How to Tame Increasing Healthcare Costs and Deal With Staffing Shortfalls


Hiring assistants that work virtually and outsourcing medical coding are two ways that providers can navigate through these times of increasing cost pressures and staffing shortages.

This opinion piece was published previously by our sister publication, Medical Economics.

It’s not news that staffing shortages are an across healthcare spectrum. As staffing costs rise and qualified candidates remain scarce, healthcare providers now need to think outside the box and more outside their practice for necessary services. Numerous studies underscore the benefit and ROI of using outside resources to provide the crucial services that control costs, improve quality and lead to better revenue cycle management.

Here are four approaches providers should consider to meet the current pandemic challenges and ease workloads for a more efficient, and profitable, practice:

  1. No sick days for virtual assistants

Healthcare facilities are starting to rely on virtual medical assistants to shoulder more of the burdensome ancillary, nonclinical, and even personal tasks that take valuable time away from clinical staff.

A virtual assistant should not be confused with an AI-driven tool for performing automated tasks. A well-trained remote virtual assistant is a highly skilled person who is qualified to help a healthcare provider with administrative, clerical, and customer support tasks such as scheduling appointments, securing prior authorizations, engaging a patient to help manage referrals, and handling physician in-box management.

Properly engaged virtual assistants become trusted members of a healthcare center’s team without the headcount, payroll, and management issues.

2. Eliminate EMR charting backlog

A backlog in EMR charting slows the revenue cycle and delays reimbursement, yet it can easily be remedied to improve workflow and increase revenue.

Remote medical scribes, who actually participate in each medical appointment via a HIPPA compliant connection, record accurate notes in real time so charts can be completed quickly and thoroughly. Scribes can query a provider during a visit to make sure they are capturing the correct symptoms, diagnoses, treatments and Medicare quality measures to ensure proper reimbursement.

Using medical scribes, providers at a community health center in the Northeast were able to see up to 25% more patients and increase revenue by up to 60% over a 12-month period.

3. Increase reimbursements with quality coding

Consider weighing the burden of finding or training skilled medical coders compared with outsourcing to a firm that is incentivized to ensure timely reimbursement.

Accurate medical coding is the basis for optimizing the revenue cycle. A large percentage of medical coding errors leads to claim rejections, delayed reimbursements, and lost revenue.

Highly trained medical coders have the expertise to keep this critical administrative function running efficiently to garner optimal reimbursement. A remote, overseas organization, motivated to achieve the best possible results, can move the coding process along even faster — and for lower cost. In most cases, coding is completed within 24 hours.

They also have access to the most advanced, up-to-date medical coding software to generate highly specific codes that reduce insurance denial rates. What’s more, they’re not on the payroll.

4. Embrace telemedicine. It’s here to stay.

As a business ultimately focused on patient satisfaction, medical networks need to further embrace telemedicine, particularly in rural areas. Telemedicine patient satisfaction numbers are extremely positive. Virtual visits provide the flexibility for physicians and other practitioners to deliver care to patients right from their homes. Remote medical scribes can easily participate in telemedicine sessions so that providers can focus their full attention on patients instead of documentation. If this way of delivering medicine helps retain both staff and patients, then that’s a return on investment that’s immeasurable.

Patient workloads are expected to increase in 2022. Yet staffing shortfalls and subsequent burnout will persist, with 20% of healthcare workers having quit since the start of the pandemic. “We’re just trying to keep our head above water,” is a common refrain among administrators in areas still swamped by COVID cases. By relying more on remote, outsourced services they will solve two problems and can better focus on quality of care.

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

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