Running a profitable medical office requires keeping on top of key metrics such as accounts receivable ratios and net collection percentages. However, you have to look beyond those numbers to stay in the black, experts say. Successful practices prioritize teamwork and ensure that everyone on staff knows their role in the revenue cycle.
"The revenue cycle truly starts with scheduling an appointment for a new patient," said David D'Silva, chief operating officer of Park Ridge, Ill.-based consultancy, Healthcare Information Services. "Everyone along the line needs to be held accountable for certain tasks or you will end up with a problem."
Employees should know how their individual roles fit into the bigger financial picture, said Reed Tinsley, CPA, a Houston-based healthcare accountant and business adviser. They should be familiar with the practice's financial statements and feel a sense of common purpose in achieving revenue goals.
"When there's a breakdown in the process, it's most often because of a lack of oversight by the business or office manager," said Tinsley. "Someone needs to keep on top of the practice's financials and ensure that there is a regular forum for everyone to review and discuss revenue cycle performance."
The revenue cycle will run smoothly when everyone knows what to do and why it's important, experts say. They offered these tips for developing a winning strategy:
• Meet regularly. "I'm a firm believer in having a staff management meeting at least monthly," said Tinsley. "And the first item on the agenda should be reviewing your financial statements."
• Show them the numbers. Generate reports on different metrics so staff can clearly see improvements over time and potential problem areas. For example, show year-to-year comparisons of the percentage of copayments collected at the front desk. "It's amazing how many practices think they are doing a great job with patient collections but their numbers aren't very good," Tinsley said. "If staff can't see where the problems are, they won't get fixed."
• Value your front desk. "In many offices, the front-desk staff is expected to greet the patient, answer phones, take orders from physicians, schedule visits, and answer questions at the window," said D'Silva. "You should try to pull as much away from them as possible so they can concentrate on providing good customer service — if you overburden them, everything will get backed up."
• Leverage technology. Installing electronic kiosks in the reception area not only helps with collections but can also improve staff morale, said D'Silva. Patients can use kiosks to verify their demographic and insurance information, view their copays and deductibles, and pay by credit card. "It takes that potentially uncomfortable conversation away from the front-desk staff," he said. "Instead, a staff person can roam around answering questions and assisting patients with using the kiosks."
• Follow up on errors. You can't eliminate mistakes but you can avoid repeating the same ones by talking to other team members when something goes wrong. For example, have medical assistants double check patient encounter forms to make sure physicians are documenting all billable services. "A physician might forget to check a box saying that they gave away crutches or a knee brace or did an injection," said D'Silva. "If you don't fix it, those things never get billed."