The number of severe COVID-19 cases may be on the decline, but providers are still facing plenty of headwinds – including some that existed before the pandemic and some that the pandemic created.
Confronted with such challenges as staffing shortages and clinician burnout, rising patient demand for telehealth, increased costs for supplies and labor, and a lack of interoperability between different information systems, many providers are struggling to maintain pre-pandemic profitability levels.
That is why it is essential that providers obtain the payments they are owed as quickly as reasonably possible, ensure payments are accurate and completely captured, and minimize costs to collect payments. For many providers, solving these problems starts with adopting digital engagement tools that make it easier for patients to schedule appointments and obtain cost estimates prior to visits and for staff to capture payments details and establish payment plan options post-visit.
A non-exhaustive list of challenges facing providers
For many providers, their ability to remain financially viable into the future will depend on how they respond to challenges such as the following:
- Hiring and retaining staff amid burnout and labor shortages: A national labor shortage, coupled with an epidemic of burnout among the healthcare labor force, has affected providers of all types, forcing them to spend more on employee recruitment and retainment, sweeten benefits packages and increase signing bonuses. A recent survey by the American Medical Association of more than 20,000 U.S. healthcare workers reveals the extent of the problem: 49% reported at least one symptom of burnout, while 43% said they suffered from work overload.
- Similarly, a report from Morning Consult found that 18% of healthcare workers have quit their jobs during the pandemic, while another 12% have been laid off. Additionally, among healthcare workers who have kept their jobs during the pandemic, 31% have considered leaving, while 79% said the national worker shortage has affected them and their places of work. To cope with these rapid changes, providers need to adopt digital tools that lessen the workload on staff, reducing employee stress and enhancing efficiency.
- Empowering productivity for remote staff: The pandemic exerted significant pressure on providers to maintain operations. Organizations with less complicated workflows and processes simply closed offices and conducted business via video calls. For most providers, however, transitioning to remote work for staff members was not so easy and seamless. Even when working from home, staff need tools that enable them to maintain the same level of productivity as they do in the office, particularly when performing routine, frequently repeated tasks such as scheduling appointments, processing payments, and offering payment plan options.
- New delivery models: As demand for telehealth surged in the early days of the pandemic, less-tech-savvy providers were left scrambling to manage the transition to what was for some a novel care-delivery model. Patients who became familiar with the convenience and time-savings associated with telehealth visits are likely to continue seeking care through remote visits. Now that federal legislators are considering extending the more flexible telehealth policies implemented during the pandemic, providers need to ensure they have an easy, flexible method to collect payment from patients who never set foot in the office.
- Data spread across disparate systems: Given the number of disparate, fragmented information systems that most practices must manage – electronic health records, practice management and payment processing, for example – it’s not surprising that interoperability issues between those systems sometimes prevent quick, efficient information-sharing. Much of this information is essential to obtaining a clear picture of a provider’s financial health. Providers need access to real-time data with the most up-to-date and accurate patient, billing and insurance information.
Better patient engagement through better tools
At various steps throughout the patient journey, providers can implement digital tools that promote patient engagement while increasing convenience and efficiency for patients and staff. Here are a few:
- Patient self-scheduling: Online self-scheduling options enable patients to schedule appointments at any of the day by choosing from a pre-selected list of available dates and times specified by the provider. Self-scheduling reduces barriers to care for patients while enabling staff to spend more time on higher-value activities.
- Automated, omnichannel reminders: Providers can implement information systems that deliver automated reminders to patients at pre-specified intervals prior to appointments. Appointment reminders help providers maintain revenues by reducing the rate of patients who miss or skip visits.
- Pre-arrival and in-clinic digital check-in: With digital check-ins, patients enter or confirm key personal and insurance data, plus the reason for their visit, which enables providers to deliver a pre-visit cost estimate based on visit type and copay. When patients validate, confirm, and update information, it increases the likelihood of clean claims that result in prompt payment to providers.
- Digital billing and bill reminders: According to new research, 32% of patients will pay their medical bill within five minutes of receiving a text to pay their bill; 25% will pay when presented a bill via email. Patients expect the security and convenience of text and email notices to receive and pay their bills.
- Flexible payment plans: Providers that offer patients flexible post-service payment plans can improve collections, reduce the need for costly follow-up activity, and reduce bad debt sent to collection agencies. Ultimately, patients want to pay their bill but since most healthcare costs are unplanned it is important to offer flexibility to create a win-win for both the patient and provider.
To thrive financially in a post-pandemic world, providers need to do everything they reasonably can to secure the payments that they are owed while minimizing the investment in resources to collect those payments. Digital patient engagement tools that boost convenience for patients and productivity for staff represent the path to get there.
Rajesh Voddiraju is president of Health iPASS, a Sphere Company.
This article originally appeared on Medical Economics®.