Navigating Staff Shortages and High Costs: Innovative Patient Payment Solutions 

April 12, 2024

It’s no surprise to health system executives that staffing shortages continue to cause challenges, along with rising operating and labor costs. The issues surrounding RCM staffing challenges have resulted in longer in-person wait times, longer call hold times, less appointment availability and lowered patient satisfaction scores, each of which has a negative impact on the health system’s bottom line. 

This current environment is leading many healthcare executives to explore new ways to interact with patients. They are finding that by combining their people, processes and technology in new ways they can improve scheduling, bill pay and revenue—all while creating more revenue cycle efficiency, reducing administrative burden and maintaining patient relationships. 

Problems plaguing health systems’ patient payments 

We recently caught up with Judy Leach, president of Adventist Health Mendocino Coast. She affirmed that she witnessed first-hand the prominent toll the pandemic took on the healthcare workforce and how important relationship building is to improving the patient experience. 

“4.4 million people across this country left the healthcare profession during the pandemic. It impacted everybody, hospitals of all shapes and sizes, but it particularly impacted rural communities,” Leach said. “And so that impact meant that we had to build our workforce based on relationships. This was not about a transactional aspect of care. It was about a relational aspect that we had to create in order to bring people all the way out to this very remote part of the country.” 

As staffing challenges lead to lower census numbers and less revenue, the remaining staff are frequently tied up in manual processes that consume valuable time they could spend on patient care and relationship building. Per Medical Economics: 

“Mailed paper statements and staff-dependent processes are significantly more costly than electronic and paperless options, yet the majority of physicians still primarily collect from patients with paper and manual processes.” 

The 2023 Trends in Healthcare Payments report from J.P. Morgan cites that 71% of providers collect from patients with manual processes— most frequently using paper bills and no human interaction. However, patients still rely heavily on human interactions to help them solve their payment issues and balances. This data tells us that while digital technology is important and used by many patients, it should not be a replacement for human interaction. Patients want options. 

Digital adoption and service best practices 

Sara Vaezy, EVP, chief strategy and digital officer at Providence, recently said that technological advances in the patient payment space presented a big learning curve for hospital and health system staff. 

“There’s a real workforce implication to the rising tide of digitization on the patient experience as well, because your team has to be able to respond and work with their patients in different ways, whether that’s at the check-in offering an assisted experience or on the phone dealing with someone who’s online looking at a bill,” Vaezy said.  

In a 2023 nationwide survey conducted in partnership with Researchscape, results showed that even with technological advances in patient payment technology, patients still relied heavily on staff to resolve issues. According to the survey, 55% of people want to talk to someone over the phone when they have questions, even if they prefer digital channels for other interactions/activities.* 

Global services help solve labor and cost challenges

To address staffing shortages, patient payment services should tap into the benefits of both US-based and global teams to help lower their cost to collect. This can help free up in-house staff to focus on quality care and relationship building. Michelle Braymer, R1’s senior vice president of operations, said she had seen success around the use of global teams.  

“We have multiple locations to really help balance what we’ve seen in the attrition area. I’ve seen it firsthand,” Braymer said. “I’ve been to the Philippines quite a few times to interact with them and see how they’ve set up their operations there. I’m continually impressed with what they’re capable of doing and how they’re interacting with our patients. Across the board, we are able to balance that interaction between the states and the offshore resources and ensure we’re giving the patient the appropriate experience.”  

Health systems need experienced agents who can handle high call volumes while remaining empathetic to customers, all while delivering account resolution. It’s important to invest in a service team who understands financial aid, payment options, charity care and other personalized options to meet patients’ specific needs.  

The R1 difference 

Consolidating partners can streamline your patient payment account resolution processes and provide a better patient experience and improve the bottom line. No matter how your patients want to resolve their accounts, providing options gives them the best experience possible and sets them up for success and timely bill pay.  

R1 offers patient account resolution services that combine digital-first patient payment technology with compassionate customer service to increase patient revenue and loyalty with personalized payment options. We’re proud to offer both the technology and services together or separately, depending on your needs. Reach out today to learn more. 

*National survey conducted by Researchscape surveyed 2,078 U.S. consumers 18-64 years old who had either paid a healthcare bill in the last year or intend to pay a recent healthcare bill. Respondents are representative of the overall national population across demographic factors.   



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