Patient access staff have worked remotely for months now, and productivity has not slowed.

“We have found that with a remote workforce, our productivity has actually increased,” reports Susan Freiberg, patient access director at St. Mary Medical Center in Langhorne, PA.

“Non-productive” time (when staff put themselves in a “busy” or “away” state) has decreased from 15% to 20% for every employee. At-home patient access staff handle financial clearance (both preservice and post-service), schedule outpatient diagnostic testing, verify insurance eligibility, obtain authorizations, and check that medical necessity meets criteria. They also collect patients’ financial responsibility.

“Our colleagues face fewer distractions working from home than you might find in an office environment,” Freiberg reports. The department attributes its success to the following:

Leaders set clear expectations from the start. Remote staff signed an agreement to meet quality and productivity metrics. They also agreed to use a separate workspace with enough privacy to engage in financial conversations. “Our agreement also included the caveat that the colleagues would be able to work any shift assigned, promoting a more flexible workforce,” Freiberg says.

Supervisors keep close tabs on what staff are doing. “We have the ability for real-time access to everyone’s desktop and phone conversations with patients,” Freiberg explains.

Supervisors may spot someone stuck on an unusually long call and remote in to determine what is happening. Using instant messaging, the supervisor advises the employee how to handle the situation.

Team members communicate constantly. Web chats, instant messaging, webinars, and email are used. “We also have real-time workday and work session reports and work queues that promote productivity,” Freiberg says.

At Novant Health in Winston-Salem, NC, some new equipment was needed to keep productivity at high levels. “We previously ‘hodgepodged’ equipment to loan out during severe weather. But it is outdated,” says Kortney Hege, BS, MHA, MBA, manager of preregistration and insurance verification and preservice collections. The department bought new laptops, webcams, and software-based phones and headsets. “This allows team members to dial out to patients and receive phone calls from patients just as they would in the office,” Hege explains.

Productivity was not the top priority when volumes were low and remote work was brand new. Now that volumes are returning to regular levels, expectations also are reverting to normal. “We made it very clear to all team members that productivity was being counted again,” Hege says.

Supervisors continuously track the number of accounts completed per hour, the insurance verification rate, and amounts collected upfront. “We have not seen any decline in productivity that can be attributed to the transition to working remotely,” Hege reports.