The financial challenges facing hospitals, health systems: 4 takeaways

Hospitals and health systems are under constant pressure to reduce costs while also improving quality and maintaining a strong workforce. With this comes an array of financial challenges, as reimbursement levels continue to change and healthcare becomes more consumer-centric.

At the Becker's Hospital Review 9th Annual Meeting April 11, a group of panelists discussed these challenges, as well as strategies to overcome them and how employee engagement and patient experience play a role. Panelists were Keith Siddel, PhDc, JD, vice president of revenue cycle management at King of Prussia, Pa.-based Universal Health Services; Esther Desimini, vice president and administrator of Riverside Tappahannock (Va.) Hospital; Michael Skehan, COO of Broomfield, Colo.-based SCL Health's Montana Region; Jeff McHugh, senior vice president of sales at Zotec Partners, a revenue cycle management and practice management solutions provider; and Chuck Whinney, financial strategy director of healthcare at enterprise software provider Infor.

Here are four takeaways from their discussion.

1. Recruiting and retaining physicians. This is particularly a challenge for rural facilities and goes hand in hand with cost structure, according to Ms. Desimini. "We've been … productivity-based [regarding physician compensation] and now [there is a] need to convert over to more value-based [compensation] with the physicians, and [the challenge is] how do we keep them satisfied and us financially viable?" she said, referring to her organization, which is the sole healthcare provider in a rural community. She also noted the challenge in recruiting physicians to more remote areas.

2. Driving revenue growth amid competition. SCL Health's Montana Region, which includes St. Vincent Healthcare in Billings, Mont., addresses competition in the area by investing in service lines to spur revenue growth. Mr. Skehan said his organization has found various successful strategies for revenue growth, including considering new ways to do work or additional programs/services, and then ensuring there are tangible ways to measure success.

3. Revenue cycle challenges. Healthcare organizations are forced to rely more on revenue from patients due to the rise in popularity of high-deductible health plans. This means these organizations must focus more on how they collect dollars from patients to maximize reimbursement. Mr. McHugh believes there are creative approaches to addressing this issue with technology, although he acknowledges "there's still a long way to go." Overall, he said health systems should pay attention to automation and specifically use analytics that provide meaningful information to improve the revenue cycle.

Mr. Siddel also mentioned technology and automation as a way to address revenue cycle challenges, however, he cautioned health systems against putting in technology for technology's sake. "It's not just a matter of automation. It's got to be automation, it's got to be done the right way, and it's got to have" return on investment, said Mr. Siddel.

4. Employee engagement with respect to financial challenges. If health systems can have analytics around cost and quality outcomes, employees can be more informed and make better decisions that can ultimately lead to an improved financial picture for the organization, according to Mr. Whinney. As far as linking employee engagement with patient experience, Ms. Desimini said her organization is holding staff accountable for issues patients faced while receiving care. Employee engagement and patient experience "go hand and hand" in helping to improve an organization's finances, she said. "But the other piece I've picked up along the way is engagement without accountability equals entitlement."



More articles on healthcare finance:
Henry Ford Health System's income dragged down by Epic implementation, labor costs
5 latest hospital bankruptcies, closures
Idaho hospital faces cash crunch after software glitch causes billing problems

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