EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

Allowing employees to work from home frees up space in the department, increases productivity, and improves morale, according to patient access leaders.

  • Remote staff provide coverage during inclement weather and phone outages.
  • Employees save money on commuting, clothing, and meals.
  • Face-to-face meetings connect telecommuters to colleagues.

 

Patient access managers might envision employees working from home getting very little done due to ringing doorbells, kids playing, or housework getting in the way of work.

“There is concern over the productivity of the employee if they can’t visually see them,” explains Darlene Powell, CHAA, CHAM, patient access manager at Bronson Methodist Hospital and Bronson Lakeview Hospitals in Kalamazoo, MI.

However, Powell, who has two telecommuting employees, has found the opposite to be true. “My at-home staff tend to produce more due to less distractions; they don’t have the same interruptions as their in-house co-workers,” she says. “They tend to have higher productivity for that reason.”

Powell tracks productivity of telecommuters the same way she does for onsite staff members. “The staff are included in the same reports as our in-house employees,” she explains. “We can see daily activity for registrations, calls, and work queues.”

At Geisinger Health System in Danville, PA, remote patient access workers “are evaluated on results,” says Mark S. Rodi, MHA, CHAM, associate vice president of revenue management and access.

“To participate in the program, you must be considered the ‘best of the best.’”

An agent scorecard is used to track daily, weekly, and monthly performance in key measures such as calls per hour, talk time, and scheduled appointments. “Performance expectations are used for the recruitment and continued participation in the remote workforce program,” adds Rodi.

Real-time call activity can be monitored for all employees, including remote staff members, using software on managers’ desktops. “Supervisors are able to monitor live or recorded calls to offer coaching to agents,” says Rodi.

“Very limited space” was a primary reason that patient access areas at Oregon Health & Science University Hospital in Portland first considered telecommuting.

“Freeing up a couple of workstations allowed us to move forward with hiring a couple of additional staff to cover an increased workload,” says Desember Brucker, patient financial services manager. Two employees telecommute, but the department is looking to increase that number.

“Employees were very excited about the opportunity to work from home and lack of commuting costs,” Brucker says. The organization pays for the telephone line, telephone, and computer equipment. The employee pays for the Internet connection. “However, depending on the number of employees who telecommute, there is cost savings in reduced rent and overhead,” says Brucker.

Powell says telecommuters save her departments money because at-home workers agreed to take a pay cut, since they no longer perform tasks such as insurance verification. “Due to the fact that this process takes staff off the phones for extended periods of time, we selected a core group of staff that rotate this function,” she explains. “The at-home staff weren’t part of that rotation and do only minimal verification.” At-home staff obtain the patient’s insurance information and notify the provider’s office if a test requires an authorization. “Then the authorization process is done by the core staff assigned to that function,” says Powell. “We changed their job description to differ from those that work in-house, because of different job responsibilities.”

The centralized scheduling department at Geisinger Health System freed up much-needed office space by allowing 24 agents, who comprise 18% of the department, to work remotely. Employees are happy to save money on commuting, clothing, and meal costs.

“We also have the remote staff readily available to offer phone coverage during days of inclement weather and power or phone outages,” reports Rodi. (See related story in this issue on common concerns involving telecommutings.) 

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