How turnover in critical roles leave health organizations vulnerable

November 19, 2019

Finding and retaining qualified office staff can be challenging for physician practices

The United States has seen record low unemployment rates, a trend that has been facing healthcare for quite some time. With the United States seeing a record low unemployment rates, finding and retaining qualified office staff can be challenging for physician practices, especially in the front desk and billing areas where staff either touch every dollar, every patient or both. This trend is compounded because not only are these vital employees facilitating patient care but they are supporting over-burdened care teams who would be lost without them. With turnover growing quicker as employees seek advancement opportunities or slightly higher pay, already struggling organizations are training and onboarding new staff in the midst of critical patient care. And no longer are healthcare organizations competing for talent with other providers, they are also challenged by retail, tourism and hospitality competing for staffing.                                                                   

Business office staff are integral to many of a practice’s patient-facing aspects, as well as the inner-workings of its operations. These employees interact with patients during difficult times and must engage in sensitive and compassionate conversations. At the same time, they are instrumental in driving revenue and preventing leakage.

Getting ahead of staffing issues should be a priority for physician practices, but in the face of other healthcare challenges this can fall to the wayside. At some point, a practice will need to deal with the problem, or it won’t be able to sustain forward progress in terms of revenue growth, patient satisfaction and the ability to meet changing regulatory requirements and support emerging care models.

Strategies that address staffing challenges

While the competition is fierce, this trend is unlikely to change anytime soon as eligible workforce shrinks with the retirement of Baby Boomers and demand for healthcare only increases. But, there are strategies that organizations can employ to quickly return the focus to patient care.

Centralize and Standardize Job Functions

With the increased requirements around clinical documentation, and the same workforce being tasked to do it, organizations are asking employees to do more than ever before. Keeping the essential tasks with the employee and finding ways to remove unnecessary work, such as a thorough audit of existing job functions, organizations can reduce redundancies, address burnout and therefore turnover. Practices should also ensure that everyone within the organization is working to the top of their qualifications, finding ways to move highly repetitive tasks with low decision-making requirements away from their office talent. This also allows you to understand what work has to be done onsite in the clinic while other jobs aren’t required to happen locally. As you are restructuring your jobs, also consider where things must occur. For non-location bound tasks, find the most efficient delivery structure. This can include partners, technology or even some work at home relationships.

Offer remote work options

For some positions, such as coding or case management, it can be advantageous to remove the requirement to work on-site. This perk widens the applicant pool to include those who would like to work from home either part- or full-time. It also allows you to offer positions to individuals outside your geographic area-which for those practices struggling to find qualified local resources, can expand the search parameters. Embracing the idea of remote workers also lets you take advantage of outsourcing arrangements with companies that have employees across the country and even the world. These kinds of partnerships provide you access to highly skilled resources even if your practice is located in a rural or out-of-the-way location.

Identify skilled partners which will allow you to scale

It’s hard to find the best people to staff your organization consistently, but imagine the challenges ahead of you should your organization continue to grow. As you’re evaluating partners, it’s important to consider that these organizations will scale as you scale addressing your needs today and tomorrow. It can be beneficial to work with outside resources that have deep experience in a particular area, so you can ensure those functions are performed reliably without overtaxing internal resources. For example, document management, coding, data migration and other critical tasks can present logical opportunities to outsource. Partnerships that offer tactical solutions with tested and proven metrics tend to be more helpful at addressing specific challenges than those that provide a more consultative approach. These partners will have the expertise, training and quality control in place to rapidly hire and onboard new team members allowing your organization to scale seamlessly.

Consider emerging technologies to reduce workloads

There are many repetitive, non-contextual tasks in healthcare, and new technologies like artificial intelligence (AI) and robotic process automation (RPA) are ideally suited to assume some of these activities. When designed well, AI and RPA can often perform tasks more efficiently and reliably than humans, reducing errors while smoothing performance. Areas including eligibility verification, clinical documentation improvement, coding and claims submission, and denials prevention can benefit from greater automation. While AI solutions may seem out of reach, this technology is not as unapproachable as you may think. Many industries have already incorporated it into their operations, and healthcare is not far behind. Exploring these options may reveal opportunities your organization can pursue.

A multifaceted approach is best

Getting a handle on staffing issues should be a top priority for all physician practices. By blending the latest technologies with optimized human resources and solid external partnerships, organizations can realize an effective staffing model that lays the foundation for positive patient experiences and strong clinical and financial performance and ultimately organizational growth.

Joe Benardello is CSO and Co-Founder of IKS Health