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Four strategies to alleviate health care staff burdens amid labor shortages

Technology can support processes for relief in a tight labor market.

While news of the clinician labor crunch and its impact on hospital capacity challenges has been prevalent throughout the last couple of years, similar workforce challenges have also affected back-office provider operations. Physicians and other health care providers anticipate demand for nonclinical staff will continue to rise as they compete for resources in an increasingly tight labor market, with a widespread need for workers in information technology, administrative support, billing, and accounting. These uncertain market dynamics only exacerbate the burdens placed on health care workers.

To address some of these issues, the U.S. Surgeon General recently issued guidance on health worker burnout and the range of factors that contribute to stress and fatigue among health care staff, including excessive workloads, administrative burdens, and lack of organizational support. The surgeon general offered actionable advice to healthcare organizations on the ways technology can play a role in improving health workers’ well-being, with attention to creating more efficient work processes, reducing burdensome documentation requirements, and strengthening integration of data across different platforms and health sectors.

This advisory serves as an important reminder that physicians must find ways to manage healthcare staff turnover and build a thriving workforce to help maintain positive patient experiences and back-office operations. If health systems don’t address revenue cycle talent shortages and patient experience per the surgeon general’s guidance, cash flow and revenue will suffer, just as physicians finally make progress toward financial recovery from the pandemic.

To help alleviate the burden on back-office staff, health care providers should employ the following strategies, supported in part by technology:

Automate back-office functions to create efficiencies

As hospital volumes fluctuate and administrative labor resources may be scarce, automation can help fill the gaps. Automation technologies can take over mundane and repetitive manual processes to free up administrative resources for front office work and patient interactions. This is particularly helpful at locations and markets experiencing high attrition rates.

Apply analytics to the revenue cycle workflow to use staff more effectively

Collecting low-balance accounts through manual processes is labor intensive and often provides little return with recoveries often below the cost of collecting the balance. However, by applying analytics to assess likelihood of payment, for example, physicians’ practices can allocate staff resources to follow up on accounts most likely to pay sooner and at a higher rate. Efficiencies can also be generated by leveraging intelligent bolt-on workflow systems that auto-process many of the routine scenarios and help assign work to teams trained to handle specific types of scenarios. This helps reduce training time and improves employee’s satisfaction while generating better and faster collections for health care providers. Analytics driven process re-engineering can yield more efficient end-to-end processes and also help decouple processes to assign them to teams skilled to handle the specific process components.

Leverage AI for data-driven analysis

Artificial intelligence (AI) can be used to analyze historical accounts to understand what typically gets paid and what doesn’t. With this level of insight, providers can focus on what’s most likely to be collectable. Not only does this help improve cash flow, but it accelerates the work process, ensuring satisfactory and timely patient balance billing – a win-win scenario for everyone. The accuracy of these machine learning (ML) models continues to improve over time helping providers deploy resources more effectively. For example, this could include best tenured collectors focused on cash yielding accounts or recently hired employees assigned to work uncollectible accounts that may need to be adjusted or written off.

Consider staff augmentation to fill labor gap

With labor shortages plaguing the healthcare industry, staffing continues to be a major challenge with revenue cycle management talent increasingly hard to come by. External business process management (BPM) experts can provide scalable staff and expertise to mitigate worker burnout and offset talent gaps as volumes fluctuate. Many large BPM companies have a global footprint and are able to provide highly trained, cost-effective resources from offshore and near-shore (in addition to onshore) locations based on the provider’s specific needs and preferences.

Physicians and other healthcare providers face several challenges as a result of workforce burnout within the industry. As such, it’s critical that they pull all of the levers at their disposal in order to stay afloat financially while finding ways to alleviate the burdens placed on health care workers.

During times like this, it is essential to find ways to create efficiencies and lean into technology to prioritize human expertise where it’s needed most: delivering the best possible patient care. Utilizing these strategies in conjunction with the latest technology can help providers innovate and stay nimble while enhancing revenue cycle staff capabilities, ultimately helping to better serve the needs of workers and reduce burnout.

Titus Leo is senior vice president and head of Healthcare Provider Practice at HGS Healthcare, a global leader in business process management and member/patient experience combining technology-powered services with decades of healthcare domain expertise to drive positive outcomes.

This article originally appeared on Medical Economics®.