How Sanford Health approaches patient collections amid the economic crisis — 5 insights

In recent months, millions of Americans have lost their jobs and hospitals have seen their narrow margins shaved thinner. With healthcare organizations increasingly reliant on direct patient payments for revenue, hospital leaders have to ensure their teams are taking an efficient and empathic approach to patient collections.

During an Aug. 27 webinar hosted by Becker's Hospital Review and sponsored by Experian Health, Mike Beyer, senior director of patient accounts with Sioux Falls, S.D.-based Sanford Health, discussed his organization's approach to patient collections. Experian Health's Jason Considine, senior vice president and general manager of patient access, collections and engagement, joined Mr. Beyer and delivered opening remarks on the current fiscal challenges faced by hospitals and health systems.

Here are five takeaways from the presentation:

1. The economic downturn for hospitals has been severe. Between March and June, hospitals and health systems incurred more than $200 billion in losses, according to estimates from the American Hospital Association. Healthcare executives anticipate these losses and further economic challenges to negatively affect year-end revenue totals. Nearly two-thirds of hospital executives surveyed by the Healthcare Financial Management Association in May said they expected losses greater than 15 percent. One-in-five said they anticipated losses of more than 30 percent.

"[In healthcare] we're faced with challenges that we've never seen before," Mr. Considine said, citing the estimated revenue losses and job losses in healthcare. "We've seen customers that have had to furlough employees and lay off employees … these economic losses are likely to impact [hospitals] throughout 2020."

2. The patient was at the center of Sanford Health's choice to partner with Experian. In addition to the desire to improve patient self-pay collections and balance charity care with the health system's bad debt, Sanford Health leaders wanted to deliver a positive payment experience to patients.

3. Sanford Health made critical adjustments to its patient collections strategy in the early months of the pandemic. The health system transitioned call center staff to remote work, increasing the number of work-from-home employees from 30 percent to 99 percent. Sanford Health also created billing indicators so call center staff could identify patients affected by COVID-19. Experian also began providing the health system with weekly updates on patients that may be experiencing financial stress. The health system used this information to identify patients in need of payment deferments or payment plan extensions, according to Mr. Beyer.

4. While collections did take a significant dip in April, Sanford Health saw an overall influx of cash in the first half of 2020.  "We were able to increase our total cash from January to June in 2020 [compared to] January to June in 2019," Mr. Beyer said.

5. The transition to a greater number of remote workers was a success with an employee retention rate of 99 percent and no employee furloughs. "Take care of your employees and they'll take care of your patients," Mr. Beyer said.

To view a recording of the webinar, click here.

To learn more about Experian Health, click here.

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