process, you may be able to reduce staff or reallocate resources to focus on other things like pre-authorizations, managing denials, and improving the patient experience,” says Bingman. “Take the time to understand your current processes and look for a better future. With COVID-19, it’s more important than ever for companies in this space to have really tight control over and insight into their revenue.”
For more information on managing pain points in health care payments, reach out to your relationship manager.