The front-office staff shortage is here to stay. Here’s how to manage it.

Provider organizations need to retain front-office staff without sacrificing care quality, patient capacity or revenue. Technology can help.
Operations RCM Staffing

Healthcare has a retention problem, and it’s not unique to clinical staff.  

Between long hours, overloaded schedules, inefficient workflows and the challenges of the pandemic, front-office staff are burned out. In fact, a survey from the Medical Group Management Association found that the median turnover rate for front-office primary care staff was 20% in 2017—long before COVID-19 threw the healthcare workforce into overdrive. Now, nearly three-quarters of medical practice leaders say their biggest pandemic challenge is staffing as turnover rates escalate in an already-tight labor market. 

The burgeoning staffing crisis presents a sobering reality for healthcare organizations. When front-office team members are in short supply, administrative tasks take longer to complete. The consequences? More bottlenecks at registration, lengthy wait times for appointments and delayed follow-ups—all inconveniences that could prompt patients to switch providers entirely. 

To successfully navigate the front-office talent shortage, provider organizations must find ways to retain their staff without sacrificing care quality, patient capacity or revenue. Embracing technology is the key.  

By automating manual processes for intake, payments, consents capture and scheduling, healthcare organizations can alleviate their staffing challenges and boost efficiency without adding more employees. Digital solutions also can save staff time, which helps reduce burnout and improve staff retention. 

Here are three ways technology can help providers maximize efficiency and retain their front-office staff: 

1. Reduce inbound call volumes 

Answering phone calls from patients can be time-consuming—and administrative staff usually shoulder the burden. According to research from Accenture, healthcare staff typically spend more than eight minutes on the phone with each patient who calls to schedule an appointment. That time adds up—especially for organizations with limited resources. 

The solution? Empower patients to schedule their own appointments instead. 

Rather than hiring more people to answer phones, provider organizations can offer patients self-scheduling tools that give them more ownership of their care. Self-scheduling typically takes less than a minute and allows patients to book appointments from their own device without calling their provider’s office. As a result, self-scheduling can help healthcare organizations receive fewer incoming calls, reduce front-office burnout and create more time for staff to focus on higher-value tasks like providing a great patient experience. 

Appointment self-scheduling also aligns with healthcare consumers’ evolving preferences, considering that 93% of patients say they want more digital conveniences to manage their healthcare. By delivering the tech-enabled experience patients prefer and expect, providers can increase efficiency, boost satisfaction and stay competitive—even in the face of formidable staffing headwinds. 

2. Eliminate manual intake tasks 

In most healthcare organizations, front-office staff handle every step of the patient intake process for both scheduled and walk-in visits. That’s a big workload in the best of times—and for understaffed organizations, this labor-intensive process can make it challenging to operate at scale. 

Technology can help simplify patient intake. Tools like mobile check-in, for example, can keep patients out of the waiting room by letting them conveniently check in for their appointment from wherever they wish. Mobile registration also allows patients to digitally complete their demographic, clinical and insurance paperwork before they set foot in their provider’s office—no staff involvement required. 

Not surprisingly, administrative inefficiencies are a major contributor to staff burnout. Automating cumbersome intake workflows can help alleviate front-office stress, improve retention and provide a more modern experience for patients and staff alike. Moreover, research from Kaufman Hall indicates that the pandemic has accelerated demand for consumer-friendly healthcare services—and providers that don’t introduce those services may ultimately struggle to compete. 

3. Increase time-of-service collections 

Administrative staff are typically responsible for verifying insurance eligibility, requesting payment, resolving disputes and helping patients understand their financial responsibility for care. But even in fully staffed offices, some patients leave without paying a dime—and the longer patients go without paying their bill, the less likely they are to ever pay it.  

Instead of asking front-office staff to devote more of their limited time to collections, provider organizations can use technology to make patient payments easier and reduce administrative burdens. Automating insurance verification, for example, can help staff quickly understand a patient’s level of coverage, copay and deductible balance without any manual intervention. In addition, organizations can implement a card-on-file policy to easily collect patients’ financial responsibility—or set up automatic payment plans that split patients’ larger balances into smaller monthly installments, making it easier for patients to pay their bills and faster for providers to collect. In fact, more than 80% of patients say they would likely choose a recurring payment plan if their provider offered one. 

By making payments more efficient, healthcare organizations can lighten the front-office workload, decrease unpaid balances and collect more at the time of service. Better yet, offering flexible payments helps providers align with their patients’ technology expectations, since research shows that more than half of patients view their providers more favorably when a contactless payment option is made available at the point of service. 

Conclusion 

Although the front-office staffing shortage is far from over, there are strategies that can help providers operate efficiently at scale. By using technology to automate manual processes, healthcare organizations can fill administrative gaps, combat burnout and deliver the modern, convenient experience patients expect—all without adding more staff. 

Learn how Phreesia can help you reduce manual workloads, improve efficiency and create excellent patient experiences—even during a staffing crisis.