December 28, 2020

Stop Digging, Start Climbing: How to Increase Revenue Without Cutting, Cutting, Cutting

When you’re facing a budget shortfall at your hospital or health system, there’s a strong temptation to look at all the areas that could potentially be cut. When these cuts are temporary and meant to help steer the organization through a difficult patch, that might be acceptable.


But what usually happens is those temporary cuts to budget line items tend to become a lot more permanent, and it’s easy to fall into a trap where you start to justify making more and more cuts. The Wall Street Journal recently described how this drive to leanness and efficiency can leave hospitals dangerously unprepared for the kinds of unexpected scenarios created by the recent COVID surge.


It gets to a point where, eventually, hospital leaders have to realize that more and more cuts are unsustainable. There has to be a way back to profitability that doesn’t hinge on slashing budgets from across every department.


One way to do so is by conducting careful analysis of all available resources and processes associated with the patient care journey and using that data to create actionable insights that inform your future utilization.


One of the benefits of a well-run patient Access Center is that these kinds of insights are exposed. By giving system-wide visibility to the entirety of your patients’ care journey, from the moment they seek care to after they’ve been discharged from your facility, it becomes possible to reveal previously untapped opportunities for refinement. By optimizing this journey at every single juncture, hospitals can begin to garner revenue from processes that previously seemed like a resource drain.


In actuality, those resource “drains” were diamonds in the rough just waiting to be polished up to bring you greater profitability.


What You Don’t Know Can Kill Your Bottom Line

When hospital leaders begin to benefit from the clinical analysis made possible by the setup of a Patient Access Center, it feels like a kind of cheat code.


The patient access center puts the focus on the entirety of the patient’s journey: improving patient acquisition; preventing leakage outside of the health system; retaining patients within the network (or “keepage”); and, when patients do seek care elsewhere, repatriating them back into the system.


By focusing on patient acquisition and keepage, health systems can withstand any changes in healthcare regulations, payment models or their local market, because these strategies will enable them to grow both fee-for-service (FFS) and fee-for-value (FFV) revenue. Growth in FFS will come from a larger volume of patients and procedures, and growth in FFV will be supported by retaining patients within the network – ensuring they receive high-quality care, improving outcomes and lowering overall healthcare costs. You create financial opportunity by bringing in more referrals (by making yourself the health system of choice in your market), and then amplifying that effect by freeing up the beds to do even more of it.


In so doing, you’re making the experience better for your personnel, your patients and, indeed, your ability to generate revenue. Manual and uncoordinated processes are essentially adding friction to the patient journey, and orchestration removes that friction from the equation.


Access centers provide the data that show where you’re not optimizing your resources – whether those resources are personnel, bed space, transportation, or actual, physical items. That data, unified from across multiple systems and examined in-depth, leads to eye-opening revelations.


Imagine an analysis that reveals the average acute patient stay at your facility is 2.5 days. But small tweaks that streamline the patient intake and discharge process could trim that number down by .25 days per patient, on average.


For one patient, that might not seem like a big deal, but when you apply these methods across your entire health system over the course of years, those .25 days per patient can add up to millions of dollars in recovered revenue. You can free up bed space faster, you reduce the risk of hospital-acquired infections, personnel have more touchpoints with more patients more frequently, etc.


How did this happen? It happened not by cutting any resources, but by highlighting gaps in the process that you didn’t know needed to be addressed: A manual patient scheduling process. A nurse forced to deal with an administrative task rather than focus his or her time on top-of-license work. Lack of visibility into the patient’s journey once they’ve been discharged. Inefficient tracking of patient movements within a single facility or across care locations.


You can see how addressing these issues is the furthest thing from cutting corners. If anything, you’re identifying impediments you didn’t know were there. A patient doesn’t benefit from being in the hospital longer than necessary, even if it’s only a quarter of a day more than they expected. Your staff aren’t at their most efficient when they can’t apply the very skills you hired them for. And revenue is hindered when the various resources at your disposal are only operating at, say, 80% of their maximum function.


From Digging to Climbing

So how do you use this process to go from digging a hole to climbing out of that hole?


Once the data available from your access center identify faulty processes or areas of un-optimized resource use, you can begin the process of fixing them. What’s more, you can institute new processes designed to reduce friction and iterate upon what’s come before, ensuring best practices are always followed and improved.


When your resources start to bring you dividends and your operations are more fully streamlined, the revenue you’ve gotten in return can be invested back into your organization. What’s more, the data and clinical analysis that’s been conducted will emphasize the areas where these subsequent investments can bring the greatest return.


Building and refining your operations through data analysis gets hospitals away from the mindset of short-term gains (the kind that typically stem from cutting the budget repeatedly), and into the mindset of long-term, expansive growth. You’ll be able to identify areas of your organization where, for instance, an additional FTE can help you streamline the care journey further. Where a new piece of software, when integrated with your EHR, can help your staff become more efficient. When the best time is to initiate the patient discharge process.


These changes are incremental, and they won’t all happen at once. But when taken together across the full scope of your operations, they provide a model for growth that’s sustainable. And just as important, they do so without removing line items or forcing you to reverse-engineer a successful process out of what remains.


The revenue opportunity this provides shouldn’t be ignored, and it’s more within reach than ever thanks to line of sight into your entire system’s operations via the patient Access Center.