After 225+ healthcare speakers covered a range of topics including Cyber Security, Revenue Cycle Optimization, and EMR issues – among many others, over 4,000 attendees filed out of the Hyatt Regency Chicago last week. Hopefully they left the Becker’s conference feeling a bit more educated, inspired, and enthusiastic about the future of technology in the healthcare industry. I know I did.
Members of the Wind River Healthcare team took a trip down to network, exhibit, and, most importantly, learn about all things new in Revenue Cycle IT. With over 150 sessions, the learning opportunities were significant. After pouring through many pages of notes, I’ve culled the takeaways down to four key things.
Not wanting to shortchange any of the details, I’m breaking them into two blogs – Becker’s Takeaways Part 1 and Part 2. In this post, we’ll focus on the first two insights: Data and People
Across multiple panel discussions, I heard some version of the phrase “you can’t manage what you can’t measure,” and every time it came up a round of nods and “that’s so trues” came from everyone in the audience – including myself. Panelists repeatedly stressed the importance of having concrete data to back up decisions being made by those in the revenue cycle.
Many panelists encouraged providers to perform metric-based analyses on current workflows. They stressed that all gaps and problems should be identified before finding point solutions for things that that may be “on fire.” As one panelist put it, “an unidentified problem today becomes two problems tomorrow.”
This is particularly key when evaluating new solutions. Two CFOs cited ever-shrinking margins as one of the reasons for their strict purchasing guidelines. They said that without detailed ROI projections to justify new products, they couldn’t be approved.
As often as the revenue cycle challenges are changing, so too are the solutions. Revenue cycle managers on one panel emphasized the importance of constantly reevaluating the success of their product suites based on changes in the industry. One panelist noted, “Things that can be automated now may be obsolete in the near future.” The example cited was the redial button on house phones. At the time it was great and convenient. Now, it’s a concept not even worth thinking about.
I was happy to hear the emphasis on data. Data, in particular that which is found exclusively in a provider’s 837 and 835 files, is the starting point to identifying and solving revenue reimbursement problems.
It was also refreshing to hear about evaluating the impact of current solutions. Payer rules change so frequently that solutions in place today may be completely ineffective a year from today. That’s why solutions that use machine learning to create learning loops are so critical to their ongoing usefulness.
One of the more surprising themes (for an IT conference) was an emphasis on the power of people over technologies – both with patients and with employees. On the patient side, panels noted that all age groups are looking for more information than ever about the financial impact of their health care.
Panelists repeatedly shared stories and anecdotes about the successes of having a well-trained, empathetic, and knowledgeable front-line staff. “Asking the right questions” and “understanding the patient’s financial situation” were cited as key factors in making patients happier and increasing the likelihood that patients would pay.
One consequence of price transparency efforts seems to be an increasingly smarter patient population, noted one panelist. “I have patients who are asking specifically to be admitted instead of just observed because they know that the admission will actually cost them less.” The panelists urged providers to capitalize on this trend – patients are eager to know more about what their financial experience will be.
In addition, multiple panelists identified staff retention as a top challenge, noting the personnel difficulties that can come with implementing new technologies.
There are a lot of conversations surrounding the use of artificial intelligence and data science in healthcare. One session on AI and machine learning noted that a general fear about using this technology is job loss – some people see automation as a way to fire an employee currently responsible for doing that work. It was stressed that a way to alleviate this fear is to reframe the topic when utilizing new technologies – “automation should be seen as a way to free up an employee’s time to work on more impactful, complex tasks that cannot be automated.”
Driving greater patient payments is dependent on engaging patients in the process right out of the gates. It starts with a genuinely compassionate and well-trained front-line staff that can set patients’ expectations before any procedures are performed. This includes providing an estimate of their financial portion and laying out payment plan options.
It is understandable that employees may be concerned about getting replaced by technology. Just ask former telephone operators, film projectionists, and railway ticket agents. The point made by the panelist to reposition the technology as freeing-up time to focus on other complex activities is well taken. Many providers have entire departments that are drowning in denials and appeals. It’s a stressful environment for staff and costly for the provider. Alleviating that stress and redirecting employee efforts will go a long way to building trust and improving their satisfaction – the byproduct of which is greater staff retention.
In our post next week, we’ll dive in to the other two key takeaways from the Becker’s Conference: