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3 Tips to Improve Your Revenue Cycle in 2019

  • July 31, 2019
  • Published in Billing

 

Healthcare providers today face increasing cost pressures and inability to grow their revenues which can lead to diminished operating results. A survey conducted by AMGA in 2017 revealed that the operating loss per physician increased from 10% of net revenue in 2016 to a loss of 17.5% of net revenue in 2017. The survey participants included nearly 50 medical groups and health systems, representing more than 13,000 providers.

Unlike other businesses, medical practices can’t pass on rising costs (e.g. increasing rents, employee salaries, etc.) to patients, making it critical that they look for ways to control costs.

However, the same financial struggles that physician practices are experiencing are also present in hospitals. Both nonprofit and for-profit hospitals are seeing revenue decline and losses mount as new reimbursement models emphasize shorter stays and more care delivered in outpatient settings. 

The results of the survey show that healthcare providers face a significant challenge to grow their revenues and need to reconsider their revenue cycle strategy. Here are 3 tips for improving your revenue cycle management:

Implement cost-effective technology for better financial performance

High tech can cause high costs for practices and ultimately average up to $32,500 per doctor annually according to the Medical Group Management Association (MGMA). That’s why it’s important for healthcare providers to implement cost-effective technological solutions and not just ride every digital wave. The transition to provide higher-quality, value-based care is becoming increasingly expensive.

According to MGMA, better-performing practices can do the following:

  • Control information technology (IT) expenses 
  • Spend less on operating expenses 
  • Achieve greater physician productivity 
  • Implement better practice operations

MGMA also found that hiring more nonphysician providers and support staff can make practices more profitable and productive.

Healthcare providers should use cost-effective technology every single day to deliver exceptional service in every patient interaction. Digital solutions in managing revenue cycle management is important for streamlining patient encounters and payments. HIMSS researchers suggested that healthcare organizations should consider a more automated approach to the revenue cycle management to improve work flows and decrease human error and labor costs.

Improve claims denial management

In revenue cycle management, if an error occurs in any part of the cycle, it could have a major and rippling effect of the overall revenue cycle performance.

A 2016 HIMSS Analytics Survey showed that approximately one-third of healthcare providers still use a manual approach to manage claim denials. It also showed that only 44% of the providers surveyed used automated claims denial management and 18% had an in-house program.

Reducing the number of denied claims can be achieved when healthcare providers include in their revenue cycle management a claims denial prevention system. This kind of system can track and pinpoint the root cause of claims denials, the number of claims denied, and who are the physicians involved. This can greatly help in determining denial rates and track these patterns. Every denial needs to be reviewed and effective improvement efforts need to be made collaboratively.

Track key performance indicators

What you can’t measure, you can’t manage. To put it simply, data should be the primary driver in your organization’s revenue cycle decisions and strategy. Key performance indicators and quality assurance checks inform revenue cycle managers about the financial health of their organization and ensure that data is accurate. Efficient revenue cycle management relies on measuring key indicators, setting goals, and continuous improvement. 

 

Data Security Issues in Offshore Revenue Cycle Management 

Virtual Partner

Offshoring revenue cycle management has been an increasing phenomenon in the healthcare landscape today. Primary drivers for this include cost-efficiency, controlled management, specialization and expertise, economies of manpower, and an affordable edge in information technology. 

However, seemingly apparent economic advantages have given rise to controversies and popular debate against offshore outsourcing. With offshoring, data transfer is inevitable because once access is given to foreign third-party service providers, it is almost impossible to prevent data from leaving the company and the country. In the event of offshore data breaches, healthcare companies may become target of domestic lawsuits.

According to a 2013 Trustwave Global Security Report of  450 global data breach investigations, 63% were linked to third party component of IT administration. The report says that outsourcing, itself, is not necessarily risky but that bad decisions are being made. Part of the problem, according to Trustwave is that service providers don’t view security as being as valuable as their American clients do. 

An example of an infamous data breach incident happened on October 7, 2003 which sent terror throughout the medical system. The University of California at San Francisco (UCSF) Medical Center received an email from a Pakistani medical transcriber threatening to disclose private records if UCSF did not pay her a certain amount she claimed it owed her in backpay. UCSF then verified the authenticity of the records she possessed and launched an investigation. Authorities uncovered a chain of subcontractors of whom UCSF was completely unaware.

