There is no 'one size fits all approach' to revenue cycle management, explains ECG Management Consultants Principal Ben Colton + 2 more thoughts

In this special Speaker Series, Becker's Healthcare caught up with Ben Colton, principal at ECG Management Consultants.

Mr. Colton will speak on a panel during the Becker's Hospital Review 4th Annual Health IT + Revenue Cycle Conference titled "The Best Thoughts on Improving Revenue Cycle Today," at 1:45 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 19. Learn more about the event and register to attend in Chicago.

Question: Can you share your best advice for motivating your teams?

Ben Colton: From afar, a well-functioning revenue cycle is not too dissimilar from a modern factory. Technology and increased automation have created significant efficiencies; however, many tasks still require manual intervention and should be addressed by specialized employees following standardized processes. Comparing revenue cycle operations to factories may seem old fashioned, but management science used in assembly line production shares several key concepts with revenue cycle that executives should appreciate, [such as] increased efficiency, decreased product variation and consistent production. Defined work standards are a great way to keep teams motivated and should include both quantity and quality expectations, as well as strategies to address underperformance. That said, work standards not only protect against staff deficiency, but can also recognize star performers. In some cases, we have worked with organizations to develop rewards programs for teams and employees that exceed expectations. While financial incentives are the most desirable, they are not required, [so we often offer incentives such as] pizza parties, denim days, extra breaks or simply public acknowledgment. In addition, publishing weekly team performance [updates] — either blinded or unblinded — can also help create some friendly competition.

Q: What is your No. 1 dealbreaker when it comes to evaluating vendor partnerships? 

BC: Third-party vendor relationships are critical to a well-performing revenue cycle, regardless of whether they are supporting core technology, supplemental value-added functions such as Medicaid eligibility, coding, early-out or extended business office, or full-scope outsourcing. With that said, it is critical that these relationships are managed through clearly documented roles and responsibilities, as well as service-level expectations. Further, it is important that the vendor recognize the uniqueness of each organization and support is adapted accordingly. I believe the No. 1 dealbreaker is when vendors are unwilling to collaborate and attempt to implement a cookie-cutter solution without considering the client's mission, culture, location and operating environment.

Q: How has your organization improved the revenue cycle process in the past year? Or, if your organization hasn't improved its revenue cycle process, how would you go about it?

BC: The focus of our recent engagements has been designing revenue cycle models for our clients that lead to continuous improvement. Health system executives are no longer interested in short-term cash acceleration, but they want to make sure their revenue cycles can weather the growing complexity of the healthcare landscape — including declining reimbursement, changing payer rules, market consolidation and greater patient liability. There is not a "one size fits all" approach, and therefore, much of our work involves understanding each of our clients' unique environments. That said, in every case, the goal is to shift more attention to accurate and timely claim submission the first time, increase efficiency and establish shared accountability across the revenue cycle continuum.

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