12 registrars in this system CHAA-certified each year!

Credential makes them more invested

About a dozen patient access employees a year take the Certified Healthcare Access Associate (CHAA) examination at University of Utah Health Care in Salt Lake City, and only two have n65ot passed in the past five years.

“It gave them a better understanding of our role in the revenue cycle,” says Katie Harwood, CHAM, admissions manager over financial advocates and emergency department registration.

Ninety percent of the hospital’s admitting team have obtained CHAA certification, compared to about 60% of emergency department registrars, partially because the admitting department manager has built it into the performance expectations, she reports.

Obtaining CHAA certification is a strong signal that your employee intends to stay in the field of patient access, says Wendy M. Roach, RDMS, manager of patient access and central scheduling at Advocate Good Shepherd Hospital in Barrington, IL. “If the associate is not invested in being a registrar, then they will not do all that they can to learn about their job or industry,” she says.

Roach generated awareness and excitement about the exam at staff meetings and by publicizing it in monthly newsletters, and she held study sessions one evening a month. “Certification in a clinical role is very highly regarded. But in a non-clinical role, it is not always required as a part of a prerequisite for a job description,” she explains. “Therefore, it may not seem as a big deal to obtain for some associates.”

Roach encourages all of her registrars to take the test, and she reimburses them for the examination fee if they pass. Six associates at Advocate Good Shepherd obtained CHAA certification this year, and 13 more are waiting for the test results now.

Roach says her biggest challenges were to establish awareness of the credentialing and motivate staff into thinking about what obtaining CHAA could mean for their future success.

“As we move forward, our job descriptions will include certification,” she predicts. “This will become more of the standard in the field, allowing more opportunity for those that have obtained their certification.” (See related story on helping staff to prepare for the exam and nurturing future access leaders, below.)

Offer these incentives

Patient access employees who take the CHAA exam at University of Utah employees are reimbursed half of the exam fee, and they also receive a permanent salary increase of 30 cents per hour.

“We view the CHAA as an incentive for them to take their position seriously and learn all the aspects of the job,” Harwood says.

Obtaining CHAA certification prepares employees for a continually expanding role in patient access, she adds. “Our role is not limited to just registration or scheduling. We are more involved with understanding insurances, financial counseling, and cash collection,” Harwood says. “We expect more, and our staff can deliver.”

The fact that the CHAA exam covers all aspects of the revenue cycle is eye-opening for many employees. “When they look at the questions, they realize their role is not narrow,” says Harwood. “It helps them mentally prepare for things they are expected to do or will have to adapt to. In the future, they may be doing something different.”

More networking

Harwood says her own experience obtaining Certified Healthcare Access Manager (CHAM) certification in order to validate her knowledge and skills helps her to encourage staff to do the same.

“We all need to adapt, because patient access is changing so much,” she says. “It forced me out of my comfort zone and to look outside my organization and learn what other hospitals are doing.”

At a recent National Association of Healthcare Access Management (NAHAM) conference, Harwood found herself networking with other patient access professionals — something she hadn’t done previously — and she credits her new CHAM certification. She says the same is true for staff members who obtain their CHAA.

“I was able to tell people, ‘I just got my CHAM certification,’ as an ice breaker,” she says. “It’s all about building relationships so we can support each other.”


For more information on helping staff to obtain Certified Healthcare Access Associate certification, contact:

Katie Harwood, CHAM, Admissions Manager, University of Utah Health Care, Salt Lake City. Phone: (801) 585-5567. Fax: (801) 585-1252. Email: Katie.Harwood@hsc.utah.edu.

Cindy Thomas Lowe, CHAM, Patient Access Director, Danbury (CT) Hospital. Phone: (203) 739-8204. Fax: (203) 739-1905. Email: Cynthia.Thomas@wcthn.org.

Wendy M. Roach, RDMS, Manager, Patient Access and Central Scheduling, Advocate Good Shepherd Hospital, Barrington, IL. Phone: (847) 842-4186. Fax: (847) 842-5325. E-mail: Wendy.roach@advocatehealth.com.

Step in to help staff prepare for CHAA

Previously, the patient access department at University of Utah Health Care in Salt Lake City offered structured study groups to employees who wanted to take the Certified Healthcare Access Associate (CHAA) examination. The education was provided by one of the hospital’s trainers, who reviewed the material in the CHAA study manual. This study group made staffing registration areas difficult, however, since multiple employees from the same area were attending the group at the same time.

“Also, staff didn’t get a lot of benefit out of it, because the exam changes pretty frequently. They don’t use the questions straight from the manual; you need a broader knowledge base,” says Katie Harwood, CHAM, admissions manager over financial advocates and emergency department registration.

In 2011, Harwood learned that the organization’s trainers would no longer be providing the study groups. “They weren’t going to do it anymore, because it wasn’t in the overall mission of the organization,” she says. “So we had to figure out how to provide the training ourselves.”

Every three months, patient access supervisors offer study groups at various times, with employees from different areas learning from each other’s expertise. “Financial counselors don’t do many registrations, and registration is not as involved with all the details of insurance information that the authorization group is,” she explains.

Staff members generally need the most help with questions involving regulations, scheduling, and clinic operations, Harwood says, but the preparation is geared toward the learning styles of the individuals taking the exam. “We’ve gone away from the structured study group. It is now driven by what they need,” she says. “Some staff really need somebody else to learn with to help them, but others like to do it all on their own.”

Harwood and two colleagues, all with Certified Healthcare Access Manager (CHAM) certification, are the ones who proctor the quarterly CHAA exams.

“We are the only hospital organization in Utah that has a program in place for our employees,” she adds. “One of our goals is to expand the program so that we can facilitate the exam for other organizations.”

Use CHAA certification to help identify leaders

At Danbury (CT) Hospital, patient access associates are categorized in three levels, which gives them an incentive to obtain additional education and Certified Healthcare Access Associate (CHAA) certification, reports Cindy Thomas Lowe, CHAM, patient access director.

Employees are hired as a Patient Access Liaison Level One. Upon meeting training requirements and passing their CHAA exam, they move up to a Level Two. “The third level is more of a lead role,” she says Lowe. “This is for someone who can support the patient access supervisor in training and staff competencies and to be the first one the staff go to when they have a problem.”

Each level brings an increase in salary, which is based on the employee’s current rate and the rates associated with the positions. “Not everyone gets to be a Level Three, but it does help with staff retention. It gives them something to strive for,” says Lowe.

Employees typically obtain their CHAA within the first year of employment, but it takes others a little longer. “Staff have become a little competitive, knowing that other staff have obtained their certification,” she adds.

When staff members obtain their CHAA, Lowe announces it in the department’s “Vital Signs” weekly newsletter. “We also announce it at meetings and send out a congratulatory e-mail to all of their co-workers,” she says.

CHAA certification not only helps with retention, but it also encourages future patient access leaders, says Lowe. “We are a growing department,” she says. “We are always looking for potential supervisory and management candidates.”