Healthcare worker shortage: How to fill the gaps

February 15, 2024 by Experian Health

By all forecasts, the healthcare worker shortage isn’t going away. More than 80% of healthcare executives admit talent acquisition is so challenging it puts their organizations at risk. The latest survey from Experian Health shows complete agreement across the industry—the inability to recruit and retain staff hampers timely reimbursements. The side effects of the healthcare worker shortage are increased errors, staff turnover, and lower patient satisfaction.

With the healthcare worker shortage becoming a chronic red flag on the list of industry challenges, is throwing more revenue at hiring the best answer? Experian Health’s new report, Short-staffed for the long term, polled 200 healthcare revenue cycle executives to find out the effects of the continuing healthcare worker shortage on the bottom line. Respondents unanimous agreed that healthcare’s recruitment problem is limiting their ability to get paid. Could investing in better revenue cycle technology to automate manual human functions be the answer to the healthcare recruiting dilemma?

Effect of the healthcare worker shortage on healthcare revenue cycle

Result 1: Providers losing money and patient engagement simultaneously.

  • 96% of respondents said the healthcare worker shortage negatively impacts revenue.
  • 82% of survey participants said patient engagement suffers when providers are short-staffed.

Experian Health’s latest survey showed almost unanimous agreement that the revenue cycle suffers significantly when providers are short-staffed. The only area of disagreement among revenue cycle leaders is whether patient collections or payer reimbursements are affected the most by the industry’s lack of human talent.

As revenue cycle teams struggle to cover their workload, the need for speed increases manual error rates. The Experian Health survey showed that 70% of revenue cycle teams say healthcare worker shortages increase denial rates. This finding reinforces an earlier survey showing nearly three of four healthcare executives place reducing claims denials as their top priority.

As errors snowball, patient engagement and satisfaction begin to decline. Data entry errors impact claims submissions, resulting in billing mistakes that confuse and frustrate patients. Data errors often start at patient registration and persist through claims submission, creating denial reimbursement snarls and tying up cash flow. With the average denial rate above 11%, that’s one in every 10 patients facing uncertainty around whether their bill will be paid. What’s worse is that Experian Health’s State of Claims Report shows denial rates increasing. While providers are leaning into increasing recruiting efforts to find the employees they need, is staffing up even possible in an era of chronic labor shortages?

Technology offers healthcare providers new ways to handle revenue cycles without hiring more staff. For example, patient access software reduces registration friction, where up to 60% of denied claims start. Patient scheduling software automates access to care and gives customers greater control over their healthcare journey. It’s a digital front door that engages patients with online options for managing care. On the backend of the revenue cycle, automation also offers a way to decrease reliance on manual labor to handle claims submissions. Automating clean claims submissions alleviates the denials burden, freeing up staff time and provider revenue streams.

Result 2: Staffing shortages heavily impact payer reimbursement and patient collections.

  • 70% of those saying payer reimbursement has been affected the most by staff shortages also agree that escalating denial rates are a result.
  • 83% of those saying patient collections have been affected most by staff shortages also agree that it’s now harder to follow up on late payments or help patients struggling to pay.

Addressing healthcare staffing shortages is crucial for providing quality patient care, maintaining financial stability, and maximizing reimbursement in the complex healthcare reimbursement landscape. Staff shortages lead to reduced productivity within healthcare facilities, and existing teams may need to take on extra work to fill the gap. Overworked staff may be more prone to errors, leading to claims denials.

Medical Economics says manual collections processes suffer due to the healthcare worker shortage. They state, “Mailed paper statements and staff-dependent processes are significantly more costly than electronic and paperless options, yet the majority of physicians still primarily collect from patients with paper and manual processes.”

Technology exists for self-pay receivables that allow patients easy online payment options. Experian Health’s Collections Optimization Manager offers powerful analytics to segment and prioritize accounts by their propensity to pay and create the best engagement
strategy for each patient segment. Advocate Aurora Healthcare took control of collections by using this tool and automated their collections processes, so that existing staff could focus on working with the patients who had the resources to handle their self-pay commitments. The software’s automation and analytics features allowed the provider to experience a double-digit increase in collected revenues annually.

Patients also benefit from collections optimization software. For example, Kootenai Health qualifies more patients for charity or other financial assistance with Experian Health’s Patient Financial Clearance solution. In addition to automating up to 80% of pre-registration workflows, the software uses data-driven insights to carve out the best financial pathway for each patient. It’s a valuable tool for overburdened revenue cycle teams that struggle to collect from patients. Kootenai Health saved 60 hours of staff time by automating these manual payment verification processes.

Result 3: Recruiting alone isn’t solving the healthcare worker shortage.

  • Healthcare hiring is a revolving door, with 80% reporting turnover as high as 40%.
  • 73% said finding qualified staff is a significant issue.

A significant contributor to the healthcare worker shortage is the grim reality that these organizations are losing human resources to burnout and stress. Being short-staffed drags down the entire organization, from the employed teams to the patients they serve. But it’s impossible for recruiting alone to fix the problem when more than 200,000 providers and staff leave healthcare each year. A recent study suggests that if experienced workers continue to leave the industry, by 2026, more than 6.5 million healthcare professionals will exit their positions. Only 1.9 million new employees will step in to replace them. The news worsens with the realization that nearly 45% of doctors are older than 55 and nearing retirement age.

Artificial intelligence (AI) and automation technology in healthcare can cut costs and alleviate some of the severe staff burnout leading to all this turnover. However, one-third of healthcare providers have never used automation in the revenue cycle. A recent report states that providers could save one-half of what they spend on administrative tasks—or close to $25 billion annually—if they leveraged these tools. For example, Experian Health’s Patient Access solutions can automate registration, scheduling and other front-end processes.

AI can also help increase staff capacity and output without adding work volume. Experian Health’s AI Advantage™ solution works in two critical ways to help stretch staff and improve their efficiency:

  • The Predictive Denials module reviews the provider’s historical rejection data to pinpoint the claims most likely to bounce back before they are submitted. The tool allows the organization to fix costly mistakes before submission, eliminating the time spent fighting the payer over a denial. The claims go in clean, so the denial never happens. The revenue cycle improves, saving staff time and stress.
  • Denial Triage focuses on sorting denied claims by their likelihood to pay out. The software segments denied claims by their value so internal teams focus on remits with the most positive impact on the bottom line. Instead of chasing denials needlessly, this AI software allows revenue cycle teams to do more by working smarter.

Revenue cycle technology to fill healthcare worker shortage gaps

There is no question that the healthcare worker shortage is causing a significant burden on patients and providers. Experian Health’s Short-staffed for the Long Term report illustrated the effect of this crisis on the healthcare revenue cycle, patient engagement, and worker satisfaction.

Technology can solve staffing challenges by allowing the healthcare workers we do have to spread further and work more efficiently. AI and automation technology in healthcare can cut costs, alleviate staff burnout and can even help healthcare providers retain their existing workforce. By implementing these new solutions, healthcare providers can help stop the bleeding of existing staff that contributes to the healthcare worker shortage, while improving the efficiency of the revenue cycle. These tools save time and money and improve the lives of everyone touched by the healthcare industry.

Contact Experian Health to see how your healthcare organization can use technology to help eliminate the pressures of the healthcare worker shortage.

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