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Work-From-Home Policy Considerations for Healthcare Providers

Analysis  |  By Lena J. Weiner  
   December 19, 2016

Offering hospital workers the ability to work from home can be a powerful morale builder, but managers must implement work-from-home policies carefully.

Is there a home for home-based workers in healthcare?

Nearly 3% of the total U.S. workforce telecommutes at least half the time, according to Global Workplace Analytics. And since 2005 the total number of employees working from home at least half the time has grown 103%.

Healthcare places unique demands on workers, but at least two industry leaders say that accommodations can be made.

"It's been a benefit," says Yvonne Chase, manager of patient access and billing services for Mayo Clinic's Florida and Arizona campuses.

Based in the Phoenix, AZ area, Chase and her fellow managers have had difficulty filling medical coder positions. Many workers had commutes that lasted more than an hour, and would frequently call off shifts because of commonplace setbacks such as car trouble or minor illness.

Mayo Clinic chose to allow working from home and to use this benefit as a recruiting tool—a strategy which has worked to shorten recruiting time and increase retention, says Chase.

While not advertising as aggressively that employees can work from home, Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, FL, has recently allowed more workers to take advantage of the benefit, says Lynne Hildreth, director or revenue cycle and patient access at Moffitt.

Chase and Hildreth agree that offering employees the option to work from home is a powerful morale builder that can improve attendance, if managers implement work-from-home policies carefully.

Protect Patient Privacy
Patient privacy is always a major concern. "Our collections team was nervous about employees working from home, and I can appreciate why," says Hildreth.

So she and her team took cues from other industries that routinely handle sensitive information "Clearly, there's a way. If banking is doing it, we can do it."

One policy they've instituted: To protect the patient data, Moffitt and Mayo Clinic both ban home workers from printing any work-related documents at home. "If the patient needs something printed, we have it printed in-house," says Hildreth.

Keep Tabs on Workers
Stay aware of what your remote employees are doing. The first step is to make sure they have a work area carved out for themselves away from distractions, such as TV or loud family members.

"We visit workers' homes and have them send us pictures of their home offices… and if workers move, they are obligated to let us know." says Chase. An employee moving and not letting their employers know might sound far-fetched, but it's a situation Hildreth has encountered.

"An employee decided to spend summer working from Colorado. You can't just do that," she says. Hildreth and her colleagues learned about the move when Moffitt was contacted by Colorado's department of revenue seeking income tax.

In addition to ensuring workers have an appropriate home office in one location, it's important to monitor their online activity and ensure that they are consistently online and productive during business hours.

Both Mayo and Moffitt make use of instant messaging platforms to take attendance. For employees who work out of a queue, such as those in billing and coding, managers can monitor productivity, and, for employees who answer phone calls, such as customer service agents, they can monitor phone calls and call volumes.

Neither Hildreth nor Chase reports problems with workers slacking off. But working from home won't work for everyone.

Some jobs simply need to be in-house. Hands-on clinicians, greeters, and other high-touch patient care roles will need to remain on-site. It's also worth noting that Mayo and Moffitt both require workers to pass a probationary period prior to moving to a home office, and to maintain good standing with high productivity.

While both Chase and Hildreth say that the work from home trend is here to stay, the practice has its limits.

"People will start to get lonely, says Hildreth. "We'll have people wanting to come back to the hospital setting soon."

Lena J. Weiner is an associate editor at HealthLeaders Media.

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