The healthcare industry still has among the highest number of job openings compared to other sectors, according to a March 2023 report from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. And unfortunately, relief is not coming any time soon: There are more unfilled healthcare job openings than unemployed workers with healthcare experience.
This means front-office staff are stretched thin, and that will likely continue to be the new normal for medical practices. To address that challenge and mitigate its impact on patients, healthcare leaders will need to rethink the most effective ways to deploy their staff across office roles. Technology can play a key role in supporting staff and filling the gaps.
Digital intake can help practices automate manual, repetitive tasks so staff aren’t overworked and are able to give patients the time and attention they deserve. In a recent Phreesia webinar, Sarah Barnes, Front Office Manager at Northside Pediatrics, a 12-provider practice with two locations in the greater Atlanta area, and Belinda S. Pitts, Billing Office Manager at Elite Women’s Care, a three-provider practice in Norfolk, Va., shared how digital intake has improved their office workflows.
Keep reading for tips on how to make the most of your staff’s time and learn about the tools that Barnes and Pitts are using within their practices.
Automation can help fill gaps in staffing
Automating administrative workflows helps staff work more efficiently and can even eliminate the need for tasks that would require staff intervention. For instance, when patients are prompted to pay their copay or balance as a part of the digital-intake process, staff members don’t have to ask them for payment, and the process is often completed before the patient even arrives.
“The ability to catch the money on the front end has been very helpful to me and my accounts receivable team,” Pitts said. “Once the claim is billed out, the patient has already paid her portion, insurance paid their portion, and we have a zero balance for the patient. That means we have to send out fewer statements—and that saves money on all ends.”
Automated eligibility and benefits (E&B) verification similarly makes it easy for staff to determine whether a patient has adequate coverage for their visit—without the need to call their insurance company.
Streamlined consent management
Consent forms are a necessary, important part of patient check-in, but for some organizations, it can be a challenge to keep track of which forms patients need to complete and when.
Before switching to digital intake, Northside Pediatrics administered consent forms once a year, at the same time for every patient, Barnes said. “If someone came in for the first time on December 27 they’d fill out consent forms, but if they come in again in January, they’re filling it out again just a few weeks later, which is silly.”
A robust digital-intake platform can ensure that the right forms are offered to the right patients at the right time, avoiding redundant and unnecessary paperwork. Staff also can customize intake for each visit so that patients are asked to sign specific consents required for an in-office procedure, for example.
“When patients give electronic consent, we can be sure before they even cross over the threshold into our clinical area that we already have permission to treat and permission to bill,” Pitts said. “That assurance is definitely a relief, and if there is any other type of consent, we can do those forms, too.”
Automated consent management not only boosts efficiency—it also helps build patient trust. “It gives us an opportunity for education—if patients decline consent, we have more time to educate,” Barnes said. When staff receive a declined consent, they work with the patient to understand their concerns and explain why the practice is asking for certain permissions.
Accurate data can help prevent time-consuming claims denials
When patients’ information is incorrect, it can cause insurance denials. Those denials are costly—not only because they delay the billing process, but also because they require staff to spend time investigating inaccuracies and resubmitting the claim.
Self-service intake can reduce the likelihood of such errors. When patients scan their insurance card and submit registration information on their own device, staff no longer have to request that information through a phone call or manually transcribe registration paperwork, both of which can lead to inaccuracies.
“Even if you just try to collect information over the phone, it’s very easy for staff to hear the wrong thing,” Pitts said. “If patients can provide the information themselves, we’re less likely to make a mistake and it’s done before they even get here.”
For Elite Women’s Care, digital intake isn’t just an easier way to collect patient data—it’s also helps ensure that the practice gets paid in a timely manner for the services it provides.
“Your providers are going to get paid for the work that is done if the information is accurate and claims are clean the first time they’re sent,” Pitts said. “That starts with the front office.”
Front office team members have more time to interact with patients
When staff are busy, it can be a challenge for them to give patients the compassion and attention they need and expect.
Technology can automate some of the most time-consuming administrative workflows and give staff more time to spend building relationships with patients and addressing their concerns and questions. That’s especially valuable for practices with older patient populations.
“Because many of my patients have already checked in on their mobile device, I can take more time to help patients check in who may need assistance,” Pitts said.
Healthcare workers chose their career path because they want to help patients. By giving staff the tools they need to make the patient journey easier and more efficient, healthcare leaders can prevent burnout and make the healthcare experience better for patients and staff alike.
Ready to help your staff work smarter? Learn how Phreesia can help streamline intake at your practice.