Rethink Patient-Facing RCM During Healthcare Labor Shortage Part 1: Why Now?

Stephen BernardMarch 8, 2022


"We're hiring."

 

It’s probably safe to say that most of the country’s hospitals and health systems are posting that message prominently right now. Recent employment trends show that the number of people quitting healthcare and social assistance jobs was 35% higher by October 2021 than before the COVID-19 pandemic.

 

The media has focused heavily on the pandemic’s disruptive effects on nurse, physician and other clinical staff levels — and rightly so. The events of recent months have only exacerbated already-dire clinical staffing projections. What’s seldom discussed, however, is the impact “the great resignation” has had on roles within healthcare’s revenue cycle.

 

Revenue cycle management (RCM) roles tend to be less visible to mass media, but they substantially influence the patient experience and organizations’ bottom lines. A patient’s very first experience with a hospital typically involves registration and/or admission personnel, for example. Yet it’s hard for registration and admitting staff to deliver the exemplary customer service they want to offer — and that patients expect to receive — when they’re scrambling to cover for staff vacancies on top of their own jobs.

 

Likewise, few hospitals can afford the cash flow challenges created when too few people are available to perform vital RCM functions such as coding, billing, collections and denials management. For all these reasons, now is a critical time for healthcare organizations to re-think RCM, shore it up and future-proof it as we move forward from the pandemic.

 

Download our eBook, Managing the Business of Healthcare, to learn how RCM partnerships allow for a stronger focus on the core mission.

 

No easy fix

One thing that makes the current workforce environment so unusual is the difficulty hospitals and health systems face rehiring former RCM employees. Attitudes and expectations have changed. The struggle is not necessarily finding qualified talent; it’s convincing them to work in healthcare.

 

And the competition for talent is fierce. Many retail and non-traditional healthcare companies are paying more than hospitals, making it imperative for hospitals and health systems to monitor and adapt to local wage rates. For example, in some markets, hourly registration associates can earn $17/hour or more. But even the most competitive incomes may not be enough to attract staff who worry about on-site coronavirus exposure, who are uncomfortable with vaccine mandates, or who can’t afford lengthy onboarding processes that delay their employment start dates — and therefore their paychecks — for weeks.  

 

It's an undeniable fact that COVID-19 has forever changed the business of healthcare, and there are no simple solutions. Raising wages may be one immediate tactic to attract RCM talent, but it’s not a good long-term answer in an industry where labor costs are already a top expense.

 

Opportunity knocks

Inside every obstacle is an opportunity. For hospitals and health systems, today’s unprecedented RCM labor shortages represent an unparalleled opportunity to evaluate ways to reduce dependence on on-site RCM staffing. There has never been a better time to consider the appropriate roles for a remote workforce, outsourcing partnerships and automation.

 

While patient-facing functions can never be wholly replaced, many RCM tasks can be more standardized, centralized and digitized. Progressive healthcare organizations are seeking new strategies to mitigate staffing shortages and to give patients who prefer a self-service approach a more positive experience. Remote workforce policies represent one essential piece of that puzzle.

 

Part 2 of our blog series will explore both the challenges and the benefits of remote workforce strategies in the healthcare revenue cycle.



Author Bio: Stephen Bernard is the Executive Vice President of Customer Operations at R1 RCM