How automation can ease your finance team's administrative burden

Finance departments are under immense pressure to lower costs at healthcare facilities nationwide amid an increasingly complex regulatory environment.

Healthcare leaders should focus on eliminating some of the administrative burdens finance teams face on a day-to-day basis to ensure they have the time and bandwidth to address higher priority financial initiatives. One such burden is managing employee initiated spend, or the money spent by employees on behalf of healthcare organizations.

"Managing spend is a distraction, especially in healthcare," said Christian Hon, sales director of healthcare at SAP Concur. "For the majority, if not all of healthcare providers, the No. 1 focus is care delivery and good outcomes."

The process can be a burden not just for the finance team, but for any employee seeking to expense mileage, travel costs or continuing medical education fees.

During a March 26 webinar sponsored by SAP Concur and hosted by Becker's Hospital Review, Mr. Hon discussed how hospitals can streamline employee-initiated spend management to reduce administrative burden for the healthcare team, simplify the expense process for employees and free up more funds to support patient-centered initiatives.

Employee spend management — A unique challenge in healthcare

Due to the healthcare industry's wide scope of services and processes, health system spend is much more complex than the spend of companies in the commercial sector. This poses a unique set of challenges for hospitals and health systems trying to efficiently manage employee spend, according to Mr. Hon.

One major challenge healthcare organizations face related to spending is the high volume of mileage employees report. As healthcare moves outside the four walls of a hospital, more clinicians are driving to patients' homes or other satellite facilities to provide home health, hospice or rehabilitation services. In fact, a billion-dollar health system will typically report four to five times more personal mileage than a billion-dollar Fortune 500 company, according to Mr. Hon.

Continuing medical education budgets are another unique feature of healthcare organizations that can create headaches for the finance department. Health systems often give clinicians stipends to attend educational medical events. Tracking the expenses associated with these trips — including air, hotel, rental car and conference fees — at an individual level is a meticulous, time-consuming task for finance teams. The process can also be a detriment to employee satisfaction if expense approvals and reimbursements are not turned around quickly.

"Whether it's bagels for the team on Friday or a trip, everyone expects to get reimbursed quickly," Mr. Hon said. "If you want unhappy folks, don't reimburse them right away."

Healthcare organizations' efforts to streamline employee spend management can also come with challenges. Health systems may face resistance or discontent from clinicians when trying to enforce a travel and expense policy or push the use of a certain expense management platform.

"Physicians and surgeons are difficult to shoehorn into a mandate," Mr. Horn said. "They tend to like to do their own thing."

Clinicians may also be hesitant to use mobile apps or other cloud-computing technologies that could streamline the employee spend management and reimbursement process, so health systems must consider change management strategies to support mobile adoption.

Automation can help

Health systems are increasingly adopting travel and expense management software to overcome the unique challenges associated with healthcare spend. These services automate some of the administrative duties surrounding travel, expense and invoice management, freeing up the finance department to focus on other responsibilities.

"People start with the automation piece. As soon as they go live, it becomes out of sight, out of mind," Mr. Hon said. "Then they can move on to the data and see how to affect change."

Expense management systems like SAP Concur's platform give the finance team more access and visibility into expense data. These insights can help health systems achieve cost savings through increased budget adherence and predictability. The data visibility can also help teams mitigate any fraud or malfeasance surrounding employee expenses.

In addition, an automated back-office system for employee spend management translates to quicker turnaround on reimbursements, which is a major plus for employee satisfaction.

Mr. Hon acknowledged "it can feel a little daunting" for health systems to implement a travel and expense management software solution. However, the technology offers a proactive, streamlined approach to rid the finance team of administrative burdens, mitigate the risk of fraud, improve employee satisfaction and allocate more money for patient-centered initiatives.

To view the webinar, click here.

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