Customer service in revenue cycle areas is quite challenging for many reasons.
The revenue cycle role “mixes financial components into the clinical experience,” says Melissa Patten, associate vice president of patient access at Northern Light Health in Brewer, ME. “There are sensitive conversations happening during times of illness and injury,” adds Patten. Registrars are usually the first (and last) with whom patients interact. Wait times, cleanliness, billing process, and clinical care all factor into how satisfied someone is with the hospital.
“All of these integrate with the revenue cycle, often behind the scenes,” Patten notes.
Many persistent dissatisfiers are out of the revenue cycle’s control, including rescheduled procedures due to inclement weather, wait times due to emergency situations, changes to applications that happen as part of a system implementation, and staff who duplicate efforts while going through training. This is why knowing where the department stands is so important. “Having consistent customer service expectations for staff is important,” Patten says.
She carefully tracks certain data to gauge how the department is performing, including wait times (both call center and on-site), eligibility and coverage discovery, claims denials, no-show rates, accuracy of price estimates, and staff productivity. “These metrics help leadership hold staff accountable,” Patten says. “Both clinical and financial processes factor into overall satisfaction.”
For surveys to be of any use, patients need to complete them timely. These surveys also require “pointed questions with specific answers to extract appropriate information,” Patten underlines.
Rounding in registration areas is a way to obtain better feedback from patients. “Patient experience coordinators can spot-check progress and assist with escalations,” Patten says.
When patients give positive feedback about their registration experience, it is shared immediately. “This helps to connect revenue cycle staff who may be removed from direct patient interaction,” Patten adds.
How registrars treat patients and family directly affects the hospital’s bottom line, says Michelle Fox, DBA, MHA, CHAM: “Consumerism has hit the healthcare industry, and it is here to stay.”
Revenue cycle employees must be held accountable for providing exceptional service. “How we treat our customers has a direct impact on our business,” says Fox, director of revenue operations/patient access at Health First in Rockledge, FL.
At Health First, all job descriptions include a “Customer Experience” section under the primary accountabilities. Registration counselors are expected to:
- Greet others with a smile, pleasant tone, and good eye contact;
- Be approachable and accessible when others need assistance;
- Deliver patient and registration paperwork to the patient care areas timely;
- Maintain successful relations with other patient business services, Health First associates, and physician office staff;
- Provide exceptional customer service to every patient, every time.
“The challenge with customer service is that it is not easy to measure,” Fox says, noting that not all patients take time to complete surveys. “It’s also hard to pinpoint exactly where the improvement opportunities exist due to the questions being asked.”
Also, only patients receive the surveys; family members do not. “Not all customers are patients. How do you measure their satisfaction?” Fox asks. “You can only do so much with the information you have.”
Despite these challenges, revenue cycle departments must find ways to be more “customer-centric,” Fox says. “This needs to be communicated to every associate.”