From small rural hospitals to large urban medical centers, the COVID-19 crisis has resulted in lost revenue for healthcare facilities across the entire country. A recent survey by the Healthcare Financial Management Association (HFMA) found that revenue-driving procedures have declined up to 99 percent, precipitating a financial crisis for many healthcare organizations. However, with most states now reopen for elective medical procedures, healthcare administrators have an opportunity to gain a competitive advantage. Here is what some of Weatherby Healthcare’s most successful clients are doing right now to generate revenue and speed up recovery.
1. Focus on restoring patient confidence
Low confidence in the safety of healthcare facilities is one of the biggest factors driving patient numbers as states reopen. According to a Boston Consulting Group survey of 7,000 patients, only 40% said they were likely to reschedule a cancelled procedure within the next three months.
However, healthcare organizations can influence many of the conditions affecting a patient’s willingness to reschedule. According to Cindy Slagle, vice president of business development for Weatherby Healthcare, the most successful healthcare organizations are actively communicating what they are doing to ensure safety with their patient populations — whether it’s automated check-in procedures, “no waiting room” visits, increased sanitation and use of PPE, or having patients complete paperwork online prior to the visit.
“Plus, it’s important to educate people on the fact that just waiting on care could be worse than the perceived risk of going to see somebody during this time, especially considering all the additional safety measures that have been put in place,” Slagle says.
2. Maximize your telehealth program
Promoting telehealth as a patient care option continues to be a strategy healthcare organizations are using to drive revenue, especially while patient confidence is still low. While 88% of healthcare facilities have implemented telehealth programs to some degree, only one-third of healthcare executives believe their facilities have all the necessary telehealth capabilities.
Expanding the use and capabilities of telehealth in your facility is a good way to get patients back into the system and regain their confidence, says Slagle. “A telemedicine screening can potentially lead to more follow-up, either in an outpatient or an inpatient setting.”
Changes in reimbursement rates for telemedicine appointments have also contributed to the bottom line. “Some of the changes that we’ve seen with payor reimbursements for telehealth have certainly helped some hospitals deliver care in different ways or in higher volumes than previously,” says Slagle.
3. Use locums to plan for changes in demand
Incorporating locum tenens providers into their hospital staffing strategy is another way many healthcare organizations are planning to meet temporary surges or ebbs in patient demand.
“Locums is a great, flexible option when there is increased demand from elective procedures resuming,” Slagle says. “You can pick and choose when you need the physicians or advanced practice providers to come in and for how long.”
Plus, if the demand doesn’t materialize, it’s a much more flexible hospital staffing solution than permanent hiring. You create the schedule for your locums, and you can do that around the schedules of your full-time employees to ensure the right balance of work and engagement for employed providers.
Slagle points out that locums are also revenue-generators during periods of high demand, because you can bill for the procedures locums perform just like you would for staff physicians. “If you’re looking to use locums as part of your overall hospital staffing strategy long-term, it’s really important that you have a plan to enroll them with the payors and get to a place where the hospital can see all of the return on investment,” says Slagle.
4. Prioritize the right service lines
According to Strata Decision Technology’s National Patient and Procedure Volume Tracker, some specialties are returning to normal patient volumes faster than others. Focusing on service lines like general surgery, endocrinology, gynecology, and urology may be useful in bringing more patients back sooner.
It may also be helpful to focus your energies on top revenue-generating specialties, such as cardiovascular surgery, invasive cardiology, neurosurgery, orthopedic surgery, and gastroenterology, along with high-volume specialties like primary care.
“We are seeing clients use the data and analytics that they have to prioritize the specialties they know are going to help drive revenue,” says Slagle.
5. Strengthen employee morale
Perhaps now more than ever, it’s crucial for hospital administrators to focus on employee engagement. Providers are reporting increased anxiety levels, and while many are struggling with burnout from working too much, others have been laid off, furloughed, or had their hours reduced — with a strong negative effect on employee morale.
With an additional 24% who say they want to change employers, it’s important to focus on employee satisfaction now, so you will have the providers you need when patient demand returns.
“I think some of the focus that health systems had on engagement prior to COVID may be taking a few steps back because they’ve been so focused on COVID prep, declines in patient volume, and declining financials,” says Slagle. “Now it’s a question of how to get that volume back so you can reassure providers you can protect their livelihood on a long-term basis.”
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