Indeed, a recent cross-industry survey by Gartner showed that 48% of employees are expected to remain partially or fully working remotely after the pandemic, compared to 30% before, while 74% of CFOs polled intend to move 5% of their workforces to permanent remote work.1 Healthcare is likely to track these patterns, as noted by an HFMA analyst who stated that an increasing number of staff will continue working from home post-pandemic, creating opportunities for savings related to office space.2
This CommerceHealthcare® article briefly examines the chief concerns and suggests several steps that can be taken now to support remote work, as well as to reap long-term benefits.
The Challenges of Remote Financial Work
The following factors present barriers to effective remote financial processing:
- Maintaining business continuity. WFH adds to an already complex and high touch set of processes. Managing a remote workforce is difficult when applied to receivables, payables and patient financing workflows that remain labor-intensive, paper-centric, dependent on multiple financial systems and plagued by inconsistencies in the remittance stream.
- Hospitals and physician practices are under major financial duress. Postponed elective procedures and increased coronavirus-related costs have dramatically reduced revenue and cash flow. Since WFH magnifies possible pre-existing inefficiencies, added costs are likely to be incurred.
- Short staffing further burdens the remote work environment. Financial pressure is forcing healthcare organizations to make difficult workforce decisions. We empathize with staff who suddenly find themselves out of a job or temporarily furloughed during this challenging time.
Solutions for Effective Remote Work
Automation is essential to solving the remote work equation. Consider three areas where high-impact automation can make a difference:
The appropriate technology platform can positively impact speed of cashflow by providing end-to-end automation of insurance and patient receivables, whether checks, paper EOBs or ERAs/EFTs. It is important to have a platform that can integrate with your organization’s revenue systems. An integrated platform will support paperless workflows through automatic payment posting, unbundling aggregated remittances, and directing each to the appropriate system. Electronic processing or remittances is also less costly than paper handling and accelerates cash flow. Reconciliation and reporting features can further enable effective WFH. Vital platform requirements include:
- Scalability. At least 95% of transactions should be reliably processed electronically.
- Ease of implementation. Given the remote work challenges, solutions should require minimal internal staff to implement and maintain.
- Security. Role-based access and privileges.
With unemployment approaching historic levels, affordability of care is a critical concern for healthcare providers. The uninsured population has surged with the loss of employer-sponsored health plans. Likewise, the movement towards high deductible plans and other factors continues to shift patient financial responsibility. Financing options are essential for self-pay patients, whether for COVID-related care or for the expected surge in routine treatment, as COVID-19 restrictions are lifted.
Payment plan options are distinctly “high touch,” characterized by considerable direct interaction and paper flow between staff and patients. These programs also carry a much lower reimbursement rate when compared to insurance or Medicare. A strong external financing program, from a sound lender, can address these manual issues while delivering increased patient satisfaction and significantly higher yield on patient account receivables. For example, no- or low-interest lines of credit for extended periods can help consumers, while providing immediate, full cash payment for the organization. The right program can also support remote work through a frictionless, touchless processing cycle featuring:
- Electronic application with pre-service or post-service enrollment. No paper or face-to-face transactions.
- No credit underwriting to minimize interactions.
- Patient access to credit lines for subsequent procedures without additional review.
- Lender-managed loan servicing, relieving remote staff from the burden.
Accounts payable is yet another function with many manual or partially automated processes that can be challenging when WFH. Integrating automated payments (virtual cards/ACH) and invoice automation through a software platform should be part of the solution. A platform designed for high efficiency can manage vendor data and payment types (credit card, ACH, check), automate scheduled or one-time payments, and produce accurate reconciliation files.
Valuable features in the current environment are:
- Rapid initiation and completion of electronic supplier payments, a heightened need during the pandemic to reduce paper touches.
- A vendor-managed call center that can handle increasing volume of supplier inquiries and administrative issues.
- Adherence to exception-based workflow to ensure automation stays on track.
Benefits of Automation Summary
Immediate benefits can include:
- Reinforcing crucial social distancing by enabling an efficient remote workforce.
- Maintaining remote staff accountability via automated system tracking features.
- Supporting and sustaining suppliers.
- Enhancing patient relations through convenient, frictionless transactions.
Long-term benefits include:
- Generating meaningful cost savings and other benefits that derive from Revenue Cycle Management (RCM) automation.
- Providing an opportunity for furloughed staff to return through the support of an onsite and offsite work environment. This flexibility can also improve recruitment efforts for new staff.
- Enhancing migration to a digital workforce, helping create workspaces that integrate technology, data and content to help staff work more efficiently and effectively.3
- Contributing to organizational resilience to help weather future disruptions and changes.
Though essential in the ongoing crisis, the rapid adoption of remote RCM work and payment automation has been accompanied by many challenges. With uncertain duration of WFH and the likelihood that it becomes more prevalent post-pandemic, it is critical to embark on a path to automation. Fortunately, solutions exist across all financial functions that can provide immediate support to a remote workforce transition, maintain desired efficiency and lay the groundwork for beneficial long-term automation.
- “Gartner Identifies Nine Trends for HR Leaders That Will Impact the Future of Work After the Coronavirus Pandemic,” press release, May 6, 2020.
- C. Mulvaney, “Health Systems May Require a Smaller Real Estate Footprint Post-pandemic,” HFMA Blog, May 6, 2020.
- IDC, Finding Work Transformation Success with Intelligent Digital Workspaces, 2020.