According to Karoline Pierson, director of patient financial care services and patient access at Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis, three skills are most important for the ongoing success of the department:

  • Customer service, including de-escalation and strong verbal communication.

“This enables staff to do patient education around the point-of-service financial conversations,” Pierson says.

Front-end staff collect more sociodemographic information than in the past. This includes race, ethnicity, and language data. Some patients resist, demanding to know why questions such as “Which category best describes your race?” are necessary.

“Staff need to identify when and how to de-escalate a conversation at the first sign of patient defensiveness or concern,” Pierson offers.

Staff explain two things: why the information is gathered and how staff use the data.

“Creating scripting empowers staff to ask the questions diplomatically and confidently,” Pierson says. An example of this scripting:

“I am going to ask you some confidential questions. We use this information to provide the best care for every patient” or “I am going to ask you a few required questions. Some are personal in nature, but all answers are kept confidential. We use this information to provide the best care for every patient.”

Patients usually appreciate knowing the goal is to improve care quality. Many are relieved that the information remains confidential. “This is crucial to ensure accuracy of the data, and alleviate the patients’ concerns,” Pierson adds.

  • Critical thinking.

“I cannot emphasize this enough,” Pierson stresses. “Gone are the days of ‘dummy’ terminals that automatically jumped to the next field.”

Today’s patient access team works in multiple systems. Staff interpret real-time eligibility results with extensive knowledge of federal regulations.

“They need to problem-solve in the moment, as more and more registration is done at the bedside,” Pierson adds, noting that even with standardized workflows, staff still need to think on their own.

  • Flexibility.

“This rounds out the staff’s ability to weather the constant change that healthcare organizations face on a daily basis,” Pierson explains.

Patient access can no longer rely on “the way things have always been done.” Technology is continuing to develop. Patients are becoming more discerning consumers.

“We have to be cutting edge, open to change, and able to see things from a different perspective than we did five years ago,” Pierson says.