Virtual medical office assistants overcome staffing shortfalls

As the great resignation continues, technology can help when low on staff.

Staffing shortages, and high turnover rates in a tight labor market, continue to significantly impact the medical industry.

According to new data released in a Medical Group Management Association MGMA Stat poll, more than two fifths of respondents (41%) said their staff turnover rates increased in the past quarter, compared to 33% who said it stayed the same and 26% who reported turnover recently slowed.

With no letup in sight, more practices are looking to virtual solutions to fill in gaps, improve workflow and boost their revenue cycle.

COVID-19 has accelerated this shift to more remote and hybrid work arrangements, and medical offices are no exception. The MGMA Stat Poll further revealed that 59% of medical group practices surveyed had shifted workers to permanent remote and/or hybrid work in 2021. This radical recalibration continues to move medical networks forward with more practices, and patients, becoming increasingly open to utilizing remote, and outsourced, services in new ways. Billing/coding, call center, scheduling, and other administrative positions have all been affected.

For example, remote medical scribes can document patient visits virtually, without adding another physical presence to the exam room. Remote medical coders and billers, with access to all of the latest technology, updated guidelines, and insurance eligibility, can help practices avoid delays, errors, and other bottlenecks that delay reimbursement.

Perhaps the greatest untapped opportunity for outsourcing medical office support are virtual assistants, operating remotely, who can handle a myriad of front desk and back-office functions. A virtual assistant is a highly trained person, with excellent organizational and communication skills, who can tap into the EMR and scheduling platforms to provide seamless support.

An outsourced virtual assistant, dedicated to a healthcare network, a practice, or a specific doctor, can handle many time-consuming tasks:

  • Scheduling Appointments - Patients are tired of waiting on hold, or waiting for someone to call them back. A virtual assistant can be readily available to field calls, schedule patients, retrieve messages, return calls, and keep health records up to date, all within a practice’s EMR platform.
  • Managing Fax Inboxes - A virtual assistant can route incoming fax requests for medical records, lab orders, diagnostic reports, prescription refills, etc.
  • Verifying Insurance Eligibility/Prior Authorizations - A remote virtual assistant can access insurance portals to verify patient eligibility before visits and call insurance companies to confirm eligibility for tests, procedures, surgeries, and other treatments.
  • Coordinating Referrals - A virtual assistant can help set up referrals and close the loop with consulting providers after appointments by obtaining consultation reports, labs, diagnostic studies, and other records, and importing them into the referring provider's EMR.
  • Window or aisle? - There’s no limit to what a virtual assistant can handle. Some practices even delegate tasks on their personal “to do” lists to their trusted assistants. They book airplane tickets, place orders, make appointments ─ whatever a provider needs.This reliable support lets doctors focus on more critical tasks and be more organized, present, empathetic, and effective during patient visits.

Providers like Langley Health Services in Florida; Lone Star Orthopedics in Texas, and Gagon Family Medicine in Utah are all utilizing virtual assistants to ease bottlenecks caused by staffing shortfalls. They have identified new ways virtual assistants can plug into their systems to provide better customer service, reduce call wait times, and avoid staff burnout.

Technology ─ including virtual access to live, remote workers ─ has grown to the point that outsourcing virtual assistants to cover many of the functions that back up in a busy medical office just makes sense. It is a proven approach for keeping labor costs low, decreasing overhead, and freeing staff to focus on patient care.

Terry Ciesla is senior vice president of ScribeEMR in Woburn Massachusetts.