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Remote Revenue Cycle: Will It Ever Return to the Office?

Analysis  |  By Alexandra Wilson Pecci  
   August 25, 2020

Here's how four revenue cycle leaders are approaching remote work as the pandemic continues.

Nearly six months after revenue cycle employees shifted to remote work because of the COVID-19 pandemic, many leaders are no longer contemplating when their teams will return to the office, but whether they'll return at all.

For instance at Henry Ford Health System in Detroit, 96% of the revenue cycle workforce is working remotely (compared to 70% pre-pandemic), and now leaders are considering long-term remote options, says Joann Ferguson, RN, BSN, MBA, vice president of revenue cycle.

It's a far cry from this time last year, when revenue cycle leaders often believed work-at-home myths, such as lost productivity and an inability to perform certain tasks remotely.

In fact, the opposite has proven true. Revenue cycle leaders have found that employees are more productive and often more satisfied while working at home, and IT departments have risen to the occasion by providing tools for completing complex revenue cycle tasks remotely.

Here's how four revenue cycle leaders are approaching remote work as the pandemic continues.

Derek Dudley, senior director of revenue cycle, Memorial Health System, Marietta, Ohio: Remote work "helps us compete for talent."

After having some productivity challenges with past work-at-home efforts, Memorial Health System in Marietta, Ohio, had just launched a new employee productivity monitoring tool when COVID-19 forced its revenue cycle into remote work.

Now that working in the office is allowed again, some of the revenue cycle staff have opted to return, while others choose to stay home.

"Now we have a bit of a hybrid workforce," says Dudley, and he expects it to remain that way.

Dudley says the flexible remote option offers three distinct advantages.

First, the system can pivot as needed, allowing it to easily and quickly shift all employees to remote work in the event of another COVID-19 surge or other change.

Second, it expands Memorial Health System's reach beyond its immediate geographic area for recruiting new employees.

"We can get employees who maybe don't live in this region who can still work for us remotely, and that helps us compete for talent," he says.

Finally, he says he thinks it makes Memorial Health System a more attractive employer, both for current and prospective staff.

Sharon Cooper, manager of clinical documentation and appeals, Owensboro Health Regional Hospital, Owensboro, Kentucky: "It's a definite opportunity for increased productivity."

At Owensboro Health Regional Hospital in Owensboro, Kentucky, all but one of the revenue cycle employees who were sent home during the pandemic are still working remotely. The person who's working in the office chose to do so and works mostly alone.

That's because remote work has proved both popular and successful.

"Everyone loves it," she says.

The hospital will likely keep the employees home until at least spring 2021.

"We think we'll probably be continuing to work remote until at least March or April next year until the end of flu season," says Cooper.

In the meantime, the leadership will discuss the best options moving forward, which may include permanent remote work, or partial or rotating remote work. For instance, Cooper says the department always likes to have at least one clinical documentation specialist on-site to better enable physician discussions.

"That is my ultimate goal," she says.

The department has also found remote work to be a major timesaver, from shaving off hours normally spent commuting, to reducing distractions, to eliminating the need to wait in line for the bathroom or in the cafeteria.

"It's a definite opportunity for increased productivity," she says.

Related: 3 Reasons an AI Beta Test Is Good for Revenue Cycle

Rick Childs, vice president of revenue cycle management, Floyd Medical Center, Rome, Georgia: "If you can cut that leased space down in the process, boy, now it's even a bigger win because you've reduced your expenses."

Childs recognizes that flexibility and innovation are required to make remote work as successful as possible.

Just as technology can give leaders insight into productivity—letting them know how many accounts are being worked on and how many phone calls are answered—it can also help people stay social and engaged with each other.

In addition to regular online meetings and huddles, Childs points to his colleagues' virtual "watercooler" within the Microsoft Teams application that allows for chitchat among staff. Users can post things like, "How are the kids?" or "What movies have you seen lately?"

"People can respond to it when they get a chance," he says.

Managing a remote staff also requires flexibility. For instance, many employees who have kids at home need to work odd hours outside the typical 9 a.m.- 5 p.m. schedule.

Allowing flexible schedules has been a plus.

"We've got people getting up really early, they take a break in the middle of the day, and then they're back on into evening," Childs says. "So, when the work is happening has really varied. Overall, the productivity is still at the same level or better. We've not seen any degradation in that."

Childs also sees a future advantage of saving money on office space.

"If you can cut that leased space down in the process, boy, now it's even a bigger win because you've reduced your expenses," he says.

Related: Medical Center Improves Collections and Patient Experience with Upfront Payment Program

Rich Miller, EVP and chief business strategy officer, Northwell Health, New York: Employees staying home until late August "at a minimum."

By late spring, Northwell Health—which was at the heart of the pandemic in New York—was evaluating which of its remote staff needed to come into the office, if at all, going forward.

Already, the health system had decided to have their employees continue to work from home until the end of August "at a minimum," Miller told HealthLeaders this spring.

Longer-term remote work possibilities were also on the table. Miller said the technology tools Northwell Health uses to monitor productivity have shown that employees are not only just as productive at home, in some cases, they're more productive.

"The level of accounts … that they're handling and completing in a timely fashion has slightly increased during this period," he said.

Alexandra Wilson Pecci is an editor for HealthLeaders.

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