Joe Fifer: Revenue cycle workforce shortages: Culture is key
Looking at healthcare employment today, there’s good news and there’s bad news. The good news: Job creation is strong. Healthcare employers made more hires in February than they did during any period since September. Home healthcare providers, physician offices and other healthcare practitioner clinics experienced the largest increases. The bad news: Many job openings are going unfilled, including revenue cycle positions in hospitals and health systems.
The “Great Resignation” is occurring throughout the U.S. economy. In 2021, an average of more than 3.95 million workers quit their jobs each month, the highest on record since the Bureau of Labor Statistics began reporting on this metric in 2000. The trend is attributed, in part, to the COVID-19 pandemic, which has led many people to question the value and meaning of their work. The stressors associated with the pandemic have caused job dissatisfaction that has been simmering for years to boil over.
Closer to home, people who work in revenue cycle management (RCM) may be pondering the future of work in their field. With many RCM functions becoming automated, employees may be monitoring automated processes that they previously handled themselves. (People who work in other transaction-based jobs, such as retail employees who provide support at self-checkout kiosks, are already experiencing this.)
In the long run, automation will free up revenue cycle staff members’ time for more complex tasks. And new RCM job opportunities and career paths will open up as value-based payment gains traction. However, these trends will not necessarily be synchronized. As a result, some employees may be concerned about losing their jobs to automation, while others may be overwhelmed by the need to learn new roles and responsibilities on top of their existing ones.
In times when people are anxious about the future — on both a macro and a micro level — a workplace culture built on strong interpersonal connections can help team members stay engaged and grounded. Managers with work-from-home or hybrid teams may need to pay particularly close attention to this dynamic. Employees who are working from home — even though they may prefer it — may also miss the camaraderie of the office environment. And those who are on-site may be burned out by the stressors associated with such work in healthcare settings as the pandemic drags on.
The cover story in the March issue of hfm describes the tactics used by Michigan-based Spectrum Health to build morale in its patient access and coding departments, ranging from virtual lunches and “water cooler chats” to spontaneous check-ins with employees and flexible work arrangements that cater to team members’ different needs. The common thread is ensuring ample opportunities for interaction that facilitate staying connected on a personal level.
Hospitals and health systems are competing for talent with retail employers that can sometimes offer higher pay. Money does matter; there’s no question about that. But money alone is not the solution. Creating an organizational culture that is enjoyable, equitable and inclusive helps people feel like valued team members and fosters resilience in times of change.