Most hospitals understand how important admitting and registration professionals are in terms of public image and customer service. They are often the first encounter a patient has with a hospital and therefore represent the first opportunity for a patient and/or loved one to form an opinion about the facility. The intake process and even communication prior to arrival can make patients feel comfortable, confident and trusting in what can otherwise be a very intimidating provider system. That is important in today’s competitive healthcare environment where increasingly patients make choices.
Admitting representatives also have another critical role – Hospital Loan Officer. Just think, they categorically extend more unsecured credit than you see in any other industry. Every time a patient is admitted or treated as an outpatient without paying in advance 100% of the charges in cash, credit is extended. The only collateral is an insurance card, Medicare/Medicaid card, verified coverage or maybe a promissory note – no collateral. It is billions of dollars each year in unsecured credit.
Sometimes non-resource patients apply for charity care. This requires an extensive application process involving proof of income, ability to pay, proof of residency and other components. Sounds like a credit application to me. It is typically initiated and often completed with the guidance of an access representative.
Suffice to say that the role of access professionals in the healthcare delivery system is extremely important! They are the first impression and they have everything to do with getting paid. If that is the case, one might speculate about the recruiting practices, on-boarding, pay scale, training, schedule and many other items used to ensure that these functions are conducted effectively. The expectation would be that these positions would be highly trained and well compensated. If that is not the case, the organization may have a difficult time competing. Let’s face it, it is has been traditionally difficult for hospitals to maintain an access team that “wows” the public but still minds the purse strings. Those folks are hard to find and keep.
My thought here is not so much to talk about what we are doing now – you probably already know that about your organization. I offer the idea that hospitals should consider recruiting admitting personnel with banking or credit screening experience. The characteristics banks, lenders and screening companies are after include:
– Detail orientation and thoroughness
– Professional appearance
– Articulate, good interpersonal communication skills
– Computer savvy
– Comfortable asking for personal information and money
– Sensitivity in face to face encounters
– Ability to say “no” when necessary
– Knowledge about basic financial practices and ability to apply specific policy
– Commitment to confidentiality
– Tolerance to work with a diverse public
– Willingness to initiate problem escalation
I submit that hospitals might be well served to weigh these characteristics and non-hospital experience that requires these characteristics more heavily than healthcare experience when hiring entry level admitting staff. This practice expands the labor pool beyond those with healthcare background and ensures that fundamental qualities are present among the candidates. It is much easier to train a new hire in the nuances of hospital policy and procedure than to teach them the things listed above.
At Nearterm, our Patient Access Consultants have introduced and implemented this kind of thinking successfully in many provider organizations. This process typically starts with assessment of the access system and advances to a conceptual design, work plan and implementation. We also advocate other hiring practices that are “outside the box” both for our clients and internally. Related innovations we have facilitated are remote verification, pre-admission and financial counseling.
Our Healthcare Search Professionals work with clients daily as we partner to re-invent hiring guidelines designed to attract the kind of talent they need. We are always available to discuss patient access, admitting and registration issues with hospital revenue cycle managers.