Privacy violators are subject to both civil and criminal penalties. According to the United States Department of Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights (HHS OCR), these are the penalties for each tier: 

Tier 1: $100-$50,000 per violation, capped at $25,000 per year the issue persisted

Tier 2: $1,000-$50,000 per violation, capped at $100,000 per year the issue persisted

Tier 3: $10,000-$50,000 per violation, capped at $250,000 per year the issue persisted

Tier 4: $50,000 per violation, capped at $1.5 million per year the issue persisted

The healthcare industry has long been a target for hackers and it seems the trend is still increasing. According to the US Department of Health and Human Services' breach portal, in 1st quarter of 2017 there were 22 breaches recorded in the US while this figure soared to a high of 99 in 2nd quarter of 2018. Email was also the top source of data breaches in the healthcare industry in 2018.

An analysis of 1,138 health data breaches affecting a total of 164 million patients from October 2009 through the end of 2017 in the breach portal shows that the top cause of data breaches (42 percent of cases) was theft of equipment or information by unknown outsiders or by current or former employees. Another 25 percent of cases involved employee errors like mailing or emailing records to the wrong person, sending unencrypted data, taking records home or forwarding data to personal accounts or devices.

This means that more than half of breaches were due to internal negligence and thus to some extent preventable.

With recent data breaches surrounding outsourcing and offshoring, it is essential to assess your third-party vendors' operations, data security capabilities, and procedures in safeguarding member data privacy to avoid all that comes with a data breach.

It is essential for healthcare organizations to go beyond the standard HIPAA compliance standards. 

Think twice before offshoring the more sensitive aspects of your revenue cycle. 

Always have a data security program in place that allows your organization to stay on top of the latest cyber threats and be able to respond and then recover when a breach takes place. You may not completely get ahead of all online risks, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be prepared.

Data security problems arise from poor management and negligence. Whether the decision to offshore is on the table or not, healthcare facilities must regularly check measures and defenses to prevent threats to data breaches and cyberattacks. 

How to Avoid Revenue Cycle Outsourcing Mistakes

  • May 29, 2019
  • Published in Billing

In today’s evolving healthcare landscape, providers look for ways to better adapt to market conditions while sustaining profitability and gaining a competitive edge, so they opt to outsource some or all their revenue cycle functions to a third-party vendor. 

Healthcare providers are under intense pressure to reduce spending while improving care quality and revenue cycle outsourcing has the potential to significantly decrease costs and increase efficiency. 

A Black Book survey found that 80 percent of hospital leaders are considering or vetting full revenue cycle management outsourcing by the end of 2019. The surveyed hospital executives said they would partner with a third-party vendor to help manage their revenue cycle so that they could focus on decreasing costs and value-based care implementation.

The global healthcare revenue cycle management outsourcing market is projected to see significant growth at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 11.9 percent from 2017 to 2023, according to one market report estimate, with the market reaching a valuation of $23 billion by the end of the period.

The decision to outsource revenue cycle management is complex but usually involves the elements of cost, access to expertise, technology, and scalability to be able to perform well under an increased and expanding workload and demand. Outsourcing allows providers to focus on their core functions and free themselves from the burden of paying a high amount of fixed costs for handling billing in-house. 

Here are some benefits to revenue cycle outsourcing: 

Lower overall cost (while achieving similar or better performance)

Advanced revenue cycle technology and optimized processes

Scalability of operations, such as adding new facilities

Access to experienced and centralized talent pools 

However, there are also some pitfalls to outsourcing especially if providers are not able to work with the right partner.  In common cases, reports of high denial rates and their causes remain undetermined due to a general lack of effective analytics and transparency. Some third-party vendors can become less professional, unresponsive and exhibit a lack of cooperation compared to the initial sales period. 

Recently, Astria Health (a three-hospital system in eastern Washington) filed for bankruptcy, citing poor A/R performance from revenue cycle outsourcing as the primary cause behind their declining cash flow. The third-party vendor was put in charge of office billing, claims processing, and collecting but failed to process large amounts of accounts receivable (A/R) in a timely manner, resulting in a significant cashflow shortfall for Astria Health. 

Therefore, here are some strategies to consider in avoiding revenue cycle outsourcing mistakes:

Performance is Key  

Performance should always be the key driver behind outsourcing decisions - not just cost, access to technology, expertise, etc. Pay attention to claim denial rates and patient collection times and compare it with other vendors. 

A partner must execute transparency in its services. If they cannot illustrate results or past performance, they are likely not a good choice. They should not only have a competitive price point, but also have strong performance and industry expertise. 

In defining contract terms with the third-party vendor, clearly and concisely define performance and service-level expectations, which could also carry bonus potential if the vendor overperforms. Setting objective metrics is crucial so that both parties know what the focus is and how they can work together to achieve their goals and enhance operational performance.  

Carefully Consider What to Outsource

The providers should also take into consideration the aspects of their revenue cycle that their organization must outsource. That said, there are some variables that are especially significant. Some organizations outsource their revenue cycle from end to end while some only outsource revenue cycle components such as coding and accounts receivable follow-up and the rest are retained in-house. What course an organization chooses will depend on its characteristics and pain points. Selecting the right partner for the specific revenue cycle component you are outsourcing is crucial and requires careful evaluation. 

Choose a Partner You Can Trust

Providers need to make sure that their relationship with their vendor is extremely transparent. Both sides need to understand that they are going to work very closely to succeed. Providers need to know their partner vendor’s support staff and capabilities well.  Are they offshoring any of their work?  Do they have experienced coders?  Do they have well-trained and friendly staff?  How do they handle claims denials?  

Outsourcing can be a highly effective solution to gain a competitive advantage. By choosing the right outsourcing partner, providers can better manage change and move toward decreased costs and increased efficiency so that they can focus on delivering better quality of care.

3 Tips for Working with RCM Partners to Handle Self-Pay Patients

Patient balances present one of the most significant challenges in healthcare especially for surgery centers. With ever-rising healthcare costs, ambulatory surgery centers (ASC’s) see an increase in the number of patients that have high deductible health insurance plans. Patient obligations have increased 29.4 percent since 2015, and many are finding it difficult to pay off their medical bills and large out-of-pocket costs.

ASC’s invest significant resources and time to settle overdue payables from patients who are unable to manage paying off their medical bills. Many surgery centers find themselves reaching out to patients, sending letters, emails, and calls in an effort to collect from self-pay patients. 

However, collecting from patients is not naturally the expertise of a healthcare facility, so surgery centers often get the help of an RCM (revenue cycle management) partner or collections vendor.

How can your ASC work more effectively with its RCM partners to handle self-pay collections? What do you need to look for in selecting a third-party collections partner? Here are 3 tips to consider:

1. Implement Digital Payment Transmissions 

Interestingly, the increase of high-deductible plans has also coincided with the trend of healthcare consumerism. Patients now expect that they can pay their bills and manage their accounts online from their mobile phones or desktops. 

Surgery centers can work with their RCM partners to step up their game and make it easy for patients to register by tablet and pay electronically and get payment in advance for elective procedures. 

With self-pay patients, it is important to choose partners that are able to offer automatic enrollment in payment plans and financial counseling to avoid revenue leakage. 

2. Leverage Automation Technology

By its nature, self-pay accounts are risky. The cost to collect could reach up to three times higher than on commercial insurance accounts. The longer a self-pay balance goes unpaid, the harder and costlier it is to collect it.

This is why automation is becoming the new standard in revenue cycle management. Choose partners that can use automation to step up collection efforts of past due medical debts, decrease human error, maximize productivity, reduce costs, and streamline processes.

Here are four essential areas that needs vendor automation especially for self-pay accounts:

Daily accounts submission

Daily payment and adjustment account reconciliation

Vendor collections automatically directed to existing merchant services

Automatic invoices that are gross remit and auto-paid 

3. Focus on Personalization: Patient-Centric Financial Experiences  

With the help of your RCM partner and the use of technology, your facility can gain visibility into patient payment behavior and identify trends, bottlenecks, and needs. A one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t work with self-pay accounts. Hence the need for better personalization.

Here are some areas to focus on to create patient-centric financial experiences:

Improve medical bill (eliminate areas of confusion) 

Using price transparency tools

Patient education strategies

Flexible payment methods

Patient financial advocates

Having trained and patient-friendly staff (front-end and collections)

Better patient communications

The key to better personalization is using technology and training your staff. Work with your RCM partner to have full visibility into where all payments are coming from and have daily activity reports on all types of payments received, categorized according to account number, source of payment, etc. By having a 360-degree view of patient payment behavior, your ASC can create strategies that would personalize self-pay collections and achieve higher success rates.

 

 

